NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre why CBI director Alok Verma was benched overnight when his fight with special director Rakesh Asthana was on since July. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also suggested that the government could have sought the selection panel’s consent instead of overnight action.
“The officers were fighting since July. It wasn’t that the institution was crumbling overnight,” the CJI, sitting along justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, said. He demanded to know from solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Central Vigilance Commission, the emergent situation that forced the government’s hand on an issue that was simmering for some time. Mehta said that sometimes “extraordinary problems” called for “extraordinary solutions”.
“There are surprise situations in which the CVC has to step in. We have not found the power belatedly,” Mehta said, adding that the CVC took disciplinary action against officials and submitted reports to the President which are later placed for Parliament’s approval.
The court concluded the hearing of the case and reserved its verdict. Verma retires in January.
Appearing for Verma, Fali S Nariman said the Vineet Narain judgment and the consequent legislative amendments were to insulate the CBI director from pressures and make him independent. If he can be suddenly shifted, where is the independence, he asked. He also said the law doesn’t contemplate appointment of any interim director, much as the Constitution doesn’t have provisions for an interim CJI. “You have to have a CJI,” he said. In this context, he said he preferred tension between the three wings of government rather than camaraderie.
“Even in a case of promotion, the panel has to be consulted to prevent that he is not being kicked upstairs,” Nariman said. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, appearing for selection panel member Mallikarjun Kharge, Dushyant Dave for NGO Common Cause and Rajeev Dhavan for investigating officer AK Bassi also made their submissions. Dhavan dismissed the attorney-general’s ‘public fight’ angle as a cover-up exercise. The AG had claimed on Wednesday that the government stepped in as the two officers fought like Kilkenny cats without bothering about the institution. Dhavan said that Verma was shifted out after Asthana’s complaint and the court must examine if the autonomy issue trumped service rules and if the CBI rejig was the least invasive action the government could have taken. Justice Joseph agreed saying the court will have to examine conditions of service, transfer and tenure. Sibal warned the bench against letting the government have “untrammelled” powers to remove the CBI director.