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Verma vs Asthana: The Vineet Narain judgment that saved CBI’s autonomy


New Delhi, Jan 8: While ordering the reinstatement of Alok Verma as the CBI chief, the Supreme Court relied heavily on the historic Vineet Narain case.

Rakesh Asthana and Alok Verma

The Bench observed that the SC cannot be oblivious to the directions contained in the Vineet Narain verdict. In this case the SC had fixed a two year tenure for the CBI director, the Bench also said while citing the Narain verdict.

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What is the Vineet Narain case?

The order in the Vineet Narain case was delivered by a Bench comprising Justices S P Bharucha and S C Sen on December 18 1997. Narain a prominent journalist and anti-corruption crusader had exposed the Jain Hawala scandal. He had filed a petition in the Supreme Court after the CBI had failed to initiate investigations against the officials and politicians who were accused of receiving bribe.

The Supreme Court agreed that the CBI had failed miserably to investigate the allegations of corruption. Also the court laid down guidelines to ensure the independence and autonomy of the CBI. Further it ordered that the CBI probe be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission.

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This ensured that the CBI was removed from the supervision of the Central Government. It was the CVC which would ensure that the CBI probes thoroughly into the allegations of corruption, the judgement said, while adding that there would be no interference by the government.

The court also struck down the validity of a directive issued by the government that required the CBI to seek approval of the government before going ahead with the probe against bureaucrats of the level of Joint Secretary and above on grounds that it violated the independence of the investigative process.

How this provision was reinstated by the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003. The issue came up again before the Supreme Court, which went on to strike it down in 2014 on the basis that it violated the right to equality guaranteed in the Constitution.

The court had also laid down several guidelines to shield the CBI director from outside influence. The SC had observed there was a need to "provide permanent insulation" to agencies such as CBI against "extraneous influences to enable them to discharge their duties in the manner required for proper implementation of the rule of law."

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Most importantly the Vineet Narain judgement stated that the "transfer of an incumbent Director, CBI in an extraordinary situation, including the need for him to take up a more important assignment, should have the approval of the selection committee". This committee comprises the PM, the leader of the Opposition and the CJI.

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