The bottomline of the latest CBI episode is that the court which had once called the central investigation agency a 'caged parrot', now has passed up its opportunity to restore its independence. After a simple question of law had passed through two and a half months and six trial sessions, what emerged is unfortunately a judgement with ambiguities and contradictions.
The tussle between CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana led to some corruption stories coming to the fore. When the CBI vs CBI tug-of-war intensified, the Centre sent both of them on leave. It was the legal validity of this order released on the midnight of 28 October which kept him out of the agency, that Alok Verma questioned in the court. The matter should have ended with the Supreme Court's verdict that the procedure followed for his ouster was not legal. But the court waited for some time to obtain, and ascertain the veracity of the allegations against Verma in the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) – although that was purely out of the purview of the issue before the court. Further, the mention in the order reinstating Alok Verma - that Alok Verma should not take any policy decision - only added to the legal confusion. With only a few days remaining before the end of Verma's tenure, the court also pointed out the proper procedure for ousting him. And the government promptly took that course to the end it desired.
The Centre convened an urgent meeting of the high level committee comprising the prime minister, Chief Justice's delegate and leader of the Opposition. Disregarding the dissent note of Opposition leader Kharge, Narendra Modi and Justice Sikri decided, as a majority resolution, to remove Alok Verma. Verma had rescinded all transfer orders which his interim successor and acting diretor Nageswara Rao had issued in the former's absence. And when Rao came back to his post, he lost no time in re-issuing the same transfer orders. Suffice is to say, if one wants to put it mildly, that this series of events involving CBI, CVC, Central Government and the Supreme Court, did not help at all to raise the prestige of the country.
In effect, keeping Alok Verma out for the duration of his last days in office with a retirement date of 31 January, the haste and panic of 'legally' dismissing him - closely on the heels of the court reinstating him – will raise suspicions in even a mere spectator. The committee including a judge of the Supreme Court was not even prepared to hear what Verma had to say about the allegations against him. Kharge tried to argue that out of the ten allegations, six were baseless and for the other four there were only circumstancial evidence. Further, the message emerging from posting the 'accused' Verma as Director General of Fire Service, Civil Decence and Home Guards is that the corruption allegations against him have relevance only for his tenure as CBI head, i.e., there are some who are scared of his occupying that position. Of course, reports had been heard that he was preparing for probe into some in the CBI and CVC and was about to prepare the FIR regarding the Rafale deal. Altogether, one cannot help saying that there was an unmistakabe haste in the effort to remove Verma from the top of CBI as soon as possible. That haste alone is sufficient for any one to suspect foul play in the exercise. Also to be remembered is the complaint by CBI's DIG, MK Sinha that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was interfering in the cases against Asthana. Many including Sinha, who had been transferred, were said to have been part of the probe into the corruption charges against Asthana.
The provision that CBI Director's term should not be prematurely terminated, is written down in order to ensure the independent nature of CBI. It is really unfornate that with the intervention by the judiciary, that has been rendered ineffective. What Alok Verma pleaded before the Supreme Court is clear: the Centre or the CVC has no power to remove him from the post of Director. The court, which conceded the contention, went further to go in judgement on the allegations against Verma – a matter that was not its call then. This resulted in two things: one, it opened another door to terminate Verma who had questioned the tenability of his ouster. Two, he was denied several crucial days. That was why Kharge argued that he was entitled to the days he lost by his dismissal, a dismissal which the court itself had found illegal. Both the judicial delay in deciding on his complaint and the haste displayed by the Centre in ousting him in 'proper manner' together turned out to be advantages for the Centre in effect. And the overall outcome of the whole episode is that CBI was made subservient to the Centre. Finally, among the list of institutions which Modi government brought within its sweep to a lesser or greater degree, i.e. Reserve Bank, Central Information Commission and others, here is another addition: CBI. The judiciary should not have been a trigger for this process.