The move signals Congress’s intervention in the case as Kharge seeks to be a party in Verma’s pending petition in which the CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led bench has entrusted ex-SC judge AK Patnaik with the task of supervising a Central Vigilance Commission inquiry into bribery charges against the CBI chief by November 12.
Kharge said the Centre’s October 23 decision is “arbitrary and illegal” as it did not adhere to the procedure laid down in the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act mandating the government to seek permission of the committee that selected Verma prior to divesting him of the CBI director’s powers and functions.
Kharge was part of the high-powered committee, also comprising the PM and the CJI, that selected Verma as CBI director in January 2017 though he had put in a dissent note against the decision. The senior Congressman said he was forced to move the application seeking quashing of the Centre’s October 23 decision in “overwhelming national and public interest to protect and maintain institutional sanctity and integrity of India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI”.
Government spokespersons have argued that the action was taken on the orders of the CVC and the statutory body’s power to supervise an investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act cannot be overridden. They have also said Verma has not been transferred but asked to go on leave. The CBI issued a statement that Verma continues to be director of the agency though with restrictions placed on him.
Kharge’s intervention in the case assumes significance politically as Congress is targeting the NDA government on two fronts — accusing it of brazenly interfering in the CBI’s affairs and expressing apprehensions that the change of CBI chief was effected as Verma was attempting to investigate alleged irregularities in the Rafale aircraft deal. The Rafale purchase has, over the weeks, become a huge political controversy and the SC has sought pricing details of the French fighter jets from a reluctant government.
The importance attached by Congress to Kharge’s plea in the SC could be gauged from the fact that it was settled by well-known lawyer and senior partyman Kapil Sibal and drafted by a team of advocates —- Devadatt Kamat, Rajesh Inamdar, Nizam Pasha and Gautam Talukdar.
Another team of lawyers, who regularly handle Congress litigations in constitutional courts, too, have drafted and filed applications in the SC in the pending petition of Verma — one by Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana, an accused in the Moin Qureshi case who claimed to have become a whistleblower against special director Rakesh Asthana, and another by CBI officer Ajay Kumar Bassi, challenging his transfer to Port Blair on October 23 after Verma was sent on leave and effectively removed from the CBI. The government had also sent Asthana on leave.
Kharge said: “The CVC’s October 23 order is completely without jurisdiction. Section 4(1) of the DSPE Act relates only to investigation of offences and cannot in any manner vest CVC with the power to divest the CBI director of his powers and functions. Further, there is no power conferred upon the CVC under Section 8(1)(a) or 8(1)(b) of the CVC Act, 2003 to pass an order of the kind issued on October 23.”
He said the CVC cannot divest the statutory powers of a high-powered committee comprising the PM, the CJI and the leader of the opposition. “The political executive’s October 23 order has completely negated the role of the statutory committee constituted under Section 4A of the DSPE Act which is entrusted with protecting the integrity of term and tenure of the director, CBI.”
“The applicant being a member of the statutory committee was not consulted nor was he a part of any meeting or privy to any decision to divest Alok Kumar Verma of his powers as CBI director… It is therefore clear that the decision to divest Verma of his powers was taken by the political executive in complete contravention of provisions of the DSPE Act, CVC Act and directions of the SC in the Vineet Narain case and as such ought to be set aside to maintain the institutional sanctity and integrity of the CBI,” he pleaded.