Hearing exiled CBI chief Alok Verma’s case against the government for stripping him of all powers and sending him on leave, the Supreme Court today said a vigilance inquiry against him must be completed in two weeks. The court also said M Nageshwar Rao, the man who has been given temporary charge of Mr Verma’s role, cannot take any policy decisions.
Mr Rao will only be an administrative head, said a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, adding that all the decisions he has taken since being handed charge in a post-midnight government order must be submitted in court in a sealed cover.
A retired Supreme Court judge will oversee the inquiry of the Central Vigilance Commission against the banished CBI chief. The top court will take up the case next after Diwali, on November 12.
The court did not take any decision on Mr Verma’s deputy Rakesh Asthana, who has also challenged the government’s decision to send him on leave over allegations of bribery. “We are not bothered about Rakesh Asthana,” said the judges.
Mr Verma was stripped of his powers days after he launched an investigation into corruption allegations against his deputy Rakesh Asthana, accused of taking bribe in an investigation against a businessman.
Rakesh Asthana, CBI’s Special Director, fired back at his boss with the same charge, alleging it was Mr Verma who had taken bribe from the same businessman. Those are the charges being examined by the vigilance body, which oversees the CBI.
The court order may undo the transfers of a dozen CBI officers in Mr Verma’s team, including those investigating Mr Asthana. The transfers were ordered by Mr Rao soon after he took over as interim chief around 2 am on Tuesday night.
Mr Verma has said in his petition that the autonomy of the country’s premier investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is being compromised as certain investigations against high functionaries “do not take the direction desirable to the government”. Three judges led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi heard the case.
On Tuesday, Mr Asthana took the CBI to court and asked for the CBI’s case against him to be dropped. He was then divested of all his powers and sent on leave. Hours later, the government decided on similar action against the CBI chief, on a recommendation from the Central Vigilance Commission. “Neither of the two officers, nor any agency under their supervision can investigate charges against them,” the vigilance body said, explaining why the CBI chief must also go.
Senior jurist Fali Nariman, 89, represented Mr Verma in the Supreme Court; Attorney General KK Venugopal represented the centre; Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the Central Vigilance Commission, and former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appeared for Rakesh Asthana.
Mr Verma argued in his petition that the Supreme Court had ruled in the past that the CBI director should have a fixed minimum tenure of two years. His petition also says Mr Asthana “concocted evidence” against him to accuse him of corruption.
The CBI on Thursday clarified that both Mr Verma and Mr Asthana retain their posts. Mr Rao will remain interim chief till the main anti-corruption body, the Central Vigilance Commission, examines the allegations swapped by the top two officers.
The Congress has accused the government of “violating the law, the Supreme Court’s clear directions on the subject and the Constitution of India”. The Congress said the CBI chief can’t be removed without the approval of a group that includes the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition in parliament.
The Congress has launched a protest at the CBI headquarters today to highlight what it calls the “CBI’s slumping credibility”. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is leading the protest.
On Thursday, four Intelligence Bureau officials lurking near the banished CBI chief’s home were caught and dragged by his security officers and accused of snooping on Mr Verma. Stung by footage of its officials being dragged and pushed, the Intelligence Bureau objected to how its personnel were treated on a “routine patrol”.
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