Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Thursday asked the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, to explain the exigency that had prompted it to take an “overnight” decision to divest Alok Verma of his powers as CBI Director. “The situation which prompted the CVC to take action against Alok Verma did not start overnight on October 23 [the day Mr. Verma was divested of his powers]… The Attorney-General said all this started in July. That means you had tolerated him for two months,” Justice Gogoi observed before asking, “So what was it that required you [the CVC] to take a decision ‘overnight’ on October 23?” ‘Court can do it’ At one point, the CJI asked senior advocate Fali Nariman whether the Supreme Court, if the necessity arose, had the power to appoint an interim CBI Director.
Mr. Nariman, who has been appearing for Mr. Verma, considered the question for a moment before replying that the court could, indeed, do so in exercise of its “inherent powers” as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Action on complaint The CVC action against Mr. Verma was triggered by a complaint of misconduct filed by CBI Special Director R.K. Asthana with the Cabinet Secretary on August 24 against the backdrop of a bitter feud between the two top CBI officers. Mr. Asthana’s complaint, alleging misconduct and abuse of authority against Mr. Verma, ultimately led to the divestment on the intervening night of October 23-24. Mr. Asthana was also exiled on the same day as his superior officer. “Extraordinary situations do need extraordinary remedies,” Mr. Mehta said, responding to the CJI’s question.
“The CVC’s superintendence [over the CBI] encompasses “surprise, extraordinary situations”… Two senior-most CBI officers [Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana] had turned against each other. Instead of probing cases, they were raiding each other, registering FIRs against each other. They may tamper with evidence. This was a surprise situation,” the Solicitor-General said. The court reserved orders on the separate petitions filed by Mr. Verma and the NGO, Common Cause, challenging the divestment of the CBI Director’s powers.