IN A BIG setback to Modi government, the Supreme Court today reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI chief, three months after the government divested him of his powers and sent him on forced leave in a midnight swoop.
Alok Verma can go back to his office but cannot take any major policy decisions for now, the top court said, asking a high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India to meet and decide on his status within a week.
The top court said the high-powered committee will take its decision on the basis of the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission inquiry. It said the meeting of the committee should be convened within a week.
The SC said there is no provision in law which permit the government to divest the CBI director of his powers and functions without prior consent from the high powered select committee. The judgement was penned by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. However, the CJI didn't attend court and it was pronounced by Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. The apex court also set aside the Centre's decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was joint director, as the agency's interim chief.
In election season, the top court's ruling is seen as a huge setback for the BJP-led government, which has been accused by the opposition of manipulating the Central Bureau of Investigation and misusing it against rivals.
Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha described the order as a "big slap” on the face of the government. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the order was a direct indictment of the government.
In a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) called the verdict a "blow to Modi”. "The judgement is a strong indictment of the Modi government and specifically the Prime Minister himself as the Department of Personnel and Training under which the CBI functions, is in his charge. If the Prime Minister had a conscience, he should have resigned. This is one more reason why he and his government must be removed from office by the people in the forthcoming elections,” the CPI(M) has said.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the court had struck down Modi’s "illegal” order. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha described the order as a "big slap” on the face of the government. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the order was a direct indictment of the government.
Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said the Supreme Court order was a partial victory for Verma. "He has been restored but strangely he has been restrained from taking any policy decisions,” he said.
Verma’s two-year tenure as CBI director ends on January 31. The government’s decision to send him on leave was the culmination of a longer tussle within the organisation.
The bench pronounced the verdict on two petitions, one filed by Verma and the other by NGO Common Cause, challenging the government’s decision. During the hearing, the government argued that the two officers were fighting like "Kilkenny cats,” leaving them with no choice but to send them on leave. The court, however, said that the feud between the top aides of CBI was "not something that happened overnight to require immediate action”. It also questioned the government’s haste and asked why a selection committee was not consulted in the case.