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CBI director Alok Verma. Photo: PTI
CBI director Alok Verma. Photo: PTI

Govt right in divesting Alok Verma of power: AG tells Supreme Court

Primary concern was to protect people's faith in the CBI as public opinion was getting negative, says Venugopal

New Delhi: Attorney general (AG) K.K. Venugopal on Thursday justified the government’s decision to divest Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma of his powers without a nod from the high powered committee comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and leader of Opposition.

Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the committee’s mandate was limited and stood expired after recommending names for the post of CBI director. He said the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had “powers of complete superintendence over the CBI" and the provisions of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003, made it clear that such superintendence was not restricted to corruption cases alone.

On this, chief justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the attorney general, “If the CVC wrote to the government under its power of superintendence of investigation of corruption cases, could the government issue its order under the residuary power?"

Claiming the government’s intervention was made in public interest, Venugopal said that the primary concern was to protect people’s faith and instil confidence in the CBI as public opinion was becoming negative because its top two officers were at loggerheads with each other.

The court clarified that it had not taken note of the CVC’s inquiry report and was limiting the hearing to whe-ther the government should have sought consultation of the high powered committee or not under the law before sending Verma on leave.

Verma’s lawyer and eminent jurist Fali Nariman opposed the government’s decision of ousting him by citing a 1997 judgment (Vineet Narain vs Union of India) that laid down guidelines on the functioning of the CVC and the CBI. “There is no basis for such an order being passed. Is it not inherent that they ask the committee? This is not a transfer, but isn’t it in spirit the same thing? The order cannot stand in the absence of their taking permission, either of the committee, or of the court, if they want to say that it’s not a transfer," Nariman argued.

The argument was backed by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s lawyer Kapil Sibal, who said the CVC’s power of superintendence over the CBI was limited to corruption cases.

The apex court was hearing a batch of petitions, including one by Prashant Bhushan-led non-governmental organization Common Cause, which has challenged the order sending the CBI director on leave and divesting him of all powers. Verma, in his plea, said the Centre’s action was “patently illegal" and in violation of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, which provided the CBI director a two-year term.

The court was also vested with a plea by deputy inspector general Manish Kumar Sinha, one of the officers investigating the bribery charges against CBI special director Rakesh Asthana.

Verma and Asthana were sent on leave on 24 October. M. Nageswara Rao, who was a joint director of the CBI, was appointed the new interim chief. The case will be heard next on 5 December.

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