By Sunil Garodia
The Supreme Court has maintained consistency in reinstating the CBI director Alok Verma by quashing the government order that divested him of his powers and sent him on long leave. It has gone by the principles laid down in the Vineet Narain case as far back as 1977 that protected the director of the agency from extraneous interference.
The only new thing, in this case, was the government claim that it had not transferred Verma but had only sent him on leave on the recommendation of the CVC. But the court was not impressed with this argument. It said that anything which divested the director of his powers amounted to “transfer” and it could only be done by the same selection committee (comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition) that appoints him. The court has reinstated the director with limited powers and has tasked the selection committee to meet within a week and decide about the powers and authority of the director.
The case has thrown up many issues that have a direct bearing on the working of the CBI. If the ‘caged parrot’ is to be uncaged and resume its position as an unbiased and premier investigative agency in the country, it has to be decided how it can be insulated against outside interference. The Supreme Court ruling that the terms of appointment of the director, including divesting him of any powers, can only be done by the committee has strengthened the agency’s independence. But the power of the CVC over the agency also needs to be reexamined.
The court has once again reiterated that “all authorities” must desist from “intermingling and interfering in the functioning of the CBI director”. This clearly means that the court wants the director to work independently. But what should be done in the case when charges of corruption are leveled against the director? Should the CVC take it up and recommend divesting him of his powers, as it did in case of Verma, or should the committee take it up and decide. These questions remain unanswered and must be addressed by the committee when it meets to examine the powers and authority of the director.
It doesn’t need reiterating that an independent CBI is an absolute necessity to keep investigations into political and economic offences unbiased and free from influence from people in high places. All political parties must unite in the interests of the nation to think of a definite law that can help in achieving this. This law must spell out how the director will be appointed, what his powers and authority will be and which body will have the authority of keeping a watch on the functioning of the agency. After the Supreme Court order, this the best time to do so.