The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on petitions filed by Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma and NGO Common Cause challenging the government’s move to divest Verma of his powers, Live Law reported.
As hearings began, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta what prompted the Centre to take action against Verma overnight on October 23. “When Verma was retiring in few months why not wait for few more months and consult selection committee?” Gogoi asked, according to ANI. “Government has to be fair, what was the difficulty in consulting the selection committee before divesting Alok Verma of his power? Essence of every government action should be to adopt the best course.”
Gogoi asked Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Central Vigilance Commission, why the government acted in October if the feud in the agency between Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana had been going on since July 2017, reported Live Law. Mehta told the bench that the commission was bound to intervene as inaction would have been held as dereliction of duty. “CVC is answerable to Parliament,” he told the judges.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who appeared on the Centre’s behalf, said Verma’s contention that he was transferred was artificial.
Advocate FS Nariman, appearing for Verma, argued that the selection committee should have been consulted under all circumstances. “There can’t be an acting chief justice of India,” he said. “Likewise, there can’t be an acting CBI director.” Nariman said that Verma had been divested of charges and Nageshwar Rao was appointed interim director. “This amounts to transfer,” he said.
Kapil Sibal, who represented Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge, said the selection committee’s approval for transfer act as a “ring fence” to protect the CBI chief from executive influence. “Without this, the office will be jeopardy,” Live Law quoted him as saying.
Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, who appeared CBI officer AK Bassi, told the court that the autonomy of the agency is the core issue. “Action against Verma violates principle of proportionality,” he said. “Power has to exercised with least possible invasion.”
Bassi, who was transferred to Port Blair in Andaman in October, was investigating Asthana. He has challenged his transfer order and sought a Special Investigating Team inquiry into the allegations against the CBI special director.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition challenging the appointment of Asthana to the CBI, NDTV reported. Gogoi told advocate Prashant Bhushan that a curative plea – the last legal remedy before Supreme Court – on the matter will be taken up on December 11.
The Centre sent both Verma and Asthana on leave pending inquiry after they traded charges of corruption and interference in several cases. They both later moved the Supreme Court against the action.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Venugopal argued before the top court that it was “absolutely essential” for the Centre to step in and relieve Verma of his powers and duties to save the public image of the institution. Verma’s counsel Fali Nariman in November had told the court that he cannot be transferred without the approval of the selection committee that appointed him.
Mehta, who is appearing for the Central Vigilance Commission, told the bench that the commission is entrusted with the responsibility of “superintendence over CBI”.
The tussle in the CBI came to light on October 15 after the agency named Asthana in a First Information Report for allegedly accepting a Rs 2-crore bribe to scuttle an investigation against businessman Moin Qureshi, who is accused in multiple corruption cases. Asthana, in turn, accused Verma of trying to falsely implicate him and levelled corruption charges against him.