A Supreme Court bench reinstated Alok Verma as CBI chief Tuesday. Verma was divested of his position in October by the Modi govt after a bitter public feud with CBI no. 2 Rakesh Asthana. However, Verma will not be allowed to take any major policy decisions as of now and his tenure ends on 31 January.
ThePrint asks: Alok Verma back as CBI chief but powerless: Setback for Modi govt or SC order lacks teeth?
Now, Alok Verma has the right to register an FIR in the Rafale case
Senior lawyer, Supreme Court of India
It is undoubtedly a major setback for the Narendra Modi government. The Supreme Court has reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI director and quashed the government’s orders, which made M. Nageshwar Rao the interim CBI director. But it is, unfortunately, only a partial victory for Alok Verma. The verdict, while reinstating Alok Verma, hasn’t compensated for the 3-3.5 months he has lost due to the central government and the CVC’s orders, which removed him from his post.
Moreover, they haven’t restored him with full powers, strangely enough. In view of the directions of the apex court in the 1997 Vineet Narain case, Alok Verma should have been reinstated with full powers.
However, the high-powered committee can still remove him for the remainder of his tenure, whatever little of it is remaining.
That said, the verdict is enough to cause damage to the Modi government and can have immense repercussions. Now that Alok Verma has been reinstated as the CBI director, he has the right to register an FIR in the Rafale case. It won’t fall under a “major policy decision”. This in itself can spell danger for the Modi government.
Govt would have acted responsibly if CVC had alerted them earlier about CBI feud
D. R. Karthikeyan
Former CBI director
The day the CBI crisis blew up, I was certain that the manner in which Alok Verma was removed from his post was unlawful. His appointment was done with an assured tenure of two years by the Committee, and thus, Alok Verma shouldn’t have been removed the way he was.
More importantly, the rift between Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana was a long-brewing crisis and everyone was aware of it, including the CVC. The CVC had the responsibility to ensure that the crisis was contained, instead of letting it persist.
I am sure the CVC tried to do their best, but when they realised that the situation was going out of hand, they should have informed the government in a timely manner—certainly not at midnight. The CVC had the chance of preventing this disaster if they acted promptly. The government would then have had the opportunity to act responsibly. The SC verdict is only expected then.
A law was violated when Alok Verma was removed from his post, and so the SC was right to reinstate him. Now if the aggrieved party has a problem with the fact that his powers haven’t been restored fully, then he can always go back to the court for clarification.
SC verdict will add to anti-Modi wave in the country
Former Delhi police commissioner
Under the current circumstances, it is indeed a setback for the Modi government. Whether the government admits it or not, there is a strong anti-Modi wave in the country and the Supreme Court verdict will only add to that sentiment. Hence, for the detractors of the Modi government, this verdict can become handy ammunition.
As far Alok Verma is concerned, it is undoubtedly a vindication of his stand and his position as the CBI director. But the fact that all his powers haven’t been restored yet, and the verdict comes a few weeks before he retires, is unfortunate. A middle path of sorts has been adopted by the Supreme Court.
However, the verdict should come as a lesson to all governments that the director of CBI is not a post which can be meddled with. Removing him at midnight was completely uncalled for, and the incident left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.
Anyone who knows the law and the procedure will know that the government and the CVC’s move was unwarranted. The three-member Committee of the PM, the CJI and the Leader of the Opposition has to meet and decide on what needs to be done in extraordinary circumstances, such as the recent “Kilkenny cat” fight between the CBI chief and special director, rather than the government taking such precipitate decisions. Before their ‘midnight coup,’ the government ought to have known their impulsive action may boomerang on them.
Modi govt did not begin the trend of interfering with the CBI’s functioning, nor will it be the last
Senior resident fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
It would be unfortunate if the Supreme Court’s judgment is viewed purely from the point of view of partisan politics. The Modi government did not begin the trend of interfering with the CBI’s functioning for partisan ends, nor will it be the last. Drawing over-broad conclusions of what the Supreme Court’s judgment means in the larger political context is also not warranted in this situation. It has not, in any way, stopped the CBI from continuing to be a caged parrot, nor is it a “clean chit” by any means for Alok Kumar Verma.
The Supreme Court’s judgment has been delivered on a very narrow point – an interpretation of the DSPE Act 1946, and the CVC Act, 2003. It has also accomplished only one single thing – a temporary restoration of CBI Director Alok Verma to the post until a proper decision on the allegations is taken by the High Powered Committee. Given that Alok Verma’s tenure will end soon, this may not make too much of a difference to the direction in which the CBI will head in the coming months.
Rather, the judgment is a simple acknowledgement that where the laws state that a thing must be done in a certain way, such a procedure cannot be bypassed or overridden simply because the government finds it expedient to do so. The fact that the court needs to step in to ensure this tells us something about the times we are in.
If courts in India are willing to stand up to governmental pressure to relax their scrutiny in the interests of expediency, constitutional government may yet survive. The right way to appreciate the Supreme Court’s judgment, therefore, is to see it as a small but necessary win for the rule of law in India.
SC judgment will go a long way in enhancing the independence of the CBI director
Advocate, Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India by quashing the 23 October midnight suspension order of Alok Verma has reaffirmed its role as the as sentinel on the qui vive. High-pitched and dramatic arguments advanced by the government that it had no option but to intervene due to the “Kilkenny cat fight” between Verma and Rakesh Asthana have been rightly rejected.
The judgment is balanced and takes forward the law laid down in Vineet Narain’s case in 1998 1 SCC 226. Although Vineet Narain case laid down broad principles for securing the independence of the office of the CBI director, it is for the first time that the Court has actually implemented the principles laid down in Vineet Narain case. The interpretation of the term ‘transfer’ inSection 4B of the DSPE Act to mean and include all acts affecting the autonomy of the CBI director including such “taking off charge” is pragmatic, practical and in line with the spirit of the DSPE Act.
By restoring the primacy of the High Power Committee comprising of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition, the strings of control by the executive of the CBI have been effectively severed. The judgment is a watershed in the development of the law and will be a benchmark to test any future actions of the executive tinkering with the sanctity and independence of the CBI director. The judgment will certainly go a long way in enhancing the independence of the office of CBI director.
If an order has to be quashed, it should be quashed in its entirety
Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court
The independence and autonomy of the CBI has been restored by the Supreme Court’s verdict.
The verdict has of course come with a rider that Alok Verma cannot take major policy decisions for now. The Supreme Court must have made this call as per what it deemed right, but to a common person, this seems like an avoidable caveat.
After all, if an order has to be quashed, it should be quashed in its entirety.
The purpose of the statutory committee was to insulate the CBI from any external interference, and it failed. Even if the CVC believed that Verma should be removed, it should have been in the form of a recommendation. The CVC only has the authority to recommend.
Truth be told, the verdict should have come sooner. Verma is set to retire in a few weeks. But perhaps, the Supreme Court was burdened by too many cases.
The SC verdict is not only a setback for the Modi government, but also a victory for the citizens of India. After all, what is a democracy if its leading institutions don’t have independence? That’s why the SC verdict is of great importance.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.
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