SC hints at middle path in CBI vs CBI case

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict in the CBI vs CBI case but dropped broad hints that it might chart a middle path — neither giving the CBI director absolute immunity from disciplinary action nor any handle to the Centre to interfere with the CBI chief’s functioning during his two-year fixed tenure.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph reserved its order on petitions filed by CBI director Alok Verma and NGO ‘Common Cause’ — both challenging the validity of the Centre’s October 23 decision to divest Verma of all powers pending a CVC inquiry into allegations levelled against him by special director Rakesh Aathana.

Before reserving its verdict, the CJI-led bench posed difficult questions to the Centre, the CVC and Verma. Puncturing the Centre’s argument that the fight between Verma and Asthana forced it to take action, the CJI said, “The situation which compelled the action on October 23 is not something which emerged overnight but one which was building for over three months. It is not that the situation emerged suddenly and not taking any action at that moment would have made the institution crumble.

“It is argued (by Verma and the NGO) that transfer or divesting of powers of the CBI director would require sanction from the selection committee as the director has a two-year fixed tenure. If you (Centre and CVC) want to adopt some other method, it will be contrary to the Vineet Narain judgment of the apex court. It is always better to consult than not consult at all. The government may have its reasons not to consult. But the more acceptable mode is to consult the committee.”

Verma’s counsel Fali S Nariman and the NGO’s counsel Dushyant Dave said “during the CBI director’s fixed tenure of two years, the government cannot take any action against him without prior sanction from the selection committee (comprising the PM, the leader of opposition and the CJI) even if he was caught red handed in a crime”.

“Is there any kind of special protection to the CBI director except his two-year tenure? Does fixed tenure supersede all kind of disciplinary powers to make the CBI director virtually untouchable? That is what we have to decide, whether the director is above all disciplinary action? Parliament has given such protection to the CVC. But why has it not given such protection to the CBI director?” the CJI asked.
The SC decided that the legal issue in the case — whether the government could have divested the CBI director without taking prior sanction from the selection committee — needed to be adjudicated first.

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