In a setback to the government, the Supreme Court Tuesday reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI chief. Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were relieved from office in a midnight order in October after their infighting over corruption allegations became public.
The SC bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said the restrained Verma from taking any major policy decision until the high-powered committee considers his case. The panel comprising of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India has been given a weeks’ time to consider the case.
The bench pronounced the verdict on two petitions, one filed by Verma and the other by NGO Common Cause, challenging the government’s decision. During the hearing, the government argued that the two officers were fighting like “Kilkenny cats,” leaving them with no choice but to send them on leave. The court, however, said that the feud between the top aides of CBI was “not something that happened overnight to require immediate action”. It also questioned the government’s haste and asked why a selection committee was not consulted in the case.
The Supreme Court reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI chief, setting aside the midnight order of the government. Read highlights in Tamil, Bangla, Malayalam
Will comply with the SC order: Arun Jaitley
Reacting to the Supreme Court verdict on Alok Verma, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government will comply with the judgment. "The decision to divest them was taken due to the allegations and the counter-allegations of both the officers. It was on the basis of CVC's recommendations. The Centre felt the decision was necessary for a "fair" probe and to maintain the integrity of the agency. We haven't read the verdict yet. It is true that only a high-standing committee can remove officers. But in cases of corruption, the CVC is allowed to exercise its power of superintendence."
Time for Centre to stop arm-twisting agencies: Mehbooba Mufti
Welcome SCs decision to reinstate #AlokVerma as CBI Dir.Reinstates belief in independent institutions of our democracy that are its pillars. Time for the Central gov to stop misusing its influence to arm twist investigative agencies like NIA & CBI for political vendetta.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) January 8, 2019
Law catches up in the end: Congress' Randeep Singh Surjewala's message to BJP
Launching an attack on the Modi government after the apex court verdict, Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said Narendra Modi is the first prime minister to have "his illegal orders set aside by the Supreme Court." "Modiji adds another 1st to his list. After being the first PM to be exposed destroying the #CBI before the SC, After having ruined CVC's credibility (requiring supervision by former SC judge),Mr. Modi has now become 1st PM to have his illegal orders set aside by the SC," he tweeted. "Let this be a lesson to you about the strength of our democracy and the Constitution. Let this be a lesson that howsoever despotic u may be, law catches up in the end," he added
Prashant Bhushan on Alok Verma's verdict
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan welcomed the judgment but wondered why the bench did not "restore the time that he was illegally kept away."
SC quashes Govt decision to remove Alok Verma as CBI Director. But does not restore the time that he was illegally kept away & further restrains him from taking policy decisions! Still, that will not prevent him from ordering registration of FIRs & dealing with investigations— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 8, 2019
SC sets aside Nageswara Rao's appointment as CBI interim chief
The court also set aside the Centre's decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was the joint director, as the interim chief of the agency.
Alok Verma's reinstatement, a lesson for the govt, says Mallikarjun Kharge
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the verdict is a "lesson" for the government. "We're not against one individual, welcome SC's judgement, it's a lesson for govt. Today you'll use these agencies to pressurise people, tomorrow somebody else will, What will happen to democracy then?" he told reporters, reported news agency ANI
Direct indictment of PM Modi: Kejriwal on Alok Verma verdict
Reacting to the apex court's judgment, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called it a "direct indictment of the PM". He also accused Modi government of "ruining all institutions and democracy" in the country. "Wasn't CBI director illegally removed at midnight to stall the probe in Rafale scam which directly leads to PM himself?" he tweeted
Word 'transfer' cannot be given its normal meaning: Supreme Court
During the hearing, the bench had that the word “transfer” cannot be given its normal meaning and that it has to be understood as encompassing acts affecting the functioning of the CBI Director.
Committee to look into charges against Verma
The apex court also said that any further decision against Verma would be taken by the high-powered committee which selects and appoints CBI Director. The Committee consists of the Prime Minister, CJI and Leader of Opposition.
Alok Verma resinstated
Alok Verma was restored as CBI chief by the Supreme Court today morning. The court cancelled the government's midnight order that divested Verma of all his powers. He, however, cannot take any major polity decisions until the committee constituted under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act gives its report
Verdict being pronounced in court
The bench begins pronouncing the judgment. The verdict has been authored by CJI Gogoi, but is being read by Justice Kaul in his absence.
Alok Verma calls government order 'trasnfer', CBI denies
Verma and his co-petitioners have equated the order to a transfer, and emphasised the provision that says the CBI Director cannot be transferred without prior permission of the high-powered committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India. Alok Verma's tenure ends on Feb 1.
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.
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.
Timeline of power tussle in CBI
Nov 30, 2016: Then Special Director of CBI, R K Dutta, is transferred to Home Ministry 2 days before agency chief Anil Sinha was to retire
Dec 2: Then Additional Director Rakesh Asthana (Gujarat cadre) is appointed interim director
Dec 5: Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan files a petition in Supreme Court challenging Asthana’s appointment
Dec 17: Supreme Court tells government to follow its directions on the criteria for selection of CBI director
Feb 1, 2017: Government appoints then Delhi CP Alok Verma as director
Oct 21: Verma hands over a confidential note to CVC during its panel meeting over promotion of Asthana to the post of special director. The note said that Asthana was paid Rs 3.88 crore by Sterling Biotech
Oct 22: CVC panel unanimously clears Asthana’s promotion
March 19, 2018: A week after Supreme Court set a deadline of six months to finish the probe into the Aircel-Maxis case, journalist Upendra Rai files a petition in the apex court alleging amassing of disproportionate wealth by Enforcement Directorate Joint Director Rajeshwar Singh. The petition is rejected
May 3: Rai is arrested by CBI for allegedly obtaining an unauthorised airport entry pass for extorting money from businessmen by promising them to settle income tax cases. Name of IPS officer Jyoti Narayan, posted with Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, comes up
June 5: Another journalist Rajneesh Kapoor files a petition similar to Rai’s in the apex court
June 27: Supreme Court removes Rajeshwar Singh’s blanket protection against investigation after government submits an R&AW report stating that he was in touch with an ISI agent.
June 27: ED Director Karnal Singh comes out in support of his subordinate officer and issues a press release saying that his officer is clean and that the call was received as the alleged “ISI agent” provided information on a case of bank frauds
June 27: Rajeshwar Singh’s scathing attack on Revenue Secretary Hansmukh Adhia accusing the latter of “siding with scamsters” is leaked on social media. Finance Ministry issues a chargesheet against Singh
July 12: CBI Director Alok Verma writes to CVC through A K Sharma, additional director (policy), that Asthana does not have the mandate to represent the Director in a meeting over induction of certain officers into the CBI and extension of tenure of some officers. The letter also says Asthana is himself “under (the) scanner” in several cases
Aug 24: Asthana lodges a complaint with Cabinet Secretary that Verma was interfering in cases which he was investigating, and that he had tried to stop a raid on Lalu Prasad Yadav in the IRCTC case. The complaint is forwarded to CVC, which starts a probe
Oct 15: CBI registers an FIR against Asthana alleging that he received a bribe of Rs 2 crore to settle a case against Hyderabad businessman Satish Sana. Arrests middleman Manoj Prasad
Oct 23: CVC issues orders divesting Verma of all duties
Oct 24: Verma challenges CVC order in Supreme Court
AG likens Alok Verma, Asthana to Kilkenny cats
During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal likened the power tussle between the CBI’s top two officers to a fight between “Kilkenny cats”. The expression, which has come to mean a fight to an assured mutual death, refers to cats supposedly fighting in a mediaeval town of Ireland. The origin of self-destructive cat fights was probably in an allegory to power and excess.
“Government of India was watching with amazement as to what the top officers were doing, they were fighting like cats," Attorney General KK Venugopal told in the court. “Dispute between CBI Director and Special Director was pulling down integrity and respect of the premier institution..Our main aim is to see that confidence of the public in this premiere institution (CBI) is restored,” he told the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. Read more
Justice SK Kaul to pronounce verdict in Alok Verma case
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is not available in the Supreme Court today. In his absence, Justice SK Kaul will pronounce the verdict. The judgment is likely to be given at 10.30 am in court room number 12.
Does law allow the government to send Verma on leave?
With Alok Verma being sent on leave by the government, questions are being asked if he was illegally removed from the post of CBI director. Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan said the PM had no authority to send the CBI director on leave as his tenure was protected. “It is not CBI vs CBI. It is CBI versus a corrupt officer planted in the CBI by the PMO,” he had tweeted.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also questioned the “law under which Modi government” initiated the order against the chief of the country’s premier probe agency.
Before 1997, the tenure of the CBI director was not fixed and they could be removed by the government in any manner. But the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain judgment fixed the tenure of minimum of two years for the CBI director to allow the officer to work with independence.
Judgment on Alok Verma likely to be pronounced at 10.30 am
The apex court is hearing two petitions in connection with the case. Verma challenged his removal in the apex court saying that rules mandate that the CBI chief has two years in office. An NGO has also filed a petition in the case. The judgment will shortly be delivered in court no. 12
Welcome to the live blog. The Supreme Court will today pronounce its verdict on two petitions challenging CBI chief Alok Verma's removal. Follow this space to track all the latest news