The Supreme Court on December 6, 2018 reserved its order on the pleas filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma and NGO Common Cause, challenging the decision of the Central Government to remove Verma as the CBI chief.
The bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph questioned the overnight decision to send the CBI's top two officials Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana on leave after tolerating their fight since July 2018.
What prompted the overnight decision against Alok Verma?: CJI to Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, that what prompted it to take an “overnight” decision to divest Alok Verma of his powers as CBI Director without consulting the Selection Committee.
The apex court ruled that the factors that prompted the CVC to take the decision on CBI Director Alok Verma did not happen overnight. It further said, “If you had tolerated them since July, then what the reason for this immediate action suddenly without which the institution would have crumbled and fallen?”
KK Venugopal, representing the Central Government, had told the judges that extraordinary circumstances led to the decision, since the two CBI officers Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana had been fighting like "cats" since July 2018.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s argument
On behalf of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Tushar Mehta argued that CBI director Verma was an Indian Police Service officer and the conduct rules for All-India Service officers applied to him as well. Every all-India service officer is covered by the CVC Act, 2003.
He based his argument on the 1997 Jain Hawala case judgement in Vineet Narain vs Union of India case.
He said that before 1997 judgement, either under the Police Act, 1861 or under the DSPE Act, 1946, the CBI director was subject to the IPS rules. Even in the 1997 judgment, it is nowhere said that the IPS rules would not apply to him and only a minimum tenure of two years is guaranteed.
Mehta defended the action against Verma and Asthana correct as the two officers were raiding and investigating each other, instead of investigating serious cases.
Mehta reiterated that Verma was not transferred but only sent on leave signifying the act to be a temporary arrangement in nature.
Alok Verma's counsel Fali Nariman’s argument
Alok Verma's counsel Fali Nariman argued that the government's order of stripping Verma of charges has no basis, that the CBI director can be removed only with the approval of the Selection Committee.
1997 Jain Hawala Case Judgement in Vineet Narain vs Union of India case
The now known Jain Hawala Case got a momentary boost in 1993 when Vineet Narain filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court. He exposed the terrorists and politicians’ Hawala network and approached the apex court demanding honest probe in this case.
In 1996, for the first time in Indian history, several Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers, Governors and Leaders of Opposition besides bureaucrats were charge-sheeted for corruption.
In July 1997, Narain compelled the then Chief Justice to reveal what was happening behind the scene in such high-profile case. CJI's revelations caused major uproar in the parliament and media.
As a part of the judgement, the apex court had ruled that the Director of the CBI should be appointed on the recommendations of a Committee headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Home Secretary and the Secretary in the Department of Personnel as members.
Who filed the petition?
The bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph was hearing the petition filed by CBI Director Alok Verma and PIL filed by NGO Common Cause against the orders of CVC and Central Government divesting Verma of the powers of CBI Director and giving the charge of CBI to M. Nageshwara Rao.
CBI-Alok Verma- Rakesh Asthana Dispute
After a spell of internal strife in the CBI, the CVC and Central Government divested CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana from their roles and asked them to go on leave. Verma and Asthana accused each other of taking bribe and blocking investigation of several important cases.
Asthana, a 1984 batch Indian Police Service officer of Gujarat cadre, is alleged to have demanded a bribe of Rs 5 crore and accepting Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana through two middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad to help Sana get clear of his charges in the Moin Qureshi case. The case was being examined by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Asthana.
On the other hand, CBI chief Verma also alleged corruption charges on Asthana with regard to the Sterling Biotech case.
However, Asthana hit back by writing to the Cabinet Secretary saying that Verma received Rs 2 crore bribe in the Moin Qureshi case and had tried to stop a raid on Lalu Prasad in the IRCTC case, alleging corruption on Verma’s part.