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Posted at: Dec 7, 2018, 2:07 AM; last updated: Dec 7, 2018, 9:19 AM (IST)

CBI chief’s fate hangs in balance, ruling reserved

Bench: Why appointments panel was not consulted

Poser to Centre

  • The essence of administration is to do what is acceptable. If there are two options, one acceptable and the other more acceptable, what stopped the Centre from going for the more acceptable option? — CJI Ranjan Gogoi
CBI chief’s fate hangs in balance, ruling reserved
CJI Ranjan Gogoi

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 6

CBI Director Alok Verma’s fate hangs in balance as the Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on his petition challenging the Centre’s decision to divest him of all powers and to send him on leave. Verma — who is due to retire on January 31 — and Special Director Rakesh Asthana have been at loggerheads for quite some time.

They were sent on leave last month and both have filed separate petitions challenging the decision. Asthana’s petition remains pending.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi reserved its judgment after marathon arguments from senior counsel Fali Nariman for Verma, Attorney General KK Venugopal for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for Central Vigilance Commission, Additional Solicitor General PS Nasarimha for CBI, senior counsel Dushyant Dave for Common Cause, senior counsel Rajiv Dhavan for CBI DSP AK Bassi and senior advocate Kapil Sibal for Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.

Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, who represented CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, was allowed to make a brief submission as “an officer of the court”.

In the pre-lunch session, the Bench — which also included Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph — fired a volley of questions at Mehta and asked him to explain why the appointments panel comprising the Prime Minister, CJI and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha was not consulted.

“It’s not that the fight between Verma and Asthana emerged overnight and the government was forced to take immediate steps to divest the CBI Director of his powers without consulting the Selection Committee,” the CJI asked.

Justice Gogoi said the  Attorney General has said the tussle between the two CBI officers was on for the last three months. “It would have been better if the Government had taken prior permission of the Select Committee before divesting Verma of his powers.”

Mehta said, “Instead of investigating serious cases, the two officers of CBI were filing FIRs against each other. Evidence would have been tampered with. It was a surprising situation and the CVC needed to act. Some urgent action — short of removal and transfer — was needed to deal with the extraordinary situation.”

The Solicitor General said the CVC was accountable to the President and Parliament and to courts, if the issue was raised in a PIL. “The CVC could have been held guilty of dereliction of duty if it had not taken the decision it took on October 23,” he said.

Mehta said unlike the CVC and vigilance commissioners, the CBI Director did not have special protection (with regard to removal) and the latter had only protection of tenure.

On his part, Rohatgi said the CBI Director continued to be governed by Central Government service rules as he was to be governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act only with regard to appointment, transfer and suspension. 

At one point, the CJI asked Nariman if the court had the power to appoint an interim or acting CBI Director. Nariman answered in the affirmative.

Rohatgi said the Centre would have power over its employees despite the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, except on appointment, suspension and transfer.

Nariman, Dave, Sibal and Dhavan sought to emphasise the security of tenure for the CBI Director, which was cut short due to the Centre’s decision to divest him of all his powers. The appointment panel should have been consulted, they pointed out.

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