Three weeks before his retirement, the Supreme Court has reinstated Alok Kumar Verma as the CBI Director, setting aside the Centre’s controversial decision to divest him of powers as the head of the beleaguered investigating agency. The NDA government, repeatedly accused by the Opposition of attempting to undermine independent institutions, has ended up with egg on its face. For Verma, the judgment is a morale-boosting but partial victory as he has been restrained by the court from taking any major policy decision. His fate will now be decided by the high-powered selection and appointment committee, comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, on the basis of the findings of the inquiry by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
The tussle between Verma and his second-in-command, Special Director Rakesh Asthana, was a new low for the agency, once infamously described by the apex court as a ‘caged parrot’. Both had accused each other of corruption and interference in police investigations. The government made things worse with its knee-jerk reaction of sending them on leave and appointing M Nageswara Rao as the agency’s interim chief. The decision was taken apparently without going through the basic drill of consulting the high-powered panel.
The court has done its job. It’s the government that faces the uphill task of restoring the credibility of the CBI, which will have a new chief next month. Whether Verma gets the clean chit from the CVC or not, the agency needs to get its act together and go all out to change its public perception. The officers should let their work do the talking rather than indulge in one-upmanship. Their infighting only emboldens the law-breakers, particularly the high-profile ones. Those who don’t stay true to the CBI motto, ‘Industry, Impartiality and Integrity’, must not be spared. The powers that be cannot afford to allow another free-for-all to happen, especially in the election year. After all, the government’s own credibility is at stake.