The Supreme Court Friday asked the Central Vigilance Commission to complete within two weeks its inquiry into allegations against CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma and barred interim director M Nageswara Rao from taking any major policy decision. The inquiry will be conducted under the supervision of a former Supreme Court judge, the court ordered. Hearing Verma's plea challenging the government's decision to divest him of his duties and send him on leave, the court sought a response from the CVC and the Centre. The top court said that former Supreme Court judge A K Patnaik will oversee the CVC inquiry into allegations against Verma and the report has to be placed before it within two weeks, noting that the matter is of national importance and there should not be any delay. The retired judge will supervise the CVC inquiry against Verma because of the importance of the case without casting aspersions on any constitutional or statutory authority, the apex court said. A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said, "We want to see preliminary probe report in 10 days to decide whether it requires further probe".
The CVC submitted that 10 days for inquiry was not sufficient as it has to look into several documents. It said for the time being, no monitoring by anyone else should be allowed. Later, the court granted two weeks time to the CVC to complete the inquiry. The apex court directed that Rao shall not take any major policy decisions and do only routine work to keep the probe agency going. Decisions taken by him since October 23 till date shall not be implemented, it said. The court said that all decisions taken by Rao be placed before it in a sealed cover on November 12, the next date of hearing. It also issued notices on the petition filed by an NGO, Common Cause, which has sought a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe against CBI officers, including Special Director Rakesh Asthana. On the NGO's petition, the apex court also issued notices to the CBI , Centre, CVC, Verma, Asthana and Rao. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Asthana, said he has also filed a petition in the matter. The bench told Rohatgi that since his petition is not before it, the court would not hear him at this stage.
To this, the counsel said Asthana has also been made a respondent in the petition filed by the NGO. Verma and Asthana have made allegations of corruption against each other. During the brief hearing Friday, senior advocate F S Nariman advanced arguments on behalf of the CBI chief. He submitted that the CBI director was appointed with the approval of a selection panel having the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Nariman referred to the CVC and Centre's orders divesting Verma of his duty. He also cited the Vineet Narain judgment to support Verma's pleas. The Vineet Narain decision, delivered by the apex court in 1997, relates to investigation of allegations of corruption against high-ranking public officials in India. Verma, in his plea, has sought a stay of the Centre's order asking him to proceed on leave and giving the interim charge of his post to Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer. He had sought an urgent hearing on his plea, which was filed on October 24, saying that besides sending the agency's chief and the Special CBI Director on leave, several officers probing sensitive cases have been changed.
Advocate Gopal Shankarnaryanan, who appeared for the CBI chief on Wednesday, had referred to the fact that the CVC had taken the decision at 6 AM on October 24 to divest Verma of his duties. Verma has said there was a need for an independent probe agency as there were bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government. He has assailed the decision of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) giving Rao, the charge as head of the probe agency. The feud between Verma and Asthana escalated recently leading to registration of an FIR against Asthana and others including Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, who is in the CBI custody in an alleged bribery case. The FIR was lodged on a written complaint of Satish Babu Sana on October 15. It alleged that Kumar, the IO in a case, was repeatedly calling him to the CBI office to harass and compel him to pay bribe of Rs 5 crore for giving him clean chit.
Asthana and Kumar both challenged the FIR in the Delhi High Court, which on Tuesday ordered CBI to maintain status quo on the criminal proceedings against Asthana. The Centre, the CVC and the DoPT intervened and decided to send the CBI Director and the Special Director on leave. The plea said the decision taken "overnight" by the Centre and the CVC to divest him of his role as the head of the probe agency was "patently illegal" and such interference "erodes" the independence and autonomy of the institution. "Over the recent past, although all functionaries within the CBI from the investigating officer and the superintending officers up to the Joint Director and the Director have agreed on a certain course of action, the Special Director has been of a different view," the plea submitted.