Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma, who has challenged the Centre’s midnight order to divest him of his duties and send him on leave in the wake of bribery allegations against him, on Thursday told the Supreme Court that he has been appointed for a fixed period of two years and cannot be transferred.
The Supreme Court has adjourned the hearing to December 5.
The CBI chief was sent on leave following a tussle with his deputy, special CBI director Rakesh Asthana. He has been accused by Asthana of accepting a bribe in a case related to meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Asthana, too, has been accused of indulging in corrupt practices by Verma.
No basis to CVC order sending Verma on leave: Nariman
Appearing for him, senior lawyer Fali S Nariman told a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph that Verma 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”.
Nariman added there was no basis for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to pass an order recommending to send him on leave.
“There has to be a strict interpretation of the Vineet Narain judgment. This is not the transfer and Verma has been denuded of his power and duties, otherwise, there was no use of the Narain judgment and the law,” Verma’s counsel said.
Delivered by the top court in 1997, the Vineet Narain decision relates to the investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India. Prior to 1997, the tenure of the CBI director was not fixed and they could be removed by the government in any manner. However, the apex court in the Vineet Narain judgment later fixed a tenure of a minimum of two years for the CBI director to allow the officer to work with independence.
Nariman also referred to the terms and conditions of appointment and removal of the CBI director and concerned provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.
Verma’s lawyer also told the bench, which on November 20 had expressed deep anguish over the purported leak of CBI Director’s response to the CVC’s findings against him, that the court cannot prohibit the publication of the content of the petition as Article 19 of the Constitution is paramount. He also referred to the apex court 2012 judgment in a case on the issue.
The top court had earlier expressed anger over what it considered a breach of confidentiality over Verma’s response to the CVC report. The court had 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.”
“If I file something tomorrow in the Registry then it can be published,” Nariman said. He added that if the apex court later prohibits, then the matter cannot be published.
Selection panel has power to remove CBI chief: Kapil Sibal
Commencing arguments for Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who has moved the apex court stating that the government’s move to send Verma on leave was in violation of the CBI Act, lawyer Kapil Sibal said the power to remove the CBI chief was with the selection committee. The selection committee comprises of the Prime Minister as the chairperson, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition.
“If the power to appoint is with the committee, the power to remove is also with the committee. If this has happened to the CBI director, this may happen to CVC or the Election Commission also,” Sibal said. The senior lawyer said the power of the CVC under Section 8(1)(a)(b) of the CVC Act cannot be used to strip CBI director of his charges.
Centre is appointing authority of CBI chief: Attorney General
Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said the Central government had the authority to appoint the CBI chief. “The appointing authority is the Central government. Selection Committee and appointing authority are different. Centre appoints from the names recommended by the Selection Committee,” Venugopal said.
To the AG’s submission, CJI Gogoi asked, “If administration and supervision power is with Central Government, how did CVC pass the order against CBI director.” Venugopal said the action taken against Verma does not amount to transfer. “Divesting of charges falls within the powers of Central government,” he said.
Expounding the provisions of DSPE Act, Venugopal further said the CVC and DoPT jointly exercised the power of superintendence over every officer downwards from CBI Director. “Alok Verma continues to hold the status of CBI Director, and enjoys all privileges and benefits of the post till date,” he said.
“The government’s intervention was to protect the public confidence in CBI, which was getting negative in view of the serious fight between two of its top officials. Government intervention was in public interest,” Venugopal said.