The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on the plea of CBI Director Alok Verma challenging Centre’s decision to divest him of his powers and sent him on leave.
The arguments were concluded by a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on behalf of Verma, Centre, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and others who were party in the matter.
The court also heard the petition moved by NGO Common Cause which had sought court-monitored SIT probe into allegations of corruption against various CBI officials including Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
During the hearing of CBI Director’s plea, the CVC told the apex court that extraordinary situations need extraordinary remedies. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CVC, referred to apex court judgments and laws governing the CBI and said the Commission’s superintendence (over the CBI) encompasses “surprise, extraordinary situations”.
A bench headed by Gogoi said Attorney General K K Venugopal told the court that circumstances culminating in the situation had started in July. “Essence of the government action must be in the interest of the institution,” the bench said.
The apex court observed that it was not that the fight between the CBI Director and Special Director Rakesh Asthana emerged overnight, forcing the government to divest the Director of powers without consulting the Selection Committee. It further said the government has to be “fair” and asked what the difficulty was in consulting the Selection Committee before divesting the CBI director of his power.
“The essence of every government action should be to adopt the best course,” the top court said.
When the chief justice asked the CVC that what prompted it to take such an action since it was not something that happened overnight, Mehta told the court that the top officers of the CBI, “instead of investigating cases, were investigating cases against each other”.
He said the jurisdiction is vested in the CVC to inquire or else it would have been guilty of dereliction of duty. If it did not act, it would be answerable to the President of India and the Supreme Court, he added.
He said the reference for inquiry against the CBI director had been sent by the government. “CVC started probe but Verma did not give documents for months”, Mehta said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Asthana, said the government must take CVC inquiry against Verma to a logical end. He said Asthana was a whistle-blower in the case but was painted by the government with the same brush.
Senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for the CBI Director, said that the Centre’s order took away all his powers. He said that Section 16 of the General Clauses Act deals with as to who can remove officer like the CBI Director and doesn’t deal with divesting of powers of the officer.
“The officer should have powers of Director. Tenure of two years does not mean that Director can have a visiting card with title, but without powers,” said Nariman, in reference to AG’s argument that Verma continues to be the agency Director.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court wondered if the Centre had the power to divest CBI Director 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, which had “exposed the CBI to ridicule”.
The government yesterday told the court that it had to step in the fight between CBI No 1 and 2 (Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana) as they were “fighting like cats”.
“The government was compelled to intervene. It should have intervened in July itself (when complaints were made). The 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,” Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court.
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.
Verma was sent on leave in October, along with his deputy CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, after the two levelled allegations of corruption against each other.
-With inputs from PTI