The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed the Centre’s decision to divest Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma of his responsibilities, Bar & Bench reported. Verma had challenged the government’s decision to send him on leave in October.
Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph passed the judgement after hearing petitions filed by Verma and NGO Common Cause. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was not present in court, though he was part of the three-judge bench that had heard the case.
Although Verma was reinstated, he will be unable to take major policy decisions until a high-powered committee under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act rules on his case, LiveLaw reported. The court directed the committee, which comprises the prime minister, chief justice of India, and leader of the Opposition, to consider his case within a week.
The verdict held that the word “transfer” has to be understood as encompassing all acts affecting the independent functioning of the CBI director. This went against the attorney general’s argument that divesting Verma of his responsibilities could not be regarded as a “transfer” since he was merely taken off charge.
The court’s directions in the Vineet Narain case intended to completely shield the CBI director from political pressure, the bench said. In the Vineet Narain case, the Supreme Court had ruled that the CBI director should be appointed on the recommendations of a committee headed by the central vigilance commissioner, the home secretary and the secretary in the Department of Personnel as members.
As per the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the government could not take any interim measure against the CBI director without consulting the statutory committee, said the court.
Verma’s two-year term is due to end on January 31.
On October 23, the Centre had relieved both Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana of their duties after they traded charges of corruption and interference in several cases. They had later moved the Supreme Court against the action. The tussle came to light on October 15 after the agency named Asthana in a First Information Report for allegedly accepting bribes from Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana, who was being investigated in the Moin Qureshi corruption case. Qureshi is an accused in multiple graft cases. Asthana, in turn, accused Verma of trying to falsely implicate him and levelled corruption charges against him.
During the hearings in the Supreme Court, the Centre had said it was “absolutely essential” for it to step in and relieve Verma of his powers and duties to save the public image of the institution. However, Verma’s counsel had told the court that the CBI director cannot be transferred without the approval of the selection committee that had appointed him.