SC brings back Alok Verma as CBI chief

Wednesday 09th January 2019 02:09 EST

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated Alok Verma as CBI Director - over two months after the government stripped him of his powers and sent him on leave on October 23. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi overturned the Chief Vigilance Commission order recommending Verma’s removal and returned him to the post. The court has, however, directed Verma not to take any policy decisions till the statutory committee meets within a week and decides further on the matter. The statutory committee comprises the Prime Minister, CJI and the Leader of the Opposition. Both Verma and his deputy, Rakesh Asthana, were divested of their powers following a bitter fallout. Joint Director M Nageswara Rao was appointed as the interim chief of the agency. The Supreme Court has also set aside the appointment of Rao.

Verma challenged his removal in the apex court, saying the decision was against the rules that mandate that the CBI chief has two years in office. Verma’s two-year tenure as CBI Director ends on January 31. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Centre would comply with the Supreme Court verdict. Adding that the action was taken on the recommendations of the CVC, Jaitley said, "The government wanted to protect CBI. The court has taken a "balanced view" in the case, he added.

During the hearing, the government had justified its action by arguing that the two officers were fighting like "Kilkenny cats." But Senior Counsel Fali S Nariman, appearing for Verma, contended that the differences did not happen "overnight" and that the authorities could have approached a selection committee. Attorney General K K Venugopal opposed this argument and said that the action was "in effect only a suspension" and that the argument that it was a transfer was "highly artificial."

Reserving its verdict in December, the bench reminded the government it had to be "fair." "It (Infighting) has been going on since July. It has been developing since three months... It's not something that has happened overnight to require immediate action," it told the Central Vigilance Commission, which supervises the CBI's functioning and on whose recommendation the Centre stripped Verma of his powers.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the CVC called it a "surprise situation" and said that the "two senior officers instead of investigating serious cases were investigating each other, were raiding each other...Unless CVC has the power to act in surprise situations, it will become a toothless body."

The cracks began to appear between the CBI's top two way back in October 2017, when Verma objected to Asthana's promotion as Special Director. Later, Verma accused Asthana of accepting bribes from a Hyderabad-based businessman to help him get off the hook in the Moin Qureshi case money laundering case. The Special Director shot back with a dozen charges listed against Verma, including counter charge relating to Moin Qureshi case, where he alleged that it was the CBI director who accepted a bribe.

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