Due process. These two words were essentially at the heart of the Supreme Court’s ruling against GoI’s decision to divest Central Bureau of India (CBI) chief Alok Verma of his duties in October last year. By sending Verma on ‘long leave’ after a catfight between the CBI chief and his deputy, Rakesh Asthana, who had accused his boss of corruption, the government had, according to the apex court, not only acted in haste, but contravened the law that insulated the CBI from ‘government interference’ ..
Citing the ‘Vineet Narain’ verdict of 1997, the Supreme Court underlined the fact that the tenure of the CBI director had been fixed to two years after the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act had been ‘suitably’ amended. Which, in turn, has made the October order of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) void. Instead, the court has ordered a high powered committee to decide on the matter of Verma’s transfer within a week. Till then, the sidelined CBI director who has now been reinstated, will not be taking ‘any decisions’.
The Supreme Court’s decision is, indeed, a rap on the knuckles of this government that has been keen to show earlier – ironically, perhaps, by too much dilly-dallying – that it was not ‘controlling’, among other institutions, the CBI. Whatever be the merits and demerits of finding Verma not to be above suspcion like the proverbial Mrs Caesar, the fault of GoI has been found in the way the latter had gone about things. Politically, it had cast the government under (further?) suspicion of institutional interference, something that the Opposition understandably took to town. Now, with the Supreme Court verdict, they have a legal handle to hold against this government as well.
With Verma’s two-year tenure set to end on January 31, it will be interesting to see if the government can stave off a new offensive round from the Opposition. Or whether it will add to the grist of challenges it seems to be suddenly facing as it goes into the Lok Sabha elections in a few months’ time.