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The Supreme Court today set aside the Central government’s order divesting Alok Verma of his powers as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
While doing so, the Court also directed the High Power Committee to consider the matter afresh, and held that Alok Verma shall cease and desist from taking any major policy decision pending the Committee’s consideration.
The Court has also set aside the order asking CBI Joint Director Nageshwar Rao to take over the duties of the CBI Director.
Alok Verma Judgment of the Supreme Court explained in one minute. [Video]
The verdict was delivered by a Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph. As CJI Gogoi was unavailable today, Justice Kaul pronounced the verdict in Court No. 12.
Pronouncing the verdict authored by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, the Court held that it cannot be oblivious to the directions contained in Vineet Narain & Ors. v. Union of India. The intent of bringing the directions of Vineet Narain into the statute book was to ensure complete insulation of the CBI Director, the Court held.
It was also held that the word “transfer” cannot be given its normal meaning, and that it has to be understood as encompassing acts affecting the functioning of the CBI Director.
The two main issues before the Court were whether the CVC and the Centre had the competence to divest Verma of his powers as CBI Director, and whether the reasons for doing so were sufficient and adequate.
To answer the first question, the Court cited Section 4B(2) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE Act), which governs the functioning of the CBI. The Section states:
“(2) The Director shall not be transferred except with the previous consent of the Committee referred to in sub-section (1) of section 4 A.”
The Committee is required to be constituted by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India, or another Supreme Court judge.
On perusing the stated law, the Court held,
“An indepth consideration of the matter leaves us with no doubt that the clear legislative intent in bringing the aforesaid provisions to the statute book are for the purpose of ensuring complete insulation of the office of the Director, CBI from all kinds of extraneous influences, as may be, as well as for upholding the integrity and independence of the institution of the CBI as a whole.”
If the Legislature intended for the government to pass interim orders against the CBI Director, it would have provided for the same in the DSPE Act, the Court further held.
“If the legislative intent would have been to confer in any authority of the State a power to take interim measures against the Director, CBI thereby affecting his functioning, surely, the legislation would have contained enabling provisions to that effect and consequently would have been differently worded and drafted. It is against this backdrop that the words “transferred except with the previous consent of the Committee” mentioned in Section 4B(2) of the DSPE Act has to be understood.”
The Court went on to highlight the importance of independence of the CBI from extraneous influence.
“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.”
On the aspect of the sufficiency of the reasons for the transfers under challenge, the Court noted,
“…our attempts to keep the report of the enquiry by the CVC ordered on 26th October and 12th November, 2018 in sealed cover was sufficiently indicative of the mind of the Court that this aspect of the case should require to be unfolded only if inevitable and that too in the event of a negative decision on the jurisdictional question.”
The Court held that the matter would now by considered by the Committee under Section 4A(1) of the DSPE Act, which is required to come to a decision within a week. The Court thus held,
“As the issue of divestment of power and authority of the Director, CBI is still open for consideration by the Committee…we deem it proper to direct that the petitioner Shri Alok Kumar Verma, Director, CBI, upon reinstatement, will cease and desist from taking any major policy decisions till the decision of the Committee….We further make it explicit that the role of the Petitioner Shri Alok Kumar 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.”
Regarding the IAs filed by various CBI officers challenging their transfer orders, the Court did not find it necessary to determine the correctness of the same. However, the parties have been left with the opportunity to challenge the orders before an appropriate forum.
A slew of Senior Counsel had appeared in the matter. Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman appeared for Alok Verma, while Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave represented Common Cause. Attorney General KK Venugopal appeared for the Union of India, while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta represented the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). ASG PS Narasimha appeared for CBI.
Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Rajeev Dhavan and Kapil Sibal were also allowed to argue as officers of the Court, though they were appearing for Rakesh Asthana, AK Bassi and Mallikarjun Kharge respectively.
This case reached the Supreme Court in October 2018 after the Centre sent Alok Verma on leave, effectively divesting him of his powers as the Director of the CBI. The DoPT and the CVC issued notices in a midnight move on October 29 announcing this decision.
Through the same notice, the Centre also divested CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana of his powers. This unprecedented move came in the wake of infighting between Verma and Asthana.
The agency, under Verma, had registered an FIR against Asthana in a bribery case based on a whistleblower’s account. The concerned case involved the meat exporter Moin Qureshi. However, in the same case, Asthana had alleged bribery on Verma’s part prior to the lodging of the FIR.
Asthana approached the Delhi High Court for quashing of the FIR against him. This was immediately followed by the Centre’s decision of ousting both Verma and Asthana, which came to be challenged in the Supreme Court by Verma.
Read the Alok Verma Judgment here