The top court said the high-powered committee will take its decision on the basis of the findings of the CVC inquiry against him.
New Delhi: In a jolt to the Centre and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated CBI director Alok Verma, three months after the government divested him of his powers and sent him on forced leave in a midnight drama, saying that the statute empowers neither the state nor the CVC to tamper with the tenure of the CBI chief.
The apex court, while setting aside the government order, ruled that Mr Verma can resume his role as CBI chief but cannot take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee, which selects and appoints the CBI director, takes a decision on the matter. The top court said the high-powered committee will take its decision on the basis of the findings of the CVC inquiry against him.
The court said, “Within a week, the selection committee, led by the PM, will meet and look into the aspect of whether Mr Verma needs to be removed or not.”
The selection committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
While setting aside the dramatic “overnight” divestment of Mr Verma’s powers as CBI director on the intervening night of October 23-24, a three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, stressed that the head of the premier probe agency has to be a role model of independence and integrity which is possible only if there is no interference.
The court clarified that only the selection committee is authorised to endorse any form of interference in the institution that is called for in public interest.
“The transfer of the dir-ector without the consent of the selection committee negates the legislative intent that is to ensure independence of the CBI,” said the bench, including Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph.
Mr Verma, whose two-year tenure as CBI director ends on January 31, had approached the top court challenging the orders of the CVC and the government divesting him of his powers and sending him on leave.
The government had claimed that it took this decision to protect the integrity of the CBI and acted on the recommendation of the CVC that was looking into a corruption complaint against Mr Verma. The Centre said it took the decision to send Mr Verma and CBI’s special director Rakesh Asthana on leave after their feud become public. The top two officers charged each other of corruption. The Centre said Mr Verma and Mr Asthana were fighting like “Kilkenny cats”, exposing the country’s premier investigating agency to “public ridicule”.
On Tuesday, the apex court also set aside the Centre’s decision to appoint senior IPS officer M. Nageswara Rao, who was joint director, as the agency’s interim chief.
The bench said the CBI has been perceived to be necessarily kept away from all kinds of extraneous influences so that it can perform its role as the premier investigating and prosecuting agency without any fear and favour.
“The head of the institution, namely, the director, naturally, therefore, has to be the role model of independence and integrity which can only be ensured by freedom from all kinds of control and interference except to the extent that Parliament may have intended,” said the bench in its 44-page judgment.
The bench referred to its verdict in Vineet Narain case and subsequent amendment in law to drive home the point that legislative intent has been to ensure “complete insulation of the office of the director CBI from all kinds of extraneous influences”.
The Vineet Narain judgement, delivered by the apex court in 1997, relates to investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials. The top court referred to a provision of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which said that the CBI director cannot be transferred without the consent of the selection committee.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the government would abide by the apex court order and defended the decision to intervene in the “CBI versus CBI” feud.
“The government took this decision to protect the integrity of the CBI… government took the action of sending two senior officers of CBI on leave on CVC’s recommendation,” he said.
He addes, “The court apparently has strengthened the immunity given to the CBI director in the larger interest of the fair and impartial working of the CBI. At the same time, the court has devised an accountability mechanism.”