Editorial

Defusing tensions: on CBI feud

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The Supreme Court’s interim order paves the way for a quick resolution of the CBI crisis

The Supreme Court has taken hold of the situation. It has done well to order a time-bound and supervised inquiry into the charges against the sidelined CBI Director, Alok Verma. The government had suggested that it took the first step earlier this week to defuse tensions arising from the feud between the two top officers of the agency when it asked Mr. Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana to go on leave, and appointed M. Nageswara Rao as its interim chief. This followed an order by the Central Vigilance Commission, accusing Mr. Verma of non-cooperation and divesting him of his powers and functions. However, these measures only deepened the suspicion that the government was interfering in the CBI Director’s functioning. The court, while entertaining a writ petition from Mr. Verma questioning the legality of the order divesting him of his powers, has asked the CVC for a quick probe within two weeks into allegations against him contained in a letter sent by the Cabinet Secretary on August 24. Former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik is to supervise the CVC probe. Responding to the government’s reservations about such external supervision of the work of a statutory authority, whose primary responsibility is superintendence over the CBI in anti-corruption investigations, the court clarified that it is a one-time exception given the peculiar facts of this case. The court has addressed the possibility that the crisis could be compounded if the interim Director makes any far-reaching decisions on his own. It has asked him to confine himself to routine tasks to keep the agency’s work going. A review of Mr. Rao’s early decisions transferring key officers is possible: the court has sought the details in a sealed cover.

The court’s interim order thus goes beyond calming the air; it works as a safeguard against any further damage to the institution’s reputation and credibility during the pendency of the case, and is a means to a quick resolution. It also preserves the legal questions arising from the government’s action based on the CVC’s order against him. Notice has been issued to the government in both Mr. Verma’s petition and another by the NGO ‘Common Cause’ challenging the order against Mr. Verma. Questions such as whether the CVC’s power of superintendence extends to recommending stripping a Director of his powers and functions and whether such a step requires the approval of the committee that appoints the Director are still open for adjudication. Judicial intervention often serves to quieten the mood in a surcharged atmosphere. This is of particular importance here. Reports that four men from the IB were caught by Mr. Verma’s security staff on suspicion of mounting surveillance on him cause unease. This is no time for distrust and mutual recrimination.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 4:46:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/defusing-tensions/article25339360.ece

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