Alok Kumar Verma was on Tuesday allowed to come back as CBI Director, albeit with his wings clipped, by the Supreme Court which gave a jolt to the Centre and the CVC by setting aside their orders divesting him of his powers and sending him on leave.
However, the sword "of divestment of power and authority" of Verma is still hanging on his head as the apex court said it was "still open" for the high-powered committee, which selects the CBI chief, to consider the matter within a week since the CVC is probing the charges of corruption against him.
It also made it clear that on reinstatement, Verma will cease and desist from taking any major policy decisions till the committee's decision.
The top court set aside the October 23, 2018 orders of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) divesting Verma of his powers and asking CBI's Joint Director M Nageshwar Rao to look after the duties and functions of the agency's Director.
In its 44-page verdict, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said: "We deem it proper to direct that Verma, Director CBI, upon reinstatement, will cease and desist from taking any major policy decisions till the decision of the committee permitting such actions and decisions becomes available within the time frame indicated."
The bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, asked the high-powered committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition to meet within a week.
Verma's two-year tenure as CBI Director ends on January 31.
While Verma had moved the apex court against the government's orders, Asthana has not sought any relief from the top court but has moved the Delhi High Court for quashing of FIR against him in a corruption case.
Like Verma, Asthana was also divested of his powers and was send on leave by the government.
In its judgement, the top court said, "We further make it explicit that the role of Alok Kumar Verma as the Director, CBI during the interregnum and in terms of this order will be confined only to the exercise of the ongoing routine functions without any fresh initiative, having no major policy or institutional implications."
The bench referred to its verdict in Vineet Narain case and subsequent amendment in law to drive home the point that legislative intent has been to ensure "complete insulation of the office of the Director CBI from all kinds of extraneous influences, as may be, as well as for upholding the integrity and independence of the institution of the CBI as a whole".
The Vineet Narain judgement, delivered by the apex court in 1997, relates to investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India.
The top court referred to a provision of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which said that the CBI Director cannot be transferred without the consent of
the selection committee.
It said the legislature did not intend to confer any authority to the state to take interim measures against CBI Director in such an eventuality.
"If the word 'transferred' has to be understood in its ordinary parlance and limited to a change from one post to another, as the word would normally convey and on that basis the requirement of 'previous consent of the committee' is understood to be only in such cases, i.e. purely of transfer, such an interpretation would be self-defeating and would clearly negate the legislative intent," the bench said.
It said the institution of CBI has been perceived to be necessarily kept away from all kinds of extraneous influences so that it can perform its role as premier investigating and prosecuting agency "without any fear and favour and in the best public interest".
"The head of the institution, namely, the Director, naturally, therefore, has to be the role model of independence and integrity which can only be ensured by freedom from all kinds of control and interference except to the extent that Parliament may have intended," it said.
The bench said all authorities should be kept away from "intermingling or interfering" in the functioning of CBI Director.
Dealing with the situation where authorities may require to take action against CBI Director, the bench said public interest must be writ large against the backdrop of the necessity and such a "compelling necessity can only be tested by the opinion of the committee".
The court also noted that the relevant law does not have any provision with regard to interim suspension or removal of the CBI Director and made clear that any such decision has to be taken after taking consent of the high-powered selection panel.
The judgement was penned by CJI Gogoi. However, the CJI didn't attend court and it was pronounced by Justice Kaul.
The apex court noted that CBI has grown over the years in its role, power and importance and today it has become the premier investigative and prosecution agency of the country.
"The high stature and the pre-eminent position that the institution has acquired is largely on account of a strong perception of the necessity of having such a premier agency," it said.
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