New Delhi: Supreme Court’s fast-paced hearing on the ongoing crisis in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday went without a mention of stay sought by the premier probe agency’s chief Alok Kumar Verma on the government’s decision to divest him of powers and send him on leave. Also Read - Deadlock Continues as Centre-farmers Talks Remain Inconclusive, Next Meet on Jan 19
While Verma’s plea sought stay on the Centre’s order asking him to proceed on leave and giving the interim charge of his post to M Nageswara Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer, the issue did not come up during the brief hearing. Also Read - Breaking News January 15 Updates
The hearing before a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph commenced with senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for Verma, opening the arguments. Also Read - Farmers Protest: BKU Leader Recuses From SC Panel, 9th Round of Talks With Centre Today | Key Points
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Nariman started his arguments by referring to the apex court’s 1997 Vineet Narain judgement, which relates to probe of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act 2003 and amendments in the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act.
He argued that CBI Director is appointed for a tenure of two years by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India as per provisions of the DSPE Act.
“The question is whether the tenure could be breached at any time?,” he told the bench and said that consent of the committee was needed for transferring the CBI Director.
Nariman also argued that in this matter, orders were passed by the government which divested Verma of his duties and send him on leave.
He said after the orders divesting Verma of his duties were passed, on October 23 another order was issued appointing Rao to perform the duties of the CBI Director.
However, before the issue of stay on government’s order could be raised in the court, the bench told Attorney General K K Venugopal that it would examine the issues.
“The only thing which we need to look is what interim order to pass. Without wasting the time, we will tell you what we have in our mind,” the CJI told Venugopal.
The bench said CVC’s inquiry should be completed within 10 days and should be conducted under the supervision of a judge of the apex court and Rao would not take any policy decision.
It said the Centre and CBI should place before it in a sealed cover the list of decisions taken by Rao from October 23 till today.
The bench said that at this stage, the CVC has to see whether there was any prima facie ground to proceed in the matter and for this, it does not have to go through thousands of pages of documents for this.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CVC, said that several documents were required to be looked into during the inquiry and 10 days time would not be sufficient.
When Mehta referred to the upcoming Diwali break, the bench observed, “Diwali is only for one day.”
Mehta then told the court that under the provisions of CVC Act, the commission has to send an annual report regarding the work done by them to the President who will present it before Parliament.
“For the time being, the Supreme Court can consider that only CVC can examine it (the issue related to inquiry) instead of having any one else supervising,” he added.
At this juncture, senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for CBI’s Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who has also been send on leave by the government, said they have also filed a separate petition in the apex court in the matter.
“We cannot hear something which is not before us,” the bench told Rohatgi.
Rohatgi said that Asthana’s plea could be listed for hearing on October 29.
He also told the bench that Asthana has been made a respondent in the plea filed by NGO, Common Cause, which has sought a probe by special investigation team (SIT) against CBI officers including the special director.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the NGO, said that in 2017, CVC had not taken cognisance of complaints against Asthana when the process of his appointment as special director of CBI was going on.
(With PTI inputs)