The Supreme Court has indeed addressed the issues that recently pushed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into an unprecedented crisis. Instead of confining itself to only persons or its warring officers – Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana – and their grievances, the top court unlike the Government tried to address the wider and more crucial issues that confront the premier investigating agency and people’s faith in it.
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This turned out to be so on the first day-October 26, of hearing of the CBI case moved first and mainly by Verma despite the fact that quite a few issues may well be interlinked with the matter brought before the court. And largely it is related to impartiality, independence and a free mandate for the CBI without Government’s unjustified interference as fears about this have only been growing.
The events of the past days dogging the probe agency greatly cried for an urgent need for redemption after grave doubts were created in public mind about its fair and nonpartisan functioning. The Government had obviously proved woefully short of its duty to keep CBI’s image in the public unscathed.
The South Block’s intervention in the wake of serious charges, including those of bribery, traded between Verma and Asthana had pushed the agency into the hands of an officer junior to both the embattled officers in what was described as a midnight coup. So much so that about a dozen officers’ were transferred with great flourish through the night of change of the CBI’s top guard though it was and still remains a temporary arrangement.
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A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took all such ineptness under the sway of its Friday’s order. And the main highlight of it is that the officiating CBI Director M Nageswar Rao has been barred by the top court from taking any major or policy decisions as he has been ordered to confine himself to only routine administrative matters till the next hearing of the case by the court on November 12. And in the meantime, or within two weeks to be exact, Rao has been asked to provide all the decisions taken by him since his takeover on October 23 to the court in a sealed cover.
Besides, the Government’s drastic steps taken in the wake of the crisis via Central Vigilance Commissioner KV Chowdary the court ordered that the probe against Verma on complaints made by Asthana to be completed in a couple of weeks by the CVC under the watch of a retired Supreme Court judge Justice AK Patnaik. Both the Government and the CVC have been given notices by the apex court. Their viewpoint vis-à-vis the entire crisis will be taken up by the court when the case is heard again on November 12.
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Thus, the steps taken by the Government and CVC to tackle the crisis faced by the CBI have come under the sagacious gaze of the highest court instead of any of the Government’s move being revoked, reversed or stayed by the SC bench that included Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph besides the Chief Justice. And that is how the Government could take a sigh of relief on Friday after the worrisome past few days, or ever since the fate of its decisions had landed up in the hands of their lordships because of the CBI Director Alok Verma who challenged the Government move to send him on compulsory leave though a similar action was also taken against his bête
noire Rakesh Asthana.
Nevertheless, the clumsiness that accompanied the Government’s decisions vis-à-vis the crisis in the CBI is going to be under intense focus both in the court and also outside its confines. Both the lawmen and laymen were completely flummoxed by the Government’s actions that brought fears regarding the fate of not only the CBI but also similar other top level institutions given the Government’s proclivity pointing to kneejerk reaction in the wake of a crisis. And in case of the CBI it has been more so since the crisis is said to be triggered by Government’s preference for Asthana who has been the officiating head of the agency before Verma was appointed. The fact that the two could not get along was palpable for about a year and throughout this the Government had preferred to look the other way.
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Once the entire gamut of issues is seen from the legal or judicial point of view it becomes all the more glaring. The Supreme Court has already dealt with the procedure for the appointment of the top brass of the CBI. In the wake of infamous Hawala case and on the plea of journalist, activist and petitioner Vineet Narain the top court had laid down the procedure for the selection of the CBI Director. Verma and quite a few of his predecessors were appointed according to the process laid down by the Supreme Court way back in 1997.
Yet, this time, the procedure for the removal of the director, though temporarily, has become a point of bitter contention. And it cannot be so without the susceptibilities of the system and procedures which are often subjected to indelicate use and, thus, may lead to glitches. More so since some of them could well be caused by whimsical fiats that often fly in the face of norms and rules.