CBI row: SC to examine panel's role in Verma's ouster

CBI row: SC to examine panel's role in Verma's ouster

CBI director Alok Verma. PTI file photo

CBI director Alok Verma has to wait  as the Supreme Court on Thursday decided to examine if the Union government and the Central Vigilance Commission can denude the chief of the premier investigating agency of his power without nod of the high-powered committee that appointed him for a fixed tenure of two years.

"Suppose a CBI chief is caught red-handed taking a bribe, what should be the course of action? You say the committee has to be approached but should the person continue even for a minute,” a bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked senior advocate F S Nariman, representing Verma.

In such a case too, the government has to approach the committee or the court, he responded.

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph, clarified that the court has gone through the CVC inquiry report against Verma but it was not referring to it for the time being as it was confining its hearing to the pure question of law. The court put the matter for consideration on December 5.

The Union government led by Attorney General K K Venugopal contended that though the selection of CBI director was by the committee, his appointment was by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. “The question does not arise so far as consultation with the committee was concerned,” he said, adding Verma was still the director and continued to occupy government accommodation and have support staff.

“The primary concern was to protect people's faith in the CBI. Its top two officers were at loggerheads. The public opinion was getting negative. And, hence, the government decided to intervene in public interest so that CBI doesn't lose public confidence," Venugopal said.

Wings clipped 

Nariman, however, maintained the orders issued on October 23 by the Union government's department of personnel and training and the Central Vigilance Commission have clipped Verma's wings, which was not contemplated in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and the CVC Act. Relying upon the Vineet Narain judgement, he said Verma was appointed on February 1, 2017 for a fixed tenure of two years by the highest body, that comprised Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition.

The bench, which heard the matter for about four hours, posed further questions to counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for NGO 'Common Cause', and Rajeev Dhavan, who challenged transfer of CBI officer A K Bassi, after both Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana were divested of their power.

Govt can't touch?

“So you are advancing a proposition that the selection committee is absolute principle, knowing no exception. The director of the CBI can't be touched by the government whatsoever may be the circumstances or howsoever compelling could be the reasons,” the bench asked them.

“Yes”, said all the counsels, while senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Mallikarjun Kharge, a member of the high-powered committee, said the CVC and the government can't override the power of the selection committee. The counsel also pointed out, even if there were some lacuna in the statutes, the government can't transfer the CBI chief without procedure. Otherwise it would affect other constitutional bodies like the UPSC and the CAG.

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