Challenging the government’s decision to divest him of all his duties, CBI director Alok Verma on Thursday told the Supreme Court that “he was appointed for a fixed tenure of two years and cannot even be transferred”. The government countered by saying that Mr Verma’s plea is irrelevant as he continues to be the probe agency’s chief and enjoys all privileges of the post despite being sent on leave.
Mr Verma sought a stay on the Centre’s order and pressed for the strict implementation of a 1997 judgment of the top court that fixed a two-year tenure for CBI chief.
However, during the hearing, the apex court made it clear that it was not going into the allegations and counter allegations.
“We are only testing the issue as pure question of law,” said a bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, fixing December 5 as the next date of hearing.
The top court also asked the CBI to keep a record of all transfers made after Mr Verma was divested of his duties.
Mr Verma’s counsel and senior advocate Fali S. Nariman said that the CBI director was appointed on February 1, 2017, and “the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred”.
In his submission before the bench, also comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph, Mr Nariman said that there was no basis for the Central Vigilance Commission to pass an order on October 26 recommending that Mr Verma be sent on leave.
“There has to be strict interpretation of the Vineet Narain judgment. This is not the transfer and Mr Verma has been denuded of his power and duties. Otherwise there was no use of the Narain judgment and the law,” Mr Nariman said.
The Vineet Narain decision, delivered by the apex court in 1997, relates to the investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India. Before 1997, the tenure of the CBI directors was not fixed and they could be removed by the government any time. But the apex court in the Vineet Narain judgment fixed a tenure of a minimum of two years for CBI director to allow the officer to work with independence.
Mr Nariman referred to the terms and conditions of appointment and removal of the CBI director and provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946.
Attorney-general K.K. Venugopal opposed the plea of Mr Verma and others that the government should have gone back to the selection panel for divesting the CBI director of his duties and sending him on leave.
Suggesting that no guidelines had been ignored by the government, Mr Venugopal told the court that Mr Verma is in Delhi living in the same house and, hence, there is nothing to construe that he has been transferred.
“Mr Verma continues to hold the status of director, and enjoys all privileges and benefits of the post till date,” the AG told the bench which adjourned the hearing for December 5.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), said that the CVC and the government cannot override DSPE provisions which make it mandatory to consult the appointment panel before “transfer” of CBI chief mid-tenure.