The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to consider a petition seeking an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team into the allegations of corruption against officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation, including its Special Director Rakesh Asthana, PTI reported.
The Centre had sent CBI Director Alok Verma and Asthana on leave late on Tuesday amid infighting within the premier investigating agency. The government then appointed M Nageshwar Rao the interim CBI chief. Verma then moved the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his plea on Friday.
In its petition on Thursday, the non-governmental organisation Common Cause challenged the appointment of Rao and the removal of Verma and Asthana from their posts, and sought the quashing of the government’s order. The petition accused the government of subverting the premier investigation agency in India through “brazen interference”.
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Prashant Bhushan said there were wider corruption problems affecting the CBI and sought an urgent hearing. The bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph, asked for details and said it would then consider if it should grant an urgent hearing. The top court is yet to set a date for the hearing.
The petitioners contended that Verma’s tenure should end only on January 31, 2019, as the court had in 1998 fixed the tenure of the CBI director at two years. Verma was appointed to the post on February 1, 2017.
The petition said that the CBI director is appointed based on the recommendation of a committee comprising the prime minister, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the chief justice of India. The plea added that no CBI director can be transferred without the consent of this committee, even with the approval of the Central Vigilance Commission.
“It is apparent that the order withdrawing the work [of Verma] has been passed to frustrate the mandate of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, since Verma could not be removed before his tenure without consulting the committee,” Common Cause contended. “The impugned orders make it apparent that the aforesaid decisions have been taken without consultation.”
Last week, the CBI named Asthana in a First Information Report in a bribery case. He was accused of accepting a Rs 2-crore bribe to scuttle an investigation against businessman Moin Qureshi, allegedly involved in multiple corruption cases.
In August, Asthana had accused Verma of illegal activity, and reportedly approached the Central Vigilance Commission, alleging he interfered in investigations. The CBI called Asthana’s complaint malicious and frivolous, and said it was an attempt to intimidate officers investigating Asthana’s role in some cases.
Asthana also claimed Verma was trying to falsely implicate him. He reportedly alleged that Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Sathish Babu, who is an accused in the case, had claimed that it was Verma who was paid the Rs 2-crore bribe.
On Tuesday, Asthana moved the Delhi High Court to get the case against him quashed. The court said no coercive action can be taken against him till October 29.