India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed a federal government order that effectively removed Alok Verma, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, from office after he and his deputy had accused each other of corruption in October.
According to Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation can be transferred from his position only after the committee that appointed him has given its acquiescence to such a transfer. In Verma’s case, the selection committee had not consented to a transfer, and the federal government had removed him in a dramatic overnight swoop, taking many in the country’s bureaucracy and politics by surprise.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who authored the judgment, dismissed the government’s contention that its October 23 move cannot be construed as an order transferring Verma since he had only been relieved of his duties and not formally transferred. The Chief Justice observed that the word “transfer” in the context of Section 4B of the DSPE Act must not be attributed the same meaning that it has in “ordinary parlance,” or one that is limited to a change “from one post to another.” He opined that the interpretation the government seeks to give to the word “would be self-defeating and would clearly negate the legislative intent.”
“In such an event it will be free for the state authority to effectively disengage the director from functioning by adopting various modes, known and unknown, which may not amount to transfer but would still have the same effect as a transfer from one post to another, namely, cessation of exercise of powers and functions of the earlier post,” Gogoi added.
The judgment reinstating Verma does, however, enjoin him from “taking any major policy decisions” until the selection committee considers the matter per Section 4B of the DSPE Act. The court has ordered a meeting of this committee to be convened within a week.
Opposition political parties have welcomed the apex court’s decision to reinstate Verma and have termed the judgment a “direct indictment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” claiming that Verma was removed to stall an impending investigation into alleged corruption.