The Supreme Court Wednesday wondered if the Centre had the power to divest CBI Director Alok Verma of his responsibilities under the Prevention of Corruption Act, only to be told that the decision was taken keeping in mind the totality of the circumstances arising out of the bitter fight between him and his number two, Special Director Rakesh Asthana, which had “exposed the CBI to ridicule”.
The query came from Justice K M Joseph who was part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi which is hearing Verma’s plea challenging the Centre’s decision.
Justice Joseph drew the attention of Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was appearing for the government, to the provisions in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act dealing with superintendence over the CBI.
Section 4(1) of the Act says that in matters under PC Act, the Central Vigilance Commission will have superintendence over CBI while Section 4(2) says that the Centre will have power of superintendence in all other matters.
Referring to this, Justice Joseph asked if the Centre had also divested Verma of powers under PC Act. “He has been immobilised,” the AG told the bench, which also comprised Justice S K Kaul, adding that Verma had been divested of all powers for now.
At this, Justice Joseph asked, “Does Centre have the power under Section 4(2)? Will it not betray the non-application of mind?”
The AG replied that the court “will have to look at the order as a whole. The government was compelled to intervene. It should have intervened in July itself (when complaints were made).Government was watching with amazement what the two top officers of the agency which commands the respect of the entire country were doing. They were fighting like Kilkenny cats.This seriously affected government.and it had to act to put an end to this”.
Venugopal added that “there were large number of allegations (against Verma), some would come under Section 4(1) and some under Section 4(2).So far as government was concerned, the trust (of the people in the agency) was being reduced.Government of India had to look at totality. Totality required action because of disgrace to institution”.
Verma had contended that the action against him would tantamount to a transfer and hence would require the prior consent of the committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
Opposing this, the AG reiterated that Verma continued to have all the facilities in the nature of perks, staff etc which he had earlier. “If you ask who is the CBI Director.it is still Alok Verma”, he said adding, therefore, it did not amount to a transfer.
Venugopal also took the court through a judgment which said transfer has to be from one place to another and cannot be to the same post in same place. “Therefore to contend that it is in substance a transfer is wholly unjustified”, the AG said.
“(The) Central government was really concerned with what was happening in CBI as the two officers were fighting with each other.It would have been different had they kept it to themselves.but they went public”, he submitted and referred to media reports in July about the fight.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Central Vigilance Commission too justified its order divesting Verma of his responsibilities. He referred to the apex court’s judgment in Vineet Narain case and said it mandated the Central government to take all measures necessary to ensure that CBI functions effectively and in a non-partisan manner.
Mehta’s arguments remained inconclusive and will continue Thursday.