Court appoints ex-judge to monitor CVC’s probe against Alok Verma.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday set a two-week deadline for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its inquiry against CBI director Alok Verma under the supervision of a retired judge. The court also barred Mr Verma’s interim successor at the probe agency, M. Nageswara Rao, from taking any major or policy decisions and said he must submit all orders issued by him in a sealed envelope to the court on the next dte of hearing, November 12.
On Tuesday midnight Mr Verma, along with special director Rakesh Asthana, was divested of duties and sent on leave. In his place Mr Rao was appointed and he took charge on Tuesday night itself.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, while hearing a petition filed by Mr Verma challenging the government’s decision to send him on leave, said, “The ongoing inquiry by the CVC with regard to director must be completed within two weeks under the supervision of a judge of this court... the present incumbent as from this moment will not take any policy decisions, only routine work to keep the CBI going... and in a sealed cover, the CBI or the government will give a list of major decisions taken by this incumbent.”
The court said that the CVC’s inquiry into the allegations made in the August 24 note/letter of the Cabinet secretary, by Mr Asthana, with regard to Mr Verma would be supervised by retired apex court judge A.K. Patnaik.
The bench made it clear that supervision of the CVC’s on-going inquiry by a former judge is a one-time exception felt necessary by the court given the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any government authority.
Appearing for Mr Verma, senior counsel Fali Nariman submitted that the CBI director’s tenure has been fixed as two years under the amended Delhi Special Police Establishment Act of 1946.
He said that the orders of the CVC and the Central government with regard to Mr Verma’s forced leave bypassed the committee headed by the Prime Minister that appoints the CBI director.
The CJI told Mr Nariman, “We will examine these issues. Today we need to see what interim orders to pass.”
The apex court’s directions curbing Mr Rao’s powers came while hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause alleging that the interim director of the CBI transferred officials overnight. The NGO sought that investigations in matters that were being handled by these officials be protected from being affected.
Shortly after taking charge on Tuesday night, Mr Rao transferred 13 officers considered close to Mr Verma.
The bench, including Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph, said all decisions taken by Mr Rao “from October 23 up to this hour”, including on transfer of investigations and change of investigating officers, be placed before it by November 12.
In a related development, Mr Asthana filed a petition to quash the directions dated October 23 by which he was divested of all his functions as special director of the CBI.
He said that he acted as a whistleblower to report the criminal misconduct and corruption committed by Mr Verma, and is being penalised for the same.
When senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi informed the court that Mr Asthana has filed a petition challenging the Central government’s order of October 23 sending him on leave, the CJI told him, “Why are you late? You missed the bus. We cannot hear you on something not before us. File a separate writ.”
Mr Asthana said in his petition that he has been the victim of deliberate delay on the part of the CVC and the CBI in taking action on his complaint against Mr Verma on August 24. He alleged that after his complaint, Mr Verma framed him in a false criminal case to save his skin.
After the hearing, a top government source welcome the apex court’s order for a former-judge monitored CVC probe against Mr Verma and said the order does not cast any “aspersion” on the vigilance authority.
“The Supreme Court has not quashed the orders of the CVC and the Central government divesting the powers of Mr Verma and Mr Asthana and appointment of Mr Rao as interim chief of the investigation agency,” the source said.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley dubbed the apex court order for a time-bound CVC probe as a “extremely positive development”, adding that it was in the best interest of the country that the truth comes out.
“All officers of the CBI, particularly the top two, are like Caesar’s wife and must be beyond suspicion,” he said, referring to the expression “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” — drawn from a 16th century Shakespearean drama — that is used to imply that people in high positions must have impeccable integrity.