The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the Centre why CBI director Alok Verma was benched overnight when his fight with special director Rakesh Asthana was on since July. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also suggested that the government could have sought the selection panel’s consent instead of overnight action.
“The officers were fighting since July. It wasn’t that the institution was crumbling overnight,” the CJI said. He demanded to know from solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Central Vigilance Commission, the emergent situation that forced the government’s hand on an issue that was simmering for some time.
“Extraordinary situations do need extraordinary remedies,” Mr. Mehta said, responding to the CJI’s question. “CVC’s superintendence [over the CBI] encompasses “surprise, extraordinary situations”… Two senior-most CBI officers [Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana] had turned against each other. Instead of probing cases, they were raiding each other, registering FIRs against each other. They may tamper with evidence. This was a surprise situation,” the Solicitor General elaborated.
#ExpressFrontPage Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi wondered why Parliament had not prescribed any “specific protection” for the CBI Director, unlike the Central Vigilance Commissioner.https://t.co/X1r1atGDX3
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) December 7, 2018
“There are surprise situations in which the CVC has to step in. We have not found the power belatedly,” Mehta said, adding that the CVC took disciplinary action against officials and submitted reports to the President which are later placed for Parliament’s approval.
At one point, CJI asks senior advocate Fali Nariman whether the court, if the necessity arose, had the power to appoint an interim CBI Director.
Mr. Nariman, who has been appearing for Mr. Verma, replied that the court could indeed do so in exercise of its “inherent powers” as the final interpreter of the Constitution.
The CVC action against Mr. Verma was triggered by a complaint of misconduct filed by CBI Special Director R.K. Asthana with the Cabinet Secretary on August 24 against the backdrop of a bitter feud between the two top CBI officers. Mr. Asthana’s complaint, alleging misconduct and abuse of authority against Mr. Verma, ultimately led to the divestment on the intervening night of October 23-24. Mr. Asthana was also exiled on the same day as his superior officer.