Revoking the suspension order against Alok Kumar Verma, the Supreme Court has sent a clear message that the CBI director’s office is off limits to the government. The court has also reiterated the supremacy of the high-level committee comprising the PM, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of Opposition, and asked them to meet within a week to decide on the charges against Verma. The new chief to take over from Verma on February 1 is also to be decided by the committee this month. Meanwhile, Verma can sit in his office and preside over the agency’s day-to-day functioning. Until the committee decides on his case, however, the court has restricted his powers to “the exercise of the ongoing routine functions without any fresh initiative, having no major policy or institutional implications”.
A complaint against Verma had been made to the government in August 2018 and CBI special director R.K. Asthana later told the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) that Verma had accepted bribes from various sources, including Hyderabad-based middleman Satish Sana Babu. And on October 15, the CBI lodged an FIR to probe bribery allegations against Asthana based on information from Babu following his arrest. Interestingly, Asthana was the one who had moved for a ‘lookout circular’ against Babu. The allegations and counter-allegations between the two top officials of the CBI threw the country’s premier investigation agency into turmoil. Verma approached the Supreme Court while Asthana moved the Delhi High Court to quash the FIR lodged against him. The officials probing Asthana had also been transferred and some have approached the court for redressal. According to CBI sources, the episode has stalled several high-level probes that the agency is entrusted with.