In a bitter battle inside CBI, Supreme Court Steps in to Resolve Dispute between CBI’s No. 1 and No. 2 and limit CVC’s & Government’s Interference

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Top court of the country stepped in to examine why top officials at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were waging a war against each other. Supreme Court of India on Friday ordered Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete ongoing investigation against the CBI Director in two weeks.

Brief History

Incoherence in the functioning of CBI first came to light when CBI Director Mr. Alok Verma raised objections on the appointment of Mr. Rakesh Asthana as CBI special director in October 2017. This issue got more heat when Prashant Bhushan questioned the integrity of Asthana and challenged his appointment in the Supreme Court.  CVC in July 2018 held a meeting to decide promotion of top-officers in law enforcement agencies which Mr. Asthana attended as deputy because Mr. Verma was abroad on some official work. Mr. Alok Verma on his return objected to this action of Mr. Asthana saying that he did not authorize him to act as director in his absence. A month later Mr. Asthana reported to CVC alleging Mr. Verma and certain other officers of receiving bribe from a businessman to aid him in getting relief from repeated questioning. Around mid-October 2018 CBI filed FIR against Mr. Asthana and DSP Devender Kumar accusing them of bribery and corruption and thereafter DSP Devender Kumar was arrested. By this time feud between the two officials had come out in the open. Government to control the damage and maintain the integrity of CBI sent Mr. Rakesh Asthana and Mr. Alok Verma on compulsory vacation, relieving them of their duties and appointed M. Nageswar Rao as interim CBI chief. On the very next day, 13 CBI officers were transferred and case files related to Qureshi were taken in CBI custody. CBI in its FIR filed in mid-October alleged that Mr. Asthana took a bribe of two crores from a businessman through two middlemen to sabotage the probe against meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Apparently, this was the same businessman who according to Mr. Asthana had bribed Mr. Alok Verma and certain other officers to help him get relief from repeated questioning.

Mr. Alok Verma challenged the government order relieving him of his duties before the Supreme Court of India. Mr. Rakesh Asthana followed and N.G.O Common Cause also filed a writ petition on similar facts.

The issue took a political turn when Congress President Rahul Gandhi was detained by Delhi Police for staging a protest demanding the reinstatement of CBI Director Alok Verma. Rahul Gandhi was released later and he said that “PM Modi has destroyed every institution in the country be it CBI or Election Commission. He is attacking each and every institution because there’s only one reason behind it- Chowkidar chor hai. (Watchman is a thief) He has put Rs.30,000 Crore in Anil Ambani’s pocket”.Top Congress leaders also joined the protest march to CBI headquarters demanding an apology from the Prime Minister.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh replied to Rahul Gandhi’s comment saying that Congress doesn’t have any people’s issue to raise which is why they are taking up these non-issues. We should wait for the investigative report. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the action of the government saying that move was necessitated to ensure fairness in the probe even as the CVC, which supervises over the administrative functions of the CBI, is looking into the matter.

Verdict of the Court

Supreme Court ruled that CVC shall complete the investigation against Mr. Verma in two weeks under the supervision of retired judge A.K Patnaik and that interim chief will only carry out daily routine work of CBI. The bench also said that CBI or the government will give a list of all the directions issued by interim-director of CBI Director in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court also commented that it is a matter of national importance and should be herd immediately, The Bench also clarified that because of the national importance of the case for the country and is one-time exception without casting aspersions on any constitutional or statutory authority on the investigation being monitored by a retired Supreme Court judge. Writ Petition by NGO Common Cause was also taken up for hearing, petitioners therein prayed that Mr. Rakesh Asthana should be removed from the post of CBI Special Directors because of various corruption cases pending against him and Interim CBI Director was not fit for the job. Advocate for Rakesh Asthana also tried to address the bench but the bench headed by Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi refused to listen to advocate for Rakesh Asthana as they had not filed any writ petition before the court. Writ Petition was subsequently filed.

Author’s Opinion

The intervention of the Supreme Court is a welcome step as this will ensure that investigation in corruption charges against Alok Verma is completed in a fair and timely manner. This will also give some hint to the investigative agency as to who is the guilty party here.

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