India’s top court sets deadline for probe against CBI director

The Supreme Court of India on Friday intervened in a fight within the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by setting a deadline for probing corruption charges against the agency’s director Alok Verma levelled by his deputy, special director Rakesh Asthana.

The top court said the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which acts as CBI’s watch dog, should complete the investigation in two weeks along with a retired Supreme Court who will oversee the process to ensure the highest level of fairness.

The CVC’s main complaint against Verma was that he was not cooperating with it. Despite receiving three notices, Verma did not furnish records relating to serious allegations against senior CBI officials, CVC said.

Acting fast on CVC’s recommendation, the federal government took an interim measure at midnight on Tuesday by telling the agency’s boss and his deputy to go on leave until a Special Investigation Team (SIT) or any independent commission completes its probe into corruption charges levelled by them against each other.

The CVC’s move came after the war within CBI escalated on Tuesday when Verma removed Asthana from all cases he was handling and recommended he be moved out of the agency. The same day, Asthana, who faces graft charges, secured protection from arrest from the high court until the next hearing of the case on Oct 29.

Without commenting on the federal action against the two warring officials, the Supreme Court set a deadline for the CVC probe and included a retired judge to oversee the whole process.

The three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the supervision of the probe by a former judge is a one-time exception felt necessary by the court and does not reflect on the functioning of the CVC.

The bench said Nageshwar Rao, who took over as interim director on Wednesday, will not be empowered to take any key decisions. He has to stick to routine tasks. A list of all decisions taken by Rao will have to be produced before the court in a sealed cover on November 12, the next date of hearing.

Opposition party Congress led by its president Rahul Gandhi staged a protest at the CBI headquarters in Delhi questioning the federal government’s move against Verma.

Gandhi, who courted arrest, reaffirmed Verma was told to go on leave because the official was going to begin a probe into the Rafale fighter jets deal.

The government accused Gandhi of spreading falsehood and said he was living in “hallucination.”

India cannot afford an important institution like CBI to be under suspicion, said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, adding that the Supreme Court move is to find the truth and it is national interest.