New Delhi: In a series of fast-paced developments in the ongoing controversy surrounding the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Supreme Court on Friday set a two-week deadline for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its probe against agency chief Alok Kumar Verma, who along with Special Director Rakesh Asthana, was divested of duties and sent on leave following their bitter feud.
Both Verma and the CBI’s number two Rakesh Asthana, a Special Director, were divested of their duties and sent on leave by the Centre on the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday in the wake of their bitter feud that triggered an unprecedented crisis in the 55-year history of the country’s premier probe agency.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi while directing that the CVC probe into the allegations made in the August 24 note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary with regard to Verma be conducted under the supervision of Justice(retd) A K Patnaik also barred IPS officer M Nageswara Rao from taking any policy decisions or any major decision. Rao was given interim charge of looking after the duties of the CBI Director.
The court made it clear the supervision of the probe by a former supreme court judge was a “one-time exception” given the “peculiar facts” of the case and does not cast reflection on any authority of the government.
“We make it clear that entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the CVC to a former judge of this court is a one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India,” said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. The CVC has the superintendent authority above the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI).
Reacting to the top court’s orders, CBI spokesperson said that it will implement the directions with “full letter and spirit”, and assured that the functioning of the agency will not be impacted during the course of action.
Highlights of SC Order on CBI Crisis
- Enquiry into the allegations made in the August 24 note/ letter of the Cabinet Secretary on Verma to be completed by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) within two weeks.
- The enquiry to be supervised by retired Supreme Court Judge AK Patnaik.
- All decisions taken CBI Joint Director M Nageswara Rao, who has been given the duty of CBI director from October 23 till today to be submitted in sealed cover to SC by November 12, the next date of hearing.
- The court made it clear that from now on Rao, who is a Joint Director of CBI, would only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.
- After furnishing of list of decisions taken by Rao, SC to pass appropriate orders relating to transfer of investigations, change of Investigating Officers.
- Notice issued to Centre and CVC on Verma’s petition, asked to file responses.
- SC also dealt with plea by NGO Common Cause seeking SIT probe into allegations of corruption against CBI officers including Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
- Notice issued to Centre, CBI, CVC, Asthana, Verma and Rao on the NGO’s plea.
- Asthana approached SC with his petition, to be listed later.
- Explaining its directions, the top court said it ordered a retired SC judge to supervise the CVC inquiry against Verma because of the importance of the case for the country and is a one-time exception without casting aspersions on any constitutional or statutory authority.
Jaitley Welcomes SC Order, Says, ‘CBI Officers, Like Caesar’s Wife, Must be Above Suspicion’
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley termed the order an “extremely positive development”, saying it was in the interest of the nation that the truth comes out.
Commenting on the apex court ruling, Jaitley said recent developments have eroded the reputation of the CBI.
The Supreme Court order, he said, has further strengthened the fairness criteria by asking for completion of investigation within two weeks.
“In order to ensure fairness, the Supreme Court has appointed a retired judge to oversee the investigation,” he said. “The government is only interested in maintaining professionalism, the image and the institutional integrity of the CBI.”
Jaitley also said that the top few officers of the CBI, like Caeser’s wife, must be above suspicion. “Al officers of CBI, particularly the top few officers, like Caesar’s wife must be beyond suspicion, they must be above suspicion,” he said.
Congress Hails SC Order; Rahul Leads Party’s Nationwide Protest Against Verma’s Removal, Courts Arrest
While hailing the Supreme Court order, the Congress ramped up its pressure on the government with party chief Rahul Gandhi leading a massive opposition protest in the capital against what he called “illegal” removal of the CBI director, and demanding Verma’s reinstatement and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apology.
The Modi government’s “sinister attempt” to capture the CBI through “lackeys” has fallen flat, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
“Truth prevails in Supreme Court. Modi Government’s sinister attempt to capture CBI through lackeys falls flat. A slap in face of tyrants who wanted to pin the last nail in CBI’s independence. CVC can’t act as Modi Government’s pawn but would be supervised by a SC judge to act fairly,” Surjewala said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Gandhi and scores of Congress leaders courted arrest following the protest march which was joined by several opposition leaders including Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav, CPI’s D Raja and TMC’s Nadimul Haque.
Similar marches were taken out by the Congress in Patna, Hyderabad, Gandhinagar (Gujarat), Mumbai, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh and Hyderabad, among other cities. While police briefly detained the protesters at several places and released them later, there were no report of any violence.
In Chandigarh, police said they had to use water cannons against the agitators and also suspend traffic for some time around the area of protest. Traffic was impacted for some time in the national capital also on a few stretches.
Amid tight security arrangements by the police and with a large number of camerapersons jostling to record the protests, protesters moved on shouting slogans and carrying placards alleging the government of trying to ‘cage the CBI’.
The Congress has alleged Rafale link in the government decision to divest CBI Director Verma of his duties, but the government has rejected these allegations.
The Congress has been seeking to link the action against Verma to what it called his keenness to probe the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale jet deal, a charge firmly rejected by the government.
Reiterating his allegations against the prime minister on the Rafale fighter jet deal, Gandhi again called him “chowkidar” and said he had “deposited Rs 30,000 crore in Anil Ambani’s pocket”.
“He has stolen money from the Indian Air Force and the youth, and the entire country understands this. The prime minister can run but he cannot hide from the truth,” Gandhi told reporters after courting arrest at the Lodhi Colony police station.
There were no immediate reactions from the Prime Minister’s Office on Gandhi’s allegations. While Ambani has been consistently denying the allegations, the BJP has accused Gandhi of manufacturing lies everyday on the Rafale deal.
“The truth will come out,” Gandhi said, adding that removing the CBI director will not impact the truth.
Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale jets, have joined hands with Ambani’s Reliance Defence to fulfil offset obligations of the deal.
In his address at the protest march, Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of destroying institutions such as the CBI, the Election Commission and the Enforcement Directorate.