Updated: October 26, 2018 8:55:30 pm
The Supreme Court Friday gave two weeks time to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its probe against CBI director Alok Verma, and posted the next date of hearing on November 12.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi ruled that the CVC probe will be monitored by retired SC judge Justice AK Patnaik. The court, however, made it clear that it is a one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this court in the “peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India.”
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by CBI director Alok Verma challenging the decision of the Centre to divest him of his duties and sending him on leave, amid an internal tussle in the investigating agency between him and Special director Rakesh Awasthi. Verma had also challenged the appointment of Nageshwar Rao as interim chief.
The court divested Rao of the power to make policy decisions and ordered that he will only “perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.” All decisions taken by Rao from date of appointment (October 23) as interim director, including decisions with regard to transfer of investigations, change of Investigative Officers, till now shall be submitted to the court in a sealed cover on or before November 12, whereafter orders, as would be appropriate, will be passed by the court.
Senior advocate F S Nariman appearing for Verma submitted that the CBI Director was appointed with the approval of a selection panel having the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Nariman cited the Vineet Narain judgment to support Verma’s pleas.
Ahead of the hearing, Asthana also moved the court challenging ‘forced leave’ by the centre. The Supreme Court refusing to entertain the plea, said it was filed too late.
The hearing today pertained to Verma’s petition, along with another plea filed on Thursday by NGO, ‘Common Cause’. In its plea, the NGO sought quashing of the Central Vigilance Commission order of October 23, which it said “illegally divested” Verma of his work for “malafide reasons”. It also requested the court to quash the order issued by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet giving Rao interim charge and sought removal of CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana from the agency “in light of serious corruption cases pending against him”.
Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress joined the Congress-led protests Friday outside the CBI headquarters and all its offices across the country demanding reinstatement of the CBI director, and an apology from the Prime Minister. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier said CBI should be renamed BBI (BJP Bureau of investigation).
A day before the hearing, the CBI Thursday said Verma and Awasthi continue to retain their positions in the agency, with Rao taking interim charge of the duties of the Director pending investigation. Immediately after taking charge, Rao ordered a reshuffle and shunted out officers, most of whom were in Verma’s team, probing bribery charges against Asthana. Asthana, a 1984 batch Indian Police Service officer of Gujarat cadre, is alleged to have demanded a bribe of Rs 5 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman through two middlemen to help him get off the hook in the Moin Qureshi case. The CBI on October 15 registered an FIR and arrested Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar in connection with the case. Counter allegations by Asthana against the CBI chief escalated the matter.
Hours after he was sent on leave late Tuesday night, Verma appealed the court for an urgent hearing. In his petition, Verma, while underlining that CBI is an independent and autonomous agency, said “there are bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the Government”.
Four men from the Intelligence Bureau were held Thursday morning outside the official residence of Verma, triggering allegations of ‘snooping’ by the opposition. Home Ministry officials, however, said the IB men were on “routine” duty and not “spying” on Verma
The matter has cause rumblings in the political circle, with the Opposition terming the centre’s temporary removal of Verma as “illegal”, alleging that it was done to prevent a probe in the Rafale deal.
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