CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that divesting him of his powers "overnight" by the Centre amounts to interference in the independence of the agency whose probes against "high functionaries" may not take the line desirable to the government.
He said the Centre and the CVC's move was "patently illegal" and such interference "erodes" the independence and autonomy of the premier investigating institution.
The apex court agreed to hear on October 26 the petition by Verma challenging the government's decision. He has said in the petition that the CBI should be kept independent of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which has jurisdiction over the probe agency, since it seriously hinders the CBI's independent functioning.
He said that as the CBI is expected to function completely independently and autonomously, there are bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government.
The petition was mentioned for urgent hearing before a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph by Verma's advocate Gopal Shankarnarayanan. He assailed the decision divesting the CBI chief of his powers and sending him on leave in view of the internal feud between Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
Also read | Alok Verma vs Rakesh Asthana: A timeline of 'faction feud' within CBI
He also challenged the decision of the government by which Joint Director M Nageswara Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, has been given charge as head of the probe agency.
The petition also said that as the apex court has repeatedly stated that CBI ought to be insulated from the government, the present actions give serious credence to the requirement that the agency be given independence from the DoPT.
He urged the court to stay the government's decision to divest him of powers and send him on leave so that such external interference does not occur again.
"The details of many of the cases which have led to the present circumstances are extremely sensitive and cannot with full responsibility be divulged in the present pleadings. The petitioner shall, however, furnish the same to this court," he said.
It referred to Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, saying it statutorily secures the two-year period of the director's tenure notwithstanding anything to the contrary.
This is precisely to secure the independence of the CBI, but the same has been violated by these orders, it said.
"In any event, Section 4A of the Act constitutes a high powered committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India for the purpose of appointing the Director of the CBI as also under Section 4B(2) to grant previous consent for his transfer. The exercise of power by the impugned orders has been to bypass the mandate of the committee," it said.
He sought quashing of three orders of October 23, one by CVC and two by the DoPT, as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
He added that the orders were manifestly arbitrary, sans natural justice and without due process.
Also read | CBI war: Alok Verma caused 'wilful obstructions' in corruption case probe against him, says Govt
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Opposition attacks PM Modi over intervention in CBI affairs
Attempt to derail Rafale investigation: Congress
Alok Verma's petition fund support from Opposition. Leading the charge against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an unprecendented interference in the operations of the country's apex investigating agency, Congress termed the removal of Verma from his post arbitrary and cliamed that he was removed because he was starting to probe into the Rafale deal.
Addressing a public rally in Rajasthan's Jhalawar district, the home turf of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Gandhi said that CBI Director Alok Verma was removed because the agency was raising questions over the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala wondered if Verma was "sacked" for his keenness to probe the "layers of corruption" in the Rafale scam and sought an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Modi govt buries the 'last nail' into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling & denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI's integrity, credibility & reliability is buried & dead," Surjewala said on Twitter.
Also read | Who is M Nageshwar Rao- The new interim CBI director
Govt removed CBI head to protect 'handpicked' officer: CPI-M
The CPI-M said that the government was panicked by the feud between the director and the special director of the CBI and removed the agency's chief to protect its 'handpicked' officer.
In a series of tweets, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury slammed the government for the current state of affairs in the country's premier investigative agency.
"The illegal removal of CBI chief by Modi government to protect their own handpicked officer, against whom serious charges of corruption are being investigated, points to attempts at a serious cover-up to protect his direct links to the BJP's top political leadership", tweeted Yechury.
"To ensure that the CBI is not a 'caged parrot', Supreme Court had granted protection to the Chief from govt's whims and fancies by giving him a two-year tenure. What is Modi govt trying to hide by its panic move?" tweeted Yechury.
Centre responsible for problems within CBI: BSP
BSP president Mayawati blamed the Centre for the state of affairs in the CBI and said other institutions are also facing similar problems because of the wrong policies being pursued by the government.
"More than the officials, it is the central government which is responsible for the problems in the CBI," Mayawati said in a statement.
She said the Centre's "vindictive, casteist and communal policies" have put not only the CBI, but also other agencies under similar threat.
Cases like those involving Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and the Rafale deal are blots on the BJP-led government's rule and they have not been probed properly, she said.
However, she added, the ruling party misuses official machinery to target anti-BJP parties and institutions.
What is happening now is a matter of grave concern for the country as it is giving rise to a lot of doubts in the minds of people and they seem to be losing faith in the CBI, she said.
Speaking about the top CBI officials being sent on leave in the midst of night and a major overhauling of the central agency, Mayawati said it is good that the matter has gone to the Supreme Court.
"Besides the internal working, the Supreme Court will also get an opportunity to seriously look into the role of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) which has become essential in the present context," she said.
"It is important for restoring the faith of the people in the CBI that the Supreme Court takes effective cognizance of the present situation," she said.
CBI has become BJP's tool: TMC
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that the CBI has become the BJP's policing agency.
"CBI has now become so called BBI (BJP Bureau of Investigation) - very unfortunate!" Banerjee tweeted.
Give reasons for reshuffle: AAP
Joining the Opposition's chorus, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) asked the reasons for sending the CBI director on leave.
"What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi govt get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is Modi govt trying to hide?" Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal said on Twitter.
CBI reshuffle akin to coup: CPI
The CPI described the situation in the CBI as one akin to a "coup" that has shocked the nation and demanded the PM Modi, as head of the government, explain to the people the truth.
Communist Party of India's national secretary D Raja said there is also speculation that the goings-on in the premier investigative agency has something to do with the Rafale scam and that the prime minister must clarify.
"What is happening in the CBI is like a coup that has shocked the entire nation. The CBI has been plunged into such a crisis. It's credibility stands completely destroyed. It is happening under the nose of the prime minister.
"There is speculation that it has something to do with the Rafale scam. People want to know the truth. The prime minister being the head of the government should explain to the people and the nation," Raja said.
WATCH: Absolutely essential to restore CBI's institutional integrity and credibility, says Arun Jaitley
Alok Verma caused 'wilful obstructions' in corruption case probe against him, says Govt
The Modi government justified its intervention in the workings of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as it claimed that internal fued between the top brass had "vitiated" the environment in the agency.
The government, in a statement, claimed that "wilful obstructions caused by CBI Director Alok Verma in the functioning of the CVC, which was looking into complaints of corruption against him, and a "faction feud" with his deputy Rakesh Asthana that "vitiated" the environment in the agency resulted in the divestment of powers of both the officers by the government."
"The grave allegations of corruption by senior functionaries of CBI one against another, which has been widely reported in media, has vitiated the official eco-system of the organization," the statement said.
It added that the environment of "faction feud" had reached its peak in the CBI, leading to a potential loss of credibility and reputation of the agency.
It also vitiated the working environment of the organisation, which had a deep and visible impact on the overall governance, the statement said.
The move came on a recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which had passed orders divesting Alok Kumar Verma, Director and Rakesh Asthana, Special Director of all powers after considering "the extra-ordinary and unprecedented circumstances", it added.
In making the recommendation to the government, the CVC invoked its powers (under section 8 of the CVC Act, 2003) of superintendence over the functioning of the DPSE (CBI), insofar as it related to the investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
"The Government of India has evaluated the material before it and in the interest of equality, fair play and principles of natural justice, decided to divest Alok Kumar Verma, Director, CBI and Rakesh Asthana, Special Director, CBI of their functions, power, duty and supervisory role in any manner as Director, CBI and Special Director, CBI respectively," the statement said.
It added that the government had "carefully examined and evaluated" the material made available to it and being satisfied that an "extra-ordinary and unprecedented situation" had arisen, which demanded that the government exercise its powers under section 4(2) of the DPSE Act, which allowed it to curtail the tenure of the CBI director.
"This has been done as an interim measure and will subsist till the CVC concludes its inquiry into all issues which have given rise to the present extra-ordinary and unprecedented situation and till the CVC and/or Government of India takes an appropriate decision in accordance with the law as regards the measures to be adopted as a consequence thereof," the statement said.
The then Special Director Asthana had levelled allegations of corruption against Verma in a complaint to the government on August 24, which was referred to the CVC.
The CVC had demanded from the CBI that the files of the said matters listed in Asthana's complaint be sent to it.
"Various opportunities have been given to produce such records and after several adjournments, though CBI assured the Commission on 24th September, 2018 to furnish the records within three weeks. Despite repeated assurances and reminders, the Director, CBI failed to furnish the records/files before the Commission," the statement said.
The CVC had observed that the Director, CBI was not cooperating in making available the records and files sought by it, it added.
"The CVC has also observed that the Director, CBI has been non-cooperative with the Commission, non-compliant with the requirements/directions of the Commission and has created wilful obstructions in the functioning of the Commission which is a Constitutional body," the statement issued by the government said.
(With inputs from PTI)