Given the scale of crisis, the Supreme Court’s interim order on the petition filed by Alok Verma—the CBI chief-on-forced leave—could not have been more balanced. That CJI Ranjan Gogoi could find a golden mean in the midst of the heightened decibels is admirable. For one, the court avoided exacerbating the sense of institutional collapse with an interim stay on any decision taken by the government—without first going into the veracity of the allegations against Verma.
It has also in a way upheld the CVC’s supervisory role; its right, as a statutory body, to evaluate the allegations against a tenure-protected CBI director. To ensure no cloud hovers over the perceived impartiality of that probe, it has appointed a retired judge, A K Patnaik, for oversight. And significantly, so the mess does not fester, it has made the probe a time-bound affair, to be completed within two weeks.
At the other end, the SC has put restrictions on acting CBI director Nageshwar Rao from taking any policy decision for now. Also, all decisions taken by Rao after taking charge, including the transfers and fresh allocation of investigations, are to be submitted to the court in a sealed cover by November 12, when the matter will be heard next. The court, interestingly, refused to get into the allegations against CBI special director Rakesh Asthana without first clearing the air around the chief.
That the legality of the Centre’s action has not been taken up yet offers it an interim reprieve—only interim, as the possibility is not ruled out. The court clearly wants to establish if there was an emergency situation which could justify the government’s unilateral action in packing off the CBI chief on forced leave—bypassing the statutory appointing authority.
This is no knee-jerk response under public pressure, nor a purely legalistic one—it has the hallmark of a mature, well-thought-out institutional response. Hopefully, the judicially monitored probe process will bring in a level of clarity that helps clean up the CBI—both of taints of corruption and executive capture.