With an eye to keep the CBI's reputation safe, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its ongoing inquiry against exiled CBI Director Alok Verma in two weeks.
The CVC inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of former apex court judge Justice A.K. Patnaik.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph clipped the powers of present incumbent at the CBI helm, M. Nageshwar Rao. Mr. Rao will take care of only "routine tasks to keep the CBI functioning". He has been barred from taking any major or policy decisions. All decisions taken by Mr. Rao "from October 23 up to this hour" has come under the scanner of the Supreme Court. The court asked for a list of all decisions taken by him during this period to be placed before the Bench on November 12 in a sealed cover.
The CVC, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, raised a concern that the appointment of Justice Patnaik would reflect on the Commission.
Mr. Mehta stressed on the transparency of the CVC inquiry. "Let CVC alone examine this matter instead of anyone supervising us," Mr. Mehta urged the Bench. He quoted Section 14 of the CVC Act of 2003 to buttress the fact that CBI was statutorily accountable in its functions. On this aspect, the Solicitor General said the Commission, under Section 14 of the CVC Act of 2013, had to submit an annual report to the President that has a portion exclusively dedicated to the functioning of the CBI. Mr. Mehta said the report was even presented in Parliament. This prompted the Bench to clarify in its judicial order that Justice Patnaik's appointment was a "one-time exception considering the particular facts of the case" and that it did not reflect on the functioning of the Government of India.
The Bench urged Justice Patnaik to accept the assignment and "ensure the inquiry is completed within the time frame".
The Bench issued notice on the petitions filed separately by Mr. Verma and NGO Common Cause, highlighting the "brazen government interference" in the functioning of the CBI which was manifested in the "overnight decision" on October 23 to divest Mr. Verma of his power, functions and duties as the CBI Director. Senior advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for Mr. Verma, submitted that the CBI Director's tenure was for two years. Any breach in his term, for good or bad reasons, required the approval of the panel of the Prime Minister. This was not taken by the government. "We will examine it," the CJI observed. The court intended to fix a limited time-frame for the CVC inquiry into Mr. Verma. The cloud over Mr. Verma has to be cleared quickly, one way or the other. The CJI initially gave a time of 10 days to the CVC to complete its probe. But both Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Mr. Mehta protested that 10 days was too short a time. After a brief rhetoric pause, the CJI said: "Ok, then 240 hours! No, Mr. Solicitor General, we don't want this to go on. This is not in the interest of the country". But Mr. Mehta reminded the court would be closed for Diwali holidays. "What is the court closing on Diwali got to do with the CVC inquiry... Diwali is only one day. And CVC and CBI have no Diwali!" Chief Justice Gogoi retorted. When Mr. Mehta lifted voluminous sealed covers, saying they were connected to the inquiry, Chief Justice Gogoi stopped him, saying "we are not going to look at 1000s of pages. This inquiry is preliminary in nature". Meanwhile, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana , rose to submit that he needs to be heard too. Mr. Rohatgi submitted that his client has moved the apex court against being asked to go on leave. The government had withdrawn work from both Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana, saying their internecine feud, which culminated in each alleging corruption against the other, was a threat to the credibility of the institution they served. "But your papers are not before us, Mr. Rohatgi," Chief Justice Gogoi said.
"Then hear me on Monday," Mr. Rohatgi pushed his case. "Well, we will see about that, won't we?" Chief Justice Gogoi replied with a smile before posting the case for November 12.