Alok Verma Reinstated As CBI Chief By Top Court In Setback To Government

Alok Verma Reinstated As CBI Chief By Top Court In Setback To Government

NEW DELHI: Exiled CBI chief Alok Verma was reinstated by the Supreme Court today, three months after the government divested him of his powers and sent him on forced leave. In what is considered a huge setback to the government, the court cancelled its midnight order removing Alok Verma and installing an interim chief.

Alok Verma can now go back to his office but cannot take any major policy decisions for now, the court said, asking a high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India to meet and decide on his status within a week.

Mr Verma, represented by senior lawyer Fali Nariman, had challenged the government's move arguing that the CBI chief has a fixed two year term and can be removed only by the high-powered committee.

"The legislative intent of insulating the CBI director is manifest," said two judges, setting aside the government's move in a unanimous judgement.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan called it a "partial victory" for Mr Verma, as his powers had not been restored fully.

Opposition parties grabbed the judgement as vindication of their criticism that the government was "dictatorial".

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

Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that the court ruling was a "direct indictment" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, the CBI's top two officers, were both sent on leave in October in the middle of a bitter feud between them.

The government had argued in court that it had no option but to send both officers on leave since they were fighting like "Kilkenny cats". The Central Vigilance Commission, whose recommendation had spurred the government order, had also defended the decision, saying that "extraordinary situations need extraordinary remedies."

The Supreme Court had also asked Alok Verma to respond to a vigilance report on him. The case is centred on corruption charges swapped by Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana. The CBI Director has been accused by Mr Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Mr Verma has accused Mr Asthana of the same crime.