The Supreme Court Friday set a deadline of two weeks for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete the inquiry against CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma, who has been divested of his duties and sent on leave in view of feud between him and Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
The court directed that the inquiry be conducted under the supervision of a retired apex court judge and barred IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who has been given interim charge of looking after the duties of CBI Director, from taking any policy or major decision.
It also said that the decisions taken by Rao since October 23 till today would not be implemented.
Making it clear that Rao, who is a Joint Director of CBI, would continue to do routine work to keep the agency functioning, the court further said that the decisions taken by him will be placed before it in a sealed cover.
Asthana has also approached the Supreme Court with a separate petition in the matter.
The court said that the CVC’s inquiry into the allegations against Verma, who has challenged the government’s decision divesting him of his duties and sending him on leave, would be conducted under the supervision of retired apex court judge Justice A K Patnaik and this was a “one-time exception”.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued notices to the Centre and CVC seeking their response on the plea filed by Verma who has also sought a stay on the Centre’s order giving interim charge of his post to Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer.
The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, also dealt with the petition filed by NGO Common Cause which has sought a probe by special investigation team (SIT) against CBI officers, including Asthana.
The top court issued notices to the Centre, CBI, CVC, Asthana, Verma and Rao on the NGO’s plea and asked them to respond to it by November 12.
During the hearing, the bench told Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that it would examine the matter and CVC’s inquiry should be completed within 10 days under the supervision of a sitting apex court judge.
“We want to see preliminary probe report in 10 days to decide whether it requires further probe,” the bench said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for CVC, said the commission was under the process of conducting inquiry and keeping in view the large number of documents involved, 10 days time would not be sufficient to complete the inquiry.
“We should get some reasonable and realistic time for the inquiry,” he said.
The bench said, “Okay, then 240 hours. We do not want this to go on. This is not in the interest of the country”.
“We do not want this to linger on,” the bench told Mehta, adding, “We are confident that CVC will do it”.
Later, however, the court granted the CVC two weeks to complete the inquiry.
Mehta also urged that for the time being, the apex court could consider that the issue be examined by the CVC only.
At the outset, senior advocate Fali S Nariman, appearing for Verma, said that the CBI director was appointed for a two year tenure with the approval of a selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
“The question is whether the tenure could be breached at any time?,” Nariman told the bench and referred to the apex court’s 1997 Vineet Narain judgement and amendments in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act under which the CBI was constituted.
The Vineet Narain decision, delivered by the apex court in 1997, relates to investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India.
Referring to CVC’s order divesting Verma of his power, Nariman said the Centre had also passed an order on the same day appointing another person to perform duties of CBI chief.
The bench, while ordering that CVC inquiry would be conducted under the supervision of a retired apex court judge, said it was done because of the importance of the case and without casting aspersions on any constitutional or statutory authority.
The apex court requested Justice (retd) Patnaik to ensure that CVC’s inquiry is completed on time.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Asthana, told the bench that he has also filed a petition in the matter in the apex court.
“We cannot hear something which is not before us,” the bench told Rohatgi who said that Asthana’s plea be heard on October 29.
Rohatgi also told the bench that Asthana has been made a respondent in the petition filed by the NGO.
Verma and Asthana have made allegations of corruption against each other.
Verma had sought an urgent hearing on his plea, which was filed on October 24, saying that besides sending the agency’s chief and the Special CBI Director on leave, several officers probing sensitive cases have been changed.
The feud between Verma and Asthana escalated recently leading to registration of an FIR against Asthana and others including Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, who is in the CBI custody in an alleged bribery case.
The FIR was lodged on a written complaint of Satish Babu Sana on October 15. It alleged that Kumar, the investigating officer (IO) in a case, was repeatedly calling him to the CBI office to harass and compel him to pay bribe of Rs 5 crore for giving him clean chit.
Asthana and Kumar have both challenged the FIR in the Delhi High Court.