Divesting CBI director of powers 'illegal', 'arbitrary', Mallikarjun Kharge tells Supreme Court

Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge said the party's high command would decide on the formation of the cabinet in Karnataka. Photograph:( ANI )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Nov 03, 2018, 06.57 PM (IST)

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Saturday told the Supreme Court that divesting CBI director Alok Verma of his statutory powers and functions is "completely illegal and arbitrary".

In an interlocutory application filed in the pending petition, Kharge, who is also a member of the three-member selection committee which appoints the CBI director, said, "As a concerned stakeholder he brings to the attention of the court the brazen and illegal actions" of the political executive in interfering with the independent functioning of the CBI director.

The selection committee comprises the prime minister, the Chief Justice of India, and the leader of the opposition party / the single largest opposition party.

"The entire action of the central vigilance commission (CVC) vide its order October 23 and the DOPT vide order October 23 seeking to divest CBI director Alok Verma of his statutory powers and functions is completely illegal, arbitrary, punitive and without jurisdiction...," Kharge said.

Kharge, who is the leader of single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, said the provisions of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE Act) clearly say that the tenure and terms of CBI director is protected and even the transfer cannot be effected without the consent of the committee.

He said the orders of the CVC and the DOPT divesting Verma of his powers, functions and duties is a "direct and concerted attempt" to impede the independent functioning of the CBI director.

Kharge, who claimed to have written a letter on October 25 to place on record that no meeting of the selection committee was convened to deliberate the issue, said, "It was also pointed out that the de facto transfer/divesting of the authority of the CBI director is illegal and mala fide."

In his petition settled by senior advocate Kapil Sibal and filed through advocate Devadatt Kamat, Kharge said CVC's order of October 23 is "completely without jurisdiction" as neither the DSPE Act nor the CVC Act, 2003 confers and empowers to divest the CBI director of his powers and duties.

Similarly, the central government cannot exercise any power under the DSPE Act which is in the derogation of the powers of the selection committee, Kharge said.

"It is submitted that the political executive vide order dated October 23 has completely negated the role of the statutory committee constituted under Section 4A of the DSPE Act which is entrusted with protecting the integrity of terms and tenure of the CBI director," Kharge said.

The veteran Congress leader said that he was neither consulted despite being a member of the selection committee nor was he part of any meeting or privy to any decision to divest Verma of his powers as the CBI director.

He sought quashing of CVC's and DOPT's October 23 orders.

Observing that the crisis in the CBI sparked by the internal feud should not linger on in the national interest, the Supreme Court had on October 26 set a two-week deadline for the CVC to complete its ongoing inquiry against CBI chief Verma and said a retired apex court judge will monitor the probe.

Both Verma and the CBI's number two Rakesh Asthana, a Special Director, were divested of their duties and sent on leave by the Centre on the intervening night of October 23 and October 24 in the wake of their bitter feud that triggered an unprecedented crisis in the 55-year history of the country's premier probe agency.

The court also made it clear that M Nageswara Rao, who is a Joint Director of the CBI, would only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the

CBI functional. Rao was given interim charge of looking after the duties of the CBI director after the top-level shake-up.

It said that all decisions taken by Rao be placed before it in a sealed cover on November 12, the next date of hearing.