CBI ruling: SC slap for govt

CBI ruling: SC slap for govt

Verma’s tenure must be extended by 77 days

Alok Verma

The Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Alok Verma as chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) provides a shot in the arm with regard to securing the independence of the office of the CBI chief from political and other interference. Verma was divested of his position and responsibilities in October in the wake of an unseemly feud between Verma and his deputy, Rakesh Asthana, who was under the agency’s scanner on Verma’s orders. The Centre ordered both of them to go on leave. Asthana is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By asking Verma to go on leave, the Modi government, in effect, acted to shield Asthana from being probed on corruption charges. Additionally, the government appointed Nageshwara Rao, an officer also under investigation by Verma, as the interim CBI chief. The court’s decision to reinstate Verma is a victory for him, albeit a partial one as the court has restrained him from taking any major policy decisions till the Select Committee disposes off his case. Verma’s term as CBI chief ends on January 31.

The SC verdict is a rap on the knuckles of the Modi government. Rubbishing the government’s claim, the SC has ruled that the action taken against Verma amounted to a ‘transfer’, something that could be done only by the high-powered Selection Committee that appoints the CBI chief. It has also quashed the government’s order to appoint Rao as the CBI’s interim chief. Under successive governments, the CBI has become a highly politicised institution and CBI officers, including its chiefs, have bent over backwards to ingratiate themselves to the ruling dispensation. The SC verdict will go some way in restoring the independence and autonomy of the CBI. It opens up space for the CBI to wrest back control over its independence.

The Supreme Court ruling did not reinstate Verma’s full powers, which it should have. It also hasn’t compensated Verma for the 77 days he lost as CBI chief. This could prompt Verma to go back to the apex court for a clarification. Fairness demands that his tenure should be extended to make up for the lost period, and he should be allowed to resume work that has been stalled since October. All eyes are on Verma’s next steps. Legal experts say he has the right to register an FIR in the Rafale case as it would neither be a “major policy decision” nor a “fresh initiative” on his part to do so, but would constitute the core of the CBI’s work. Should he do so, the Modi government could find itself in a soup.

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