SC Ties Acting Director’s Hands, CVC Probe into CBI Head to be Monitored by Ex-Judge

Interim order sets two week limit for probe, substantive aspects of Alok Verma’s plaint to be heard on November 12.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday – in an interim order – gave two weeks to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to finish its enquiry against Alok Verma, who on early Wednesday was divested by the Narendra Modi government of his powers as the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The probe is to be conducted under the supervision of former apex court judge Justice A.K. Patnaik, LiveLaw reported.

The court was hearing Verma’s plea against the “patently illegal” government decision – taken on the recommendation of the CVC – effectively replacing him with an acting director.

Friday’s order is an interim measure. The substantive aspects of Verma’s plaint will be taken up by the court on November 12.

On Wednesday morning, the Centre acted to divest Verma and his bête noire in the CBI, special director Rakesh Asthana, sending them both on indefinite leave and placing the agency in the hands of acting director M. Nageshwar Rao.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph further ordered that till the enquiry against Verma has been completed, Nageshwar Rao must refrain from taking any policy decisions and instead only do routine work like looking after the functioning of the agency. According to an Indian Express report, the court further ruled that all decisions that are taken by Rao from the date of his appointment as interim director “till this hour” will be submitted to the apex court in a sealed cover. This would include the spate of transfers Rao initiated within hours of taking charge, effectively dismantling the team that had been probing Asthana and whose efforts had led to the filing of an FIR for bribery against him.

Also read: The Crisis Is Not About CBI, It’s About the Rule of Law

During the hearing, senior advocate F.S. Nariman, who is representing Verma, contended that a CBI director cannot be taken off charge without getting the approval of the high-powered committee comprising the prime minister, leader of opposition and the CJI, which appointed the CBI chief as per section 4A to the Delhi Police Establishment Act.

While the bench has issued notice and will take these and other related questions after the Diwali break on November 12, it refused to hear Asthana’s plea – asking that the CBI’s case against him be dropped – on grounds that he should have submitted his petition earlier.

In his petition filed on Wednesday, Verma had claimed CBI special director Asthana had obstructed several decisions which were crucial to the investigation of “highly sensitive cases” including those monitored by the Supreme Court. He had further charged Asthana with fabricating evidence to “impugn his reputation”.

Full order:

(With agency inputs)