In a major relief to Alok Verma, the Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside the Centre's October 23 order divesting him of powers. However, the apex court restrained him from taking any key policy decision till the CVC probe into corruption charges against him is over.
Verma, who was sent on forced leave by the government following his feud with his Deputy Rakesh Asthana, will now be reinstated but will not take any major decisions till a high-level committee, which includes the Chief Justice of India and the Prime Minister takes a call on his transfer. The committee will decide on the matter in a week.
CBI vs CBI: SC to pronounce verdict on Alok Verma's plea against Cente's decision to divest him of powers
The top court also set aside the Centre's decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was joint director as the agency's interim chief.
Alok Verma's two-year tenure as CBI director ends this January 31.
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The court justified its decision on the ground that the law in the Vineet Narain case was intended to insulate the office from extraneous influences.
The judgment was pronounced by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice KM Joseph in the absence of Chief Justice Gogoi who was on leave.
CBI DIRECTOR HAS TO BE THE ROLE MODEL OF INTEGRITY AND INDEPENDENCE : SUPREME COURT
During its verdict, the Supreme Court said that the CBI Director has to be a 'role model' of 'independence and integrity' and that can only be ensured by freedom from all kinds of control and interference,
The apex court further stated that the long history of evolution has shown that institution of CBI has been perceived to be necessarily kept away from all kinds of extraneous influences so that it could perform its role as the premier investigating and prosecuting agency without any fear and favour and in the best public interest.
"The head of the institution, namely, the Director, naturally, therefore, has to be the role model of independence and integrity which can only be ensured by freedom from all kinds of control and interference except to the extent that Parliament may have intended," said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
It referred to section 4B (2) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which said that CBI Director shall not be transferred except with the previous consent of the selection committee.
The high-powered committee, which selects the CBI chief, comprises of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition or the leader of the single largest opposition party.
"If the legislative intent would have been to confer in any authority of the state a power to take interim measures against the Director, CBI thereby affecting his functioning, surely, the legislation would have contained enabling provisions to that effect and consequently would have been differently worded and drafted," the bench noted.
It further said, "If the word 'transferred' has to be understood in its ordinary parlance and limited to a change from one post to another, as the word would normally convey and on that basis the requirement of 'previous consent of the committee' is understood to be only in such cases, i.e. purely of transfer, such an interpretation would be self-defeating and would clearly negate the legislative intent".
Referring to the legislative intent, the bench said it would require all authorities to keep away from "intermingling or interfering" in the functioning of the CBI Director.
"In a situation where such interference may at all be called for, public interest must be writ large against the backdrop of the necessity," the court said in its 44-page judgment.
It, however, added that relevance and adequacy of reasons giving rise to such a "compelling necessity" could only be tested by the opinion of the selection committee which has the power to make recommendations for appointment of CBI director.
"This alone can provide an adequate safeguard to ensure the independence of the office keeping in view the legislative intent, as found and held by us," the bench said.
UNFORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCES LED TO CVC'S ORDER AGAINST CBI: SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court on Tuesday termed as "unfortunate" the circumstances which led to the CVC order divesting CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma of his powers following a graft complaint forwarded to the corruption watchdog by the Cabinet Secretary.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the Central Vigilance Commission's (CVC) order was "fairly long and elaborate" and it stated that a complaint dated August 24, 2018 was forwarded to it by the Cabinet Secretary through an August 31 letter which "prima facie" revealed charges of corruption against Verma.
"According to the CVC, instead of cooperating in the matter, the Director CBI (Verma) had sought information as to the identity of the person who had complained to the Cabinet Secretary in that regard and had gone to the extent of bringing specific allegations against the Special Director, CBI Rakesh Asthana," the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, noted in the judgment.
It further noted that details of several cases of corruption wherein Asthana was alleged to be involved were also brought to the notice of the CVC by Verma.
The bench noted that on October 15 last year, an FIR was lodged by the CBI against Asthana and others on a complaint by Hyderabad-based businessman Satish Babu Sana, who is an accused in a case investigated by the special director of CBI.
"At the same time, the CVC also took note of the fact that Rakesh Asthana, Special Director, CBI had recorded information received from various sources that huge amounts of bribe were given to the Director CBI to avoid taking any action against Satish Babu Sana," the bench noted.
"It is in these circumstances, which may be in the least be termed as unfortunate, that the CVC had thought it proper to invoke its powers under Sections 8(1)(a), 8(1)(d) and 11 of the CVC Act to pass the impugned order dated October 23, 2018 divesting the Director CBI of his powers, functions, duties, etc....,"the bench said.
CBI VS CBI: OPPOSITION HAILS SC VERDICT, DECISION TO SEND SENIOR OFFICIALS ON LEAVE ON CVC RECOMMENDATION, SAYS JAITLEY
The Congress and other opposition parties hailed the verdict while there was no immediate word from Verma.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is part of the high powered committee by virtue of being the leader of the single largest party in the Lok Sabha, said the order was a "lesson" for the government.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi told reporters that Verma was "ousted" at 1 AM, alleging he was about to begin an investigation into the controversial Rafale jet deal and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government cannot run away from a probe into the contract with France.
Describing the verdict as “balanced", Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Centre's decision to send Verma and Asthana on leave based on CVC's recommendation was "perfectly bonafide" and that it was done to protect the integrity of the investigating agency.
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The decision by the government was completely legal as the two officers in question were at loggerheads, he said.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury demanded that the prime minister quit on moral grounds as the verdict was a "direct indictment of Modi and his office".
The Centre had taken a decision against Verma and CBI's Special Director Rakesh Asthana after their feud become public as they made allegations of corruption against each other.
Verma had sought quashing of three orders of October 23, 2018 -- one by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and two by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Centre had justified its decision to divest Verma of his duties and sending him on leave before the apex court saying he and Asthana were fighting like "Kilkenny cats", exposing the country's premier investigating agency to "public ridicule".
Attorney General K K Venugopal had told the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, that the Centre was well "within its right to intervene" and send both officers on leave by divesting them of their powers.
Challenging the government's decision, Verma's counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman had argued that the CBI Director was appointed on February 1, 2017 and "the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred".
(With PTI and IANS inputs)