New Delhi, Oct 26 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Central Vigilance Commission to complete its probe into bribery allegations against CBI Director Alok Verma under the supervision of a retired apex court judge Justice A K Patnaik in two weeks while restraining interim chief M. Nageshwar Rao from taking any policy or major decisions during the period.
The Supreme Court order came on a petition filed by Verma challenging the government notification divesting him of his duties and powers on Tuesday and giving charge to Rao, a joint director. The court also issued notice to CBI, CVC and the government for reply by November 12 when the next hearing would take place.
Making it clear that prolonging the inquiry was not in the nation’s best interest, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Krishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph said the inquiry would be conducted on the allegation contained in the Cabinet Secretary’s note to the CVC, which itself was based on a letter written by Rakesh Asthana, a Special Director in the CBI,
Verma and Asthana had been at war for nearly a year now and things reached a peak last Sunday when the CBI made public an FIR filed against him. Both the top officials have levelled allegations of bribery against each other in the meat exporter Moin Qureshi case.
As Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that the inquiry should not just be on the allegation against Verma but also on the allegations raised against CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, Chief Justice Gogoi said: “We are only concerned with Verma”.
The court also asked officiating Director Rao not to take any policy or major decision except for routine ones that are essential to keep the CBI functional.
It directed all decisions taken by Rao “after taking over charge till this hour” (when the order was being dictated) to be submitted to the court in a sealed envelope by November 12, when the court will hear the matter again. It said it may reverse or retain Rao’s decisions.
The court made it clear that that entrustment of supervision of ongoing inquiry by the CVC to a former judge is a one-time exception which has been felt necessary by the court in the peculiar facts of the case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the government.
The government welcomed the Supreme Court’s intervention and said it will strengthen the investigation process and help the truth to come out “soon and without bias”.
“The Supreme Court direction to set a two-week time frame is a positive development and it would further strengthen the fairness criteria of the investigation. Appointment of a retired Supreme Court judge would ensure a fair inquiry,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
Jaitley said the objective of the CVC direction, and the government’s action on those directions, to remove Verma from the top post of the probe agency was to ensure a fair investigation since he was facing bribery charges.
He said the two additional steps by the apex court — the two-week deadline and Patnaik’s appointment to oversee the investigation — would ensure those objectives and would lead to early disposal of the case, which the government sees as a positive development.
The Congress said that the Supreme Court’s decision to intervene in the Central Bureau of Investigation row was a “commentary on a failed government” led by Narendra Modi.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who hit the streets in the capital along with leaders of his party and its allies demanding “reinstatement” of Verma, courted arrest after dubbing the Prime Minister a “chor” (thief).
He, however, refused to comment on the court order but said that the Prime Minister acted against the CBI Director as a result of panic, as a result of fear, because he has helped Anil Ambani with Rs 30,000 crore.
But Congress Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Today, Modiji was again reminded that ‘Modi Rule’ fails miserably before the ‘Rule of Law’.”
He said “brazen attempts to interfere, infiltrate or capture institutions” will not be tolerated and “people of India will remind you (Modi) in 2019 that bad governments come with an expiry date!”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal welcomed the “intervention” by the Supreme Court and hoped the institutional integrity of the investigating agency will be upheld.
“Welcome intervention by the Supreme Court in the CBI matter. In the interests of the nation, hope that institutional integrity of CBI will be upheld and powers that be will understand that their illegal acts will not go unchallenged,” Kejriwal tweeted.