Furious over what it considered breach of confidentiality of CBI Director Alok Verma’s reply to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner’s report on the charges against him, and details of CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha’s petition being made public, the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Tuesday adjourned until November 29 the hearing on Verma’s petition. The CBI chief has challenged the government’s October 23 decision to divest him of his duties and send him on leave.
In a stern warning to parties in the case, the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said: “This court is not a platform for people to come and express what they want. This is a place for adjudication of legal rights. This is not right. We intend to set it right.” It also observed: “Our effort to maintain the respect of this institution is not being shared by everyone.”
As soon as proceedings began, the bench handed over a news report to senior advocate Fali S Nariman who has been representing Verma. “This is just for you. We are not giving this to you as counsel for Alok Verma… We have given this to you as one of the most respected senior members. What do you say? Please say… Would you like to help us?” the bench said.
At this, Nariman said: “I also read about it in the morning papers and I was really upset.” He said the press had to be free as well as responsible. “I am deeply disturbed.” As the bench persisted with its queries, he said: “I would respectfully request your lordships to summon the person who edits it. How can this leak? How can this come?”
The bench pointed out that advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, also appearing for Verma, had mentioned the matter Monday, seeking more time for Verma to file a reply — the reply was eventually filed Monday. At this, Nariman said it was “totally unauthorised” and that he, the senior counsel, had not been informed about it. “It’s very disturbing for me,” he said. “I just want to tell this honourable court that this was totally unauthorised.”
The bench adjourned the matter, but a little later, Nariman returned and requested the bench to give him some time after it concluded hearing other items listed for the day. When his turn came, Nariman informed the bench that the news report he had been handed was published on November 17 “and it speaks of my (Verma’s) replies to CVC during enquiry”.
At this, CJI Gogoi said: “Yesterday, we refused mentioning and we expected the highest degree of confidentiality… But litigant goes and gives out everything.” He did not take any name.
On Monday, CBI DIG M K Sinha, challenging his transfer to Nagpur after Verma had been sent on leave, had sought to mention his application for urgent listing. Details of his petition were widely reported by the media Tuesday, including The Indian Express.
The CJI said: “Our effort to maintain the respect of this institution is not being shared by everyone.” Justice Kaul, explaining why the court had insisted on keeping the various reports confidential, said: “The main objective was to protect the CBI, it was not to embarrass anyone.”
Advocate Sankaranarayanan, meanwhile, tried to explain that he had been authorised by the Advocate-on-Record to mention the matter on behalf of Verma. The bench, however, made it clear that it did not want to hear anyone. “We are not prepared to hear anyone except Nariman in the matter.” “I have to clear my name,” said Sankaranarayanan, upset that Nariman had questioned his move in mentioning the matter Monday without his consent. But the bench told him: “As far as the court is concerned, nobody is under any cloud to require any clearance.”
Nariman said he was only saying he had not authorised anyone. He said the practice is that each time something is mentioned, the senior counsel is kept informed. “I am speaking from 67 years experience. Don’t tell me it’s not so.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CVC, tried to say something, but the court told him “we will not hear anyone”.
The CJI then handed over a newspaper and a report in an envelope to Nariman and repeated that the court will take up the matter on November 29.