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CVC enquiry to be monitored by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Patnaik; top court to hear further arguments in case on November 25

The Supreme Court, on Friday (October 26), granted Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) two weeks time to complete any enquiry against Alok Verma, the CBI chief who was sent on leave and divested of all responsibilities in a controversial decision by the Centre on October 24.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, SK Kaul and KM Joseph, while hearing a plea filed by Verma challenging the Centre’s decision to send him on leave and appoint CBI joint director M Nageshwar Rao as the agency’s interim chief, has also ordered that the CVC probe will be monitored by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Patnaik.

The top court has also restrained interim CBI director M Nageshwar Rao from taking any policy decisions. It may be noted that hours after taking over as the interim chief Rao had ordered a slew of transfers within the CBI, posting all officers investigating corruption cases against controversial CBI special director Rakesh Asthana out of the national capital. Officers seen close to Asthana, a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre officer known for his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, were brought in to carry out the investigations pending against him in six corruption cases.

It was the running feud between Verma and Asthana that had forced the Centre to take the unprecedented decision of sending the top two CBI officials on leave. Verma had challenged the decision stating that the CBI director is, by law and Supreme Court’s directives, granted a fixed two year tenure and cannot be transferred before this term unless the collegium responsible for his appointment – the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition – carry out a full scale enquiry to justify the transfer. Verma had also told the top court that his ouster was the result of certain investigations being carried out by the CBI, including those against Asthana, which had the potential of putting high officials of the Narendra Modi government in the dock.

The Centre had defended its decision of sending Verma and Asthana by stating that their faction feud had reached its peak and could tarnish the reputation and credibility of the premier investigating agency. It may be recalled that days before the Centre’s decision, the CBI had, in a first, registered a FIR against its special director – Rakesh Asthana – and DSP, Devender Kumar, in a Rs 3 crore bribery case linked with controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

On Friday, while the court of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was hearing Verma’s petition, the CBI chief’s counsel, senior advocate Fali Nariman, argued that the Centre’s decision to send him on leave was a violation of the DSPE Act that grants the agency’s director a secured two year term. Verma’s term was to end on January 18 next year.

The CJI then said that the CVC should conduct an enquiry on the charges against Verma (the Centre has alleged that Verma was not cooperating with the CVC in certain cases involving CBI officials while Asthana has accused the CBI chief, in a complaint to the CVC, linking him to bribery case) within 10 days and that the probe will be monitored by a Supreme Court-appointed judge.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to grant the CVC more time to complete the enquiry, stating that 10 days was too little time.

The CJI initially joked that the court could instead give 240 hours to the CVC to finish its probe. Later, it said that the CVC must finish the enquiry within two weeks and that the interim CBI chief would, during this period, be retrained from taking any policy decisions. The court also said that in case there are essential decisions to be taken by the interim chief, a list of all such decisions and the reasons that compelled them must be maintained for possible perusal by the court, if needed.

The top court will hear Verma’s petition on November 25 now. On that day, the court could also hear a similar petition filed by Asthana challenging the Centre’s decision of sending him on leave and another petition filed by NGO Common Cause that highlights instances of government interference in the CBI’s functioning. The top court refused to hear Asthana’s petition on Friday stating that it had not received the relevant documents related to the case.

                                                                                                         —India Legal Bureau

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