CBI vs CBI: Why CJI Ranjan Gogoi was so angry

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NOVEMBER 20, 2018

The Supreme Court was supremely angry on Tuesday.

That is probably an understatement considering what exactly went on the Chief Justice of India’s courtroom this morning as it prepared to hear a case related to the controversy that the Central Bureau of Investigation has found itself in.

If you don’t know about the controversy, here is a recap:

  • CBI’s top two officers are involved in a public ego and power battle. CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy, special director Rakesh Asthana, have both accused each other of being corrupt
  • The Alok Verma-Rakesh Asthana feud was earning the government (and the CBI, of course) bad press. So, both of them were sent on forced leave, literally overnight. M Nageshwar Rao took over as interim director
  • Verma did not like this and approached the Supreme Court against his forced leave. As did Asthana and several other senior CBI officers who were transferred after Verma was sent on leave and Rao took charge as interim CBI chief
  • On Verma’s plea against his forced leave, the Supreme Court ordered that the Central Vigilance Commission, which was anyway probing the corruption charges against Verma, complete its investigation within two weeks
  • The CVC did so and filed a secret report, as ordered by the Supreme Court, on its probe against Alok Verma on Friday, November 17. The Supreme Court asked Verma to file a secret response on Monday, November 19

Today, the Supreme Court was supposed to examine Alok Verma’s response to the CVC probe against him. Remember that both the CVC’s probe report and Verma’s response are supposed to be secret.

When Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi reached his courtroom this morning, he was livid. Fuming, really. 

CJI Gogoi had seen a news report about Verma and the CVC. And he was unhappy that the news report contained information that was supposed to be confidential.

‘LEAK’

So, when CJI Gogoi sat on his bench he handed Fali Nariman, who is Alok Verma’s lawyer, a printout of a news report.

“It [the printout] is for your eyes only. [We are] not giving it to you as the counsel for Alok Verma but for you as one of the most respected senior lawyers of the country,” CJI Gogoi told Nariman.

Gogoi questioned Nariman about how information supposed to be confidential had been “leaked” to the press.

Nariman was dismayed.

Nariman told the court that he and his team had worked “all night” to prepare Alok Verma’s response to the CVC probe report. “Any information getting out was totally unauthorised.”

Nariman also said that while the press is free, it had to be “responsible” as well. “This is irresponsible press…This is very disturbing,” Nariman said.

A frustrated and visibly angry CJI Gogoi then refused to hear the case any longer. “We don’t think any of you deserve a hearing,” CJI Gogoi said. “For reasons which the court is not inclined to record, the hearing has been deferred. Will be taken up next on November 29.”

THE MYSTERY REPORT

The printout of the news report on the CBI controversy was for Fali Nariman’s eyes only. But reporters present in the court sighted a clue: A logo of online news portal The Wire.

A brief check of The Wire’s website suggested that the news report that so riled the Supreme Court probably was a November 17 article titled ‘Exclusive: CBI Director Alok Verma’s Responses to CVC Put Modi Government in the Dock’.

That article, The Wire said in a series of tweets, was about “Alok Verma’s responses to questions the CVC put to him”.

“These were not in a sealed cover [read: confidential] and were not meant for the SC. As for his [confidential] response to CVC’s final report, handed over to SC in sealed cover, we haven’t seen/reported that,” The Wire said.

HEARING 2.0

Meanwhile at the Supreme Court, CBI director Alok Verma’s lawyer Fali Nariman requested that he be allowed to clarify certain aspects.

The court agreed to hear him once it finished hearing the cases already scheduled.

And so, around an hour after CJI Gogoi angrily deferred the CBI vs CBI matter to November 29, the matter came up before his bench again.

This time around, Fali Nariman echoed The Wire’s statement, which was released before the second hearing.

Nariman told the court that the news report in question was not based on the response that Alok Verma filed in the Supreme Court on Monday.

ANOTHER LEAK?

Meanwhile, the CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led bench directed its ire towards another CBI officer — a deputy inspector general-rank officer Manish Prasad Sinha.

But first some background:

  • Sinha was heading the CBI unit that was probing the corruption allegations against agency No. 2 Rakesh Asthana
  • Sinha was abruptly transferred to Nagpur after Verma was sent on leave and a new interim director took charge at the CBI
  • On Monday, the same day Alok Verma filed his reply to the CVC probe report, Sinha moved the Supreme Court against his transfer order
  • Sinha’s lawyer requested an urgent hearing, saying the CBI officer had “shocking information”. “We are not shocked by anything,” CJI Gogoi told the lawyer and refused an urgent hearing
  • The “shocking information” immediately became public. The allegations essentially were that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had interfered in the probe against Asthana and that a Union minister had taken bribes

Today, the Supreme Court castigated Sinha’s lawyer over the media reports of the CBI officer’s petition.

“We expressed that highest degree of confidentiality should be maintained about everything” while rejecting your request for an urgent hearing, CJI Gogoi told the lawyer.

“[But] for some reason documents were distributed to the media… We told the officer we will hear you [just not urgently]… Today all newspapers are carrying the detailed report [of the petition],” CJI Gogoi said.

“This court is not a platform for people to come and express whatever. This is a place for adjudication of legal issues. We intend to set this right,” CJI Gogoi said, as he adjourned the CBI vs CBI case to November 29.

Once again.


Courtesy/Source: India today

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