The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated CBI Director Alok Verma, setting aside the Centre's decision to divest him of his powers, but restrained him from taking any major policy decision till the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) probe into corruption charges against him is over.
The apex court said any further decision against Verma, who was sent on leave following the Centre's 23 October decision and retires on 31 January, will be taken by the high-powered committee which selects and appoints the CBI director.
The selection committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. The top court said the selection committee will take its decision on the basis of the findings of the CVC inquiry. It said the meeting of the committee should be convened within a week.
The judgement was penned by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. However, the CJI didn't attend court and it was pronounced by Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph. The apex court also set aside the Centre's decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was joint director, as the agency's interim chief.
Noting the history of the CBI, the Supreme Court noted that the CBI, which was initially governed by the Police Act, 1861 made the provision, "The superintendence of the police throughout a general police district shall vest in and shall be exercised by the State Government to which such district is subordinate; and except as authorised under the provisions of this Act, no person, officer, or court shall be empowered by the state government to supersede, or control any police functionary."
The DSPE Act was enacted in the year 1946 to carve out an exception to the Police Act, 1861. The court noted:
"The organization i.e. CBI has grown over the years in its role, power and importance and today has become the premier investigative and prosecution agency of the country. The high stature and the preeminent position that the institution has acquired is largely on account of a strong perception of the necessity of having such a premier agency. Such a perception finds reflection in the conscious attempts of the Government of the day to introduce reforms, from time to time, so as to enable the institution to reach greater heights in terms of integrity, independence and confidence. A close look at such attempts will now be in order."
"If the word “transferred” has to be understood in its ordinary parlance and limited to a change from one post to another, as the word would normally convey and on that basis the requirement of “previous consent of the Committee” is 39 understood to be only in such cases, i.e. purely of transfer, such an interpretation would be self-defeating and would clearly negate the legislative intent. In such an event it will be free for the State Authority to effectively disengage the Director, CBI from functioning by adopting various modes, known and unknown, which may not amount to transfer but would still have th same effect as a transfer from one post to another, namely, cessation of exercise of powers and functions of the earlier post. This is clearly not what the legislature could have intended. The long history of evolution has shown that the institution of the CBI has been perceived to be necessarily kept away from all kinds of extraneous influences so that it can perform its role as the premier investigating and prosecuting agency without any fear and favour and in the best public interest. The head of the institution, namely, the Director, naturally, therefore, has to be the role model of independence and integrity which can only be ensured by freedom from all kinds of control and interference except to the extent that Parliament may have intended. Such intendment, in our considered view, would require all Authorities to keep away from intermingling or interfering in the functioning of the Director."
"In a situation where such interference may at all be called for, public interest must be writ large against the backdrop of the necessity. The relevance and adequacy of the
reasons giving rise to such a compelling necessity can only be tested by the opinion of the Committee constituted under Section 4A(1) of the DSPE Act in whom the power to make recommendations for appointment of the Director has been vested by Parliament. This alone can provide an adequate safeguard to ensure the independence of the office keeping in view the legislative intent, as found and held by us."
"As the issue of divestment of power and authority of the Director, CBI is still open for consideration by the Committee and our interference with the impugned orders has been on the ground indicated above, we deem it proper to direct that the petitioner Shri Alok Verma, Director, CBI, upon reinstatement, will cease and desist from taking any major policy decisions till the decision of the Committee permitting such actions and decisions becomes available within the time frame indicated. We further make it explicit that the role of the Petitioner Shri Alok Verma as the Director, CBI during the interregnum and in terms of this order will be confined only to the exercise of the ongoing routine functions without any fresh initiative, having no major policy or institutional implications."
Read the full Supreme Court verdict here:
With the verdict, the apex court overruled the Centre's 23 October decision divesting Verma as CBI chief and sending him on leave. Verma had moved the top court challenging the Centre's decision.
Verma sought quashing of three orders of 23 October, 2018 — one by the CVC and two by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) — as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer, was given the charge of interim chief of the probe agency. The Centre took the decision to send Verma and CBI's Special Director Rakesh Asthana on leave after their feud become public. The top two charged each other of corruption.
The Centre said Verma and Asthana were fighting like "Kilkenny cats", exposing the country's premier investigating agency to "public ridicule".
Challenging the government's decision, Verma's counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman argued that the CBI director was appointed on February 1, 2017 and "the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred".
Nariman said there was no basis for the CVC to pass an order recommending that Verma be sent on leave.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 15:36:57 IST