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'Doesn't the CBI work on holidays?'

October 27, 2018 08:09 IST

'Work will now be basically file movements from one desk to another as both the government and the agency would not like to antagonise the court.'
M J Antony and Arindam Majumder report.

The CBI headquarters in New Delhi. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

IMAGE: The CBI headquarters in New Delhi. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

The Supreme Court on Friday, October 26, said it would supervise the inquiry against CBI Director Alok Verma and the probe should conclude in two weeks. It also appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice A K Patnaik to monitor the investigation.

The matter will be heard again on November 12.

The Bench, presided over by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, stated that M Nageswar Rao, who has been put in temporary charge in place of Verma, would not take any major policy decision. He will take decisions only on routine matters essential to keep the agency functioning.

A list of decisions taken from October 23 till Friday will be submitted to the court in a sealed cover. This will include decisions on transfers of investigating officers and related matters.

Though the courtroom was unusually crowded with an anxious gathering of lawyers and activists, the judges succeeded in easing the tension with a few light-hearted remarks.

When the three judges conferred at length with each other in whispers, counsel was curious to know what they were discussing. The Chief Justice told him it was not about the Alok Verma case. "We discuss so many other things too," he remarked.

 

When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pleaded for more than 10 days to complete the enquiry ordered by the court, the chief justice said "then we will give you 240 hours".

When Mehta again requested more time, pointing out that the records went through hundreds of pages, the judge said, "We go through thousands of pages."

The next appeal was on the basis of the approaching Diwali holidays. Again the judge responded: "Doesn't the CBI work on holidays?"

The law officer then appeared to have exhausted his quiver.

A CBI spokesperson said the agency would follow the court directions in letter and spirit and, if necessary, seek legal opinion on what decisions could be taken in the interim.

Sources in the CBI, though, said this might hamper the investigation of several high-profile cases.

"Work will now be basically file movements from one desk to another as both the government and the agency would not like to antagonise the court," an official said.

The agency is investigating fugitive industrialist Vijay Mallya; AugustaWestland; the IRCTC case, in which Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and his family members are named; and the Aircel-Maxis case, in which former Union minister P Chidambaram's son Karti is an accused.

Verma had moved the Supreme Court, challenging the Centre's decision to divest him of his responsibilities. In his petition Verma had said the government had violated the rules, which gave a fixed tenure to the CBI director.

The unprecedented situation became further complex as several officials investigating sensitive cases including bribery allegations against Special Director Rakesh Asthana were transferred.

Asthana too on Friday moved the Supreme Court but when former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, representing Asthana, tried to intervene, the court refused to hear the petition, saying it was not listed.

After receiving all the reports, the court will pass "appropriate orders", it stated. The present order is an interim arrangement till the next hearing on November 12.

The judges made it clear that this order on supervision by a retired judge was a one-time exception. It did not cast any aspersion on the functioning of the Central Vigilance Commission.

"The court has virtually disabled the new CBI director," said lawyer Prashant Bhushan who filed a plea under the banner of NGO Common Cause, opposing the decision to divest Verma of his powers.

The Bench, which also included Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M K Joseph, heard leading counsel Fali SNariman, who represented Verma for a short while.

Counsel argued that the CBI director had been granted a two-year term in the Supreme Court judgment in the Vineet Narain case of the 1990s. This rule was later incorporated in the CVC Act in 2003 and the Delhi Police Establishment Act, which deals with the CBI's powers.

M J Antony and Arindam Majumder
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