New Delhi: Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has nominated the second-most senior judge, A.K. Sikri, to be part of the high-powered committee that will decide CBI director Alok Verma’s fate. The committee is slated to convene within a week. Gogoi recused from being part of the committee as he had authored the judgment reinstating Alok Verma as CBI director.

On Tuesday, a three-judge bench headed by CJI Gogoi set aside the government order of 23 October divesting Verma of his powers and appointing CBI joint director Nageshwar as the interim chief after Verma was sent on leave. Accordingly, Verma was reinstated as the director of CBI but was barred from taking any fresh policy decisions until the high-powered committee reviewed the Central Vigilance Committee’s (CVC’s) findings against him.

The main issue for consideration before the apex court was whether the government should have consulted the high-powered committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice and leader of Opposition before sending Verma on leave.

Highlighting the legislative intent behind certain provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the court held that it was to ensure “complete insulation of the office of the director, CBI from all kinds of extraneous influences and uphold the integrity and independence of the institution of the CBI as a whole".

The Centre, through attorney general K.K. Venugopal, had justified the government’s decision of not seeking the approval of the high-powered committee on the ground that the committee’s mandate was limited to recommending names for the post of the CBI director. He claimed that the government’s intervention was made in public interest and that the primary concern was to protect people’s faith and restore confidence in the CBI as public opinion was becoming negative because of the fight between Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta had argued on behalf of the CVC that the Centre was empowered to make a reference to the CVC for inquiries against CBI officials. The only limitation the CVC faces is that it cannot ask the CBI to decide a case in a particular manner.

The apex court was ruling on a batch of petitions, including one filed by Prashant Bhushan-led non-governmental organisation Common Cause, which challenged the order of 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.

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