New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has dropped out of the high-powered selection panel that is to decide Alok Verma’s case as he was a member of the Supreme Court bench that reinstated Verma as CBI director on Tuesday.
Instead, the CJI has nominated Justice A.K. Sikri to replace him on the panel, which also includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leader of the largest opposition party – Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge.
The panel, beyond deciding Verma’s future, is also expected to deliberate and select the next CBI chief to succeed Verma as he is due to retire on January 31.
After 77 days of forced leave, Verma finally resumed office as CBI director on Wednesday.
Amidst reports that Modi was keen to convene the panel’s meeting as early as Wednesday evening, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan tweeted his apprehensions over the rush, saying the government wanted to forestall any action by the CBI director on a complaint alleging corruption in the Rafale deal.
Govt has called a meeting of the Committee of PM, LOP & CJI today itself to seek CBI Chief Verma’s removal (who was restored by SC yesterday). CJI has deputed Justice Sikri for the meeting. Astounding desperation of Govt to prevent FIR by Verma on our Rafale complaint. https://t.co/9O4c9X2kJY
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 9, 2019
A much-criticised late-night order on October 23, 2018, had sent Verma and his deputy special director Rakesh Asthana, booked by the agency on corruption charges, into exile in a first-of-its-kind move by the government in the agency’s history.
In sending Verma on leave, the government overlooked the immunity given to the CBI director by the Supreme Court, ensuring a two-year minimum tenure to protect the incumbent from any political interference.
The government tried to justify its decision, saying it became necessary amid an unprecedented feud between the two senior-most officials of the agency who had levelled charges of corruption on each other, an argument rejected by the apex court Tuesday.
The government had given charge to then joint director M. Nageswara Rao who was later promoted as additional director in the agency.
Verma had challenged the move in the Supreme Court which clipped the powers of Rao as director in-charge and barred him from taking any major policy decision till a final order comes from it.
In its order Tuesday, the Supreme Court set aside Verma’s forced leave but restrained him from taking any major policy decision till the CVC probe into corruption charges against him is over.In the absence of any clear definition of “major policy” decisions, the grey area exists as to what extent Verma’s powers will be limited.
(With inputs from PTI)