The Supreme Court allowed itself to become party to what was essentially a political game of one-upmanship.
In all this debate over Alok Verma and his ouster from the CBI, while the role of the Narendra Modi government has definitely come under the scanner, the Supreme Court too can’t escape the blame. The court allowed itself to become party to what was essentially a political game of one-upmanship.
Ever since the Centre passed the midnight orders on 23-24 October divesting Alok Verma of his powers and sending him on a leave, on the advice of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), it was clear that the Supreme Court would be expected to play the arbiter in this matter.
But, as has now become a norm rather than an exception, the highest court instead became a party to the dispute, an avoidable necessity.
The day Verma moved the Supreme Court, it was clear that the only question that the court was expected to decide, and decide quickly was: Can the Modi government remove the CBI director without the clearance of the high-level committee (HLC), which comprises the Prime Minister, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India (CJI)?
But, trust the highest court of the land to lose its way, prompting many to raise questions about its impartiality, before it finally – after 76 days to be exact – answers a question that should have been addressed in less than a week if not 24 hours.
More worrisome is the fact that despite taking such a long time to come to a conclusion, the three-judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi left several questions hanging.
At the meeting of the high-level committee Thursday, fixed as per the Supreme Court’s order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi voted for Verma’s removal while Congress’s Lok Sabha legislature party leader Mallikarjun Kharge opposed any immediate action against him without giving him an opportunity to explain his position. The arbiter was senior Supreme Court Judge A.K. Sikri, who was representing the Chief Justice of India at the meeting.
Logically, Justice Sikri should have sided with Kharge on the basis of that one principle that judges hear every other day in the court – the Principle of Natural Justice – which, in plain language, says that no person should be condemned – or punished – without being heard. Or, better still, he could have decided to stay out of the political slugfest and let the politicians settle the issue to the best of their capabilities.
But, the judiciary decided to side with the executive, a seemingly recurring phenomenon these days.
In all this mud-slinging, the one institution that should have come out clean is the judiciary. Instead, it has now the most to answer after Thursday’s decision on Alok Verma.
What about role of CVC, others?
One key factor that led to Verma’s ouster as the CBI chief was that he allegedly attempted to induct tainted officers into the CBI. This was one of the primary arguments in the damning report of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) against Verma.
Now, one can’t help but wonder if going by the same yardstick, Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) K.V. Chaudhary, the other vigilance commissioners, the home secretary and the secretary in Department of Personnel and Training, who collectively cleared Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana’s appointment, who has a dubious past and is facing bribery allegations, should also be shunted out?
But, then rules and yardsticks seem to be different for different people these days.