New Delhi: 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 the 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 also barred IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who has been given interim charge of looking after the duties of the CBI Director, from taking any policy decision or any major decision.
It said a list of decisions taken by Rao from October 23 till today, including transfer of investigations and change of investigating officers, be placed before the court in a sealed cover by November 12 – the next date of hearing – after which it would pass appropriate orders.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that the CVC’s inquiry into the allegations made in the August 24 note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary with regard to Verma would be supervised by retired apex court judge Justice A K Patnaik.
“We make it clear that entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the CVC to a former judge of this court is one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India,” said the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
It further said that a list of all the decisions taken by Rao between “October 23, 2018 and up to this hour including decisions with regard to transfer of investigations, change of investigating officer(s) etc will be furnished to the court in a sealed cover on or before November 12, 2018 whereafter orders as would be appropriate will be passed by the court.”
The court made it clear that from now on Rao, who is a Joint Director of CBI, would only perform the routine tasks.
“Rao who has been entrusted with the task of looking after the duties of the Director of the CBI by the impugned order dated October 23, 2018 of the Secretary, Department of Personnel & Training, shall, as of from now, not take any policy decision(s) or any major decision(s) and will only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional,” the bench said.
During the hearing, the court at first remarked that decisions taken by Rao since October 23 are not be implemented but later it refrained and ordered that it would decide on that aspect only after perusing the decisions taken by him.
The bench sought responses from the Centre and CVC on the plea of Verma who has also sought a stay on the Centre’s order giving interim charge of his post to Rao. However, this prayer was not raised during the hearing. The bench also dealt with the separate plea by NGO, Common Cause, which has sought a probe by special investigation team against CBI officers including Asthana, and issued notices to the Centre, CBI, CVC, Asthana, Verma and Rao asking them to respond to it by November 12.
“The enquiry in respect of the allegations made in the note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary dated August 24, 2018 as regards the present Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Alok Verma shall be completed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) within a period of two weeks from today,” the bench noted in its order.
“The enquiry will be conducted under the supervision of a retired judge of this Court Justice A K Patnaik who is requested to accept the assignment and ensure that enquiry is completed within the time frame fixed by this court,” it said. Asthana has also moved the Supreme Court with a separate petition in the matter.
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, the court granted two weeks to CVCV 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.
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.
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