What ‘grave exigency’ prompted Verma’s overnight removal?: SC
■ SC reserves verdict on Alok Verma’s plea challenging Govt decision to divest him of all powers ■ Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the CVC, said that extraordinary situations needed extraordinary remedies
OBSERVING that the “essence” of every Government action must be in the interest of the institution, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre and the CVC what was the “grave exigency” that prompted the “overnight” decision to divest Alok Verma of his powers as CBI Director over his bitter feud with Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
The court said this while posing searching questions to the Centre and the Central Vigilance Commission(CVC) for waiting for more than three months to intervene in the feud between Verma and Asthana, who is the probe agency’s No.2.
“Institutions cannot be allowed to crumble,” the court observed while reserving its verdict on the petitions filed by Verma and others challenging the Centre’s October 23 decision to divest him of all powers and sending him on leave.
“The essence of every Government action must be in the interest of the institution and to adopt the best course,” said a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. At one stage, the court asked, “Can there be an acting director?”
Verma’s counsel and senior advocate F S Nariman replied in the affirmative. “Yes”, he said.
The bench than posed another query as to whether the apex court can appoint anyone to head the CBI. Nariman responded that the top court can as it has the powers under the Constitution.
The top court reminded the Centre and the CVC that it was not that the fight between Verma and Asthana emerged overnight, forcing the Government to divest the director of powers without consulting the Selection Committee comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
The court noted that the Attorney General K K Venugopal had submitted that the circumstances culminating in the situation had started in July but the Government action came in October.
The bench, also comprising Justice S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said the Government has to be “fair” and asked what the difficulty was in consulting the Selection Committee before divesting the CBI director of his powers. “Nariman’s submission is also what is the difficulty in consulting the selection panel. It is better to consult the selection panel. What is the best in the interest of the administration of the institution,” the bench said, adding “at the earliest, go to the panel or committee when there is a grave exigency”.
“Can you see the situation which prompted CVC to take action. It was not overnight. It was happening since July as the Attorney General said.”
The court made the observations when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was justifying the action of the CVC which entertained the complaint of Asthana that was forwarded by the Cabinet Secretary. Mehta, representing the CVC, said extraordinary situations needed extraordinary remedies and referred to apex court judgements and the laws governing the CBI.
He said the Commission’s superintendence over the CBI encompassed “surprise, extraordinary situations”. Mehta told the court that the top officers of the CBI, “instead of investigating cases, were investigating cases against each other”.
He said the jurisdiction is vested in the CVC to inquire or else it would have been guilty of dereliction of duty. If it did not act, it would be answerable to the President of India and the Supreme Court, he added.
Further, he justified the intervention of the CVC in the tussle between the two officers by saying that “the ongoing fight between them vitiated the official environment in the CBI. It vitiated the environment among CBI officials.” When the bench said the power of the CVC is confined to the investigations of cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and referred to the directions issued on October 23, the Solicitor General said the orders were passed in respect of both the officers under extraordinary and emergent situation. Asthana was also divested of his powers and sent on leave.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear on December 11 in chamber a curative plea challenging its decision by which it had dismissed a PIL against appointment of Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as special director of CBI.He said the justification is also in order as the two senior officers were fighting against each other and “the investigating officers in each cases were raiding each other and FIRs were being filed against each other and it was a surprise situation”.