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Alok Verma back as CBI chief albeit with clipped wings

Alok Verma back as CBI chief albeit with clipped wings
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NEW DELHI: Exiled CBI chief Alok Verma was reinstated by the Supreme Court Tuesday, three months after the government divested him of his powers and sent him on forced leave in a midnight swoop. Alok Verma can go back to his office but cannot take any significant policy decisions, for now, the top court said, asking a high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India to meet and decide on his status within a week.

It also means only partial relief for Alok Verma, who had challenged the government's October 23 order arguing that the CBI chief has a fixed two-year term and can be removed only by the high-powered committee.

Verma's term ends on January 31.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi penned the judgement. However, the CJI didn't attend court, and it was pronounced by Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph.

The apex court also set aside the Centre's decision to appoint senior IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who was a joint director, as the agency's interim chief.

With the verdict, the apex court has set aside the Centre's October 23 decision divesting Verma as CBI chief and sending him on leave.

Verma sought quashing of three orders of October 23, 2018 - one by the CVC and two by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) - as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

Rao, a 1986 batch Odisha-cadre IPS officer, was given the charge of interim chief of the probe agency.

The Centre decided to send Verma and CBI's Special Director Rakesh Asthana on leave after their feud become public. The top two charged each other of corruption.

The Centre said Verma and Asthana were fighting like "Kilkenny cats", exposing the country's premier investigating agency to "public ridicule".

Challenging the government's decision, Verma's counsel and senior advocate Fali S Nariman argued that the CBI director was appointed on February 1, 2017, and "the position of law is that there will be a fixed tenure of two years and this gentleman cannot be even transferred".

Nariman said there was no basis for the CVC to pass an order recommending that Verma is sent on leave.

"The court apparently has strengthened the immunity given to the CBI director in the larger interest of the fair and impartial working of the CBI. At the same time, the court has devised an accountability mechanism. The directions of the court will be complied with," Finance minister Arun Jaitley told reporters outside Parliament.

Opposition parties say the court ruling is an indictment of the government.

"We welcome the Supreme Court's verdict lambasting the government against their illegal removal of Alok Verma as CBI Director," said the Congress. See P5

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