A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph will deliver its verdict Tuesday on two petitions challenging the Centre’s decision last October to ask CBI Director Alok Verma to proceed on leave following a bitter fallout with his No.2 Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
The verdict will be pronounced 10.30 am on two petitions, one filed by Verma and the other by NGO Common Cause, challenging the government’s decision. The bench had reserved its order in the matter on December 6, 2018.
Along with Verma, the government had also asked Asthana to proceed on leave, and placed Joint Director M Nageswara Rao as interim in-charge of the agency on October 23, 2018.
In the apex court, the government had cited the fight between Verma and Asthana to justify its action. But Senior Counsel Fali S Nariman, appearing for Verma, contended that the differences did not happen “overnight”. He argued that authorities should have approached the committee — comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India – that selects the CBI chief before initiating action.
Attorney General K K Venugopal opposed this argument and said that the action was “in effect only a suspension” and that the argument that it was a transfer was “highly artificial”. The CBI, too, denied that it was a transfer.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Central Vigilance Commission which had conducted a preliminary enquiry into charges levelled by Asthana against Verma, submitted that the “two senior officers instead of investigating serious cases were investigating each other, were raiding each other…Unless CVC has power to act in surprise situations, it will become a toothless body”.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who challenged the government decision, said that if the Centre’s action was allowed, it would result in giving “unregulated power to the central government which will destroy the very basis of the Supreme Court decision in the Vineet Narain case regarding tenure of CBI Director”.
In its 1997 order in the Vineet Narain case, the Supreme Court laid down a fixed two-year tenure for the CBI Director.
While reserving its order, the Supreme Court observed that the problems between Verma and Asthana was “not something that happened overnight to require immediate action”. It reminded the government that it had to be “fair” and asked what was the difficulty in consulting the selection committee before moving against Verma.