CBI vs CBI: Supreme Court gives CVC & Govt a longrope

Despite putting up a brave front, the long faces of the govt’s lawyers and the govt’s spokespersons betray their realisation that in the botched up midnight coup in CBI, the nightmare has just begun

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Uttam Sengupta

Directions given by the Supreme Court on Friday being ‘interim orders’, there is no finality to the following questions which will be examined by the court when it meets after Diwali on November 12.

The brave front put up by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who described the interim orders as ‘positive’ and former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared on behalf of Special Director Rakesh Asthana and said that the apex court had knocked the bottom of the opposition’s charge that CVC’s order to send the CBI Director on leave as ‘illegal’, may well prove to be premature.

By not going into the legality of the Central Vigilance Commission sending the Director on forced leave and by actually asking the CVC to complete the inquiry of charges against Director, CBI in two weeks, Mr Rohatgi felt, the court had acknowledged the authority of the CVC and the legality of its ‘recommendation’. But he can be in for a rude shock next month when it appears likely that the court would examine the legal position. At best Mr Rohatgi may console the Government for getting a face-saving breather.

The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph on Friday heard senior lawyer Fali Nariman, appearing for the Director, CBI Alok Verma, only briefly before disclosing the interim orders. Justice Gogoi in fact observed that in order to save time, he would like to reveal the interim directions the bench proposed to issue.

Disappointmenthas indeed been expressed in some quarters, where the expectation was that the SupremeCourt would strike down the CVC’s recommendation as illegal on Friday itself. Therewas also the expectation that the court would go into the FIR and the case ofcorruption filed against Special Director Rakesh Asthana and restore theinvestigation and the investigators supervising the case

The studied silence of the court on Friday on both these issues clearly caught some observers by surprise.

But the interim orders passed on Friday appear a well-calibrated attempt to give the CVC as well as the Government a long rope. The suspense has indeed been prolonged and one will have to wait and see if the noose tightens. But the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi appears to have done a fine balancing act in deftly keeping the issue alive without taking a sensationalist approach and without rocking the boat.

The apex court in fact has made it clear that it would not put its trust wholly on either the CVC or on the interim director M Nageshwara Rao foisted by the Government. The court’s decision to draft retired Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik, who enjoys the reputation of being an outspoken jurist, to supervise the inquiry by the CVC, and to restrain the interim director from taking major decisions, the court has made it clear that it was keeping its options open and that it would examine the role of both CVC and the DoPT under the PMO in November.

It has also neutralised the interim director Nageshwara Rao, who was made to take charge at the unholy hour of 1.30 am, by directing that all decisions taken by him since October 23 be communicated to the court in sealed cover. The interim director will hopefully be called upon to explain his conduct and the haste with which he transferred 13 officers overnight and re-allocated cases within 24 hours of taking over charge.

The haste pointed to the interim director not acting independently. He would find it difficult to contend that he had applied his mind to the cases within the short window and took decisions autonomously.

Indications are that the Modi Government’s worst nightmare is just beginning.

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