Supreme Court reinstates Alok Verma as CBI Director

However, it restrains him from taking any major policy decision till the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry is over.

Updated - December 03, 2021 10:11 am IST

Published - January 08, 2019 11:26 am IST - New Delhi

Alok Verma

Alok Verma

The Supreme Court on Tuesday “re-instated” exiled CBI Director Alok Verma, but ordered him to “cease and desist” from taking any major policy decisions till a high-powered committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decides afresh the question of his divestment.

Now, with just a few days left before retirement, Mr. Verma’s fate hinges on the decision of this committee comprising the Prime Minister (PM), the Chief Justice of India and the Opposition Leader.

Asthana’s complaint

Their call would be based on allegations levelled against him. These allegations, based on a complaint filed by rival CBI officer R.K. Asthana, had led to a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inquiry and his divestment from office. The court itself has not commented on the merits of these allegations.

The judgment, delivered by a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however concluded that the CVC and the government acted outside their authority to unilaterally divest Mr. Verma and appoint M. Nageshwar Rao as the interim CBI Director in back-to-back decisions taken overnight on October 23 last year. The court set aside both the orders.

The judgment was written by Chief Justice Gogoi, who was on leave. The puisne judges on the Bench, Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph, presided over the pronouncement of judgment in open court. Justice Kaul read out excerpts from the judgment.

‘Only routine works’

Thus the court, though placing Mr. Verma back on the saddle, has effectively clipped his wings. His authority as a CBI Director would be confined to “ongoing routine functions” till the PM Committee decides. The court specifically ordered him not to undertake “any fresh initiative” with major policy or institutional implications in the interregnum.

The court asked the committee of Prime Minister Modi, Chief Justice Gogoi and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, as Opposition leader, to consider Mr. Verma’s case within a week.

The judgment said the pivotal question in the Verma controversy was whether government and CVC should have obtained prior consent of the PM committee, set up under Section 4A (1) of the Delhi Special Police Act (DSPE) Act, before divesting him as CBI Director on October 23.

Responding to this, the court dismissed the claims of superintendence over the CBI made by the government and the CVC. The judgment reasoned that the legislative intent had been all along to completely insulate the CBI Director from extraneous influences.

It termed the requirement to get the prior approval of the high-powered committee to either transfer or even to divest a sitting CBI Director as a “compelling necessity”. The prior approval of the PM committee provided “an adequate safeguard to ensure the independence of the office” of the CBI Director. This legislative intent was apparent from the fact that the Parliament, on its own volition, amended the DSPE Act through the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013.

These amendments had included Section 4A, which set up the PM Committee, and Section 4B. Section 4B(2) of the DSPE Act required the government to take the prior consent of the PM Committee before transferring a CBI Director mid-tenure.

Another question answered by the court was whether the divestment of Mr. Verma amounted to a ‘transfer’ under Section 4B (2). The judgment expanded the term ‘transfer’ to include divestment, and thus, made prior consent of the PM panel a must.

“If the word ‘transferred’ has to be understood in its ordinary parlance and limited to a change from one post to another... such an interpretation would be self-defeating… In such an event it will be free for the State to effectively disengage the CBI Director from functioning by adopting various modes, known and unknown, which may not amount to transfer but would still have the same effect as a transfer, namely, cessation of exercise of powers and functions,” it explained.

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