Ex-judge AK Patnaik to supervise CVC probe against CBI’s Alok Verma

The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete its inquiry into allegations against CBI Director Alok Verma and appointed one of its former judges, Justice A.K. Patnaik, to supervise the probe for which it gave two weeks time while restraining interim chief M. Nageshwar Rao from taking any policy or major decisions.

Making it clear that prolonging the inquiry was not in the nation’s best interest, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Krishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph said the inquiry would be conducted on the allegations contained in the Cabinet Secretary’s August 24 note to the CVC.

“The enquiry in … the allegations made in the note/letter of the Cabinet Secretary dated 24th August, 2018 as regards the present Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Shri Alok Verma shall be completed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) within a period of two weeks from today”, the court ordered.

Directing that the inquiry would be conducted under the supervision of Justice Patnaik, the court requested him to accept the assignment and ensure that the enquiry is completed within the time frame fixed by this Court.

The court order came while dealing with the petition by Alok Verma and NGO Common Cause challenging the October 23 order divesting Verma of his responsibilities and giving charge to Joint Director M. Nageswara Rao.

As Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that the inquiry should not be on the allegations against Verma alone but also on the allegations raised against CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, Chief Justice Gogoi said: “We are only concerned with Verma.”

The court also asked the officiating Director M. Nageswara Rao not to take any policy or major decision except for routine ones. It directed all decisions taken by Rao “after taking over charge on October 23 till this hour” to be submitted to the court in a sealed envelope by November 12.

Nageswara Rao, the court said, “who has been entrusted with the task of looking after the duties of the Director of the CBI by the impugned order dated 23rd October, 2018 of the Secretary, Department of Personnel & Training, shall, as of from now, not take any policy decision(s) or any major decision(s) and will only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional.”

The court ordered that “A list of all the decisions taken by the … Nageshwar Rao between 23rd October, 2018 and upto this hour including decisions with regard to transfer of investigations, change of Investigating Officer(s), etc. etc. will be furnished to the Court in a sealed cover on or before 12th November, 2018 whereafter orders as would be appropriate will be passed by the Court.”

The court said it may reverse or retain Rao’s decisions.

Initially CJI Gogoi had directed the CVC to complete the inquiry in ten days but as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to increase the time as 10 days may not be realistic to complete the inquiry and also referred to the festival of Diwali, CJI agreed to make it 12 days.

Initially not inclined to give more time, Chief Justice Gogoi said, “No, Mr. SG we don’t want this to go on. This is not in the interest of the country.”

As senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Rakesh Asthana wanted to address the court, CJI Gogoi told him that his client’s matter was not before them.

“Why were you late. It is not before us”, CJI Gogoi said as Rohatgi told the court that they have filed the petition and it is yet to be listed.

The court also clarified that the “entrustment of supervision of on-going enquiry by the C.V.C. to a former judge of this Court is one-time exception which has been felt necessary by this Court in the peculiar facts of this case and should not be understood to be casting any reflection on any authority of the Government of India.”

At the outset, senior counsel Fali Nariman appearing for Alok Verma referred to the provision of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act and contended that the tenure of the CBI Director is for two years and any curtailment of the same, for whatever reasons, required the approval of the selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

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