CBI v. CBI: Legality of transfers

CBI officer AK Bassi has moved to the Supreme Court to challenge his transfer order which comes after a government order divesting CBI Director and CBI Special Director of their powers.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officer AK Bassi, who was heading the investigation against Special Director Rakesh Asthana, on October 30, 2018, moved to the Supreme Court to challenge his transfer to Andaman and Nicobar. The Supreme Court has declined an urgent hearing.

The transfer was announced after CBI Director Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana were divested of their powers by the government and sent on leave and Mr. Nageshwar Rao was appointed as the interim CBI chief. It is noteworthy that the government order came after Rakesh Asthana was booked by CBI on bribery charges and was named as the prime accused in an FIR for allegedly taking a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a businessman, Moin Qureshi. Following this, Asthana had accused Alok Verma for taking a bribe and interfering in the investigation of a corruption case.

A few days earlier, CBI director Alok Verma challenged the government order and moved to the Supreme Court, alleging government’s action as illegal. He has challenged government order on following grounds:

  1. Section 4-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (“the Act”) provides for constitution of a high-powered committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India for the purpose of appointment of CBI Director and under Section 4B(2) of the Act, the same committee grants consent for the transfer of the CBI Director. The two authorities (the Government and the Chief Vigilance Commission) that ordered his removal through separate orders had no such power vested in them
     
  2. Section 4-B of the Act statutorily secures a two-year period for the director’s tenure. This is to secure the independence of the CBI, but the same has been violated by the impugned orders.


Takeaways

  1. The transfers are alleged of being illegal and visibly favouring Asthana. The two officers, one of them being A K Bassi, who were probing against Asthana, have been transferred.
     
  2. The tenure of the CBI director was fixed to two years in 1997 by the Supreme Court in the case of Vineet Narain & Others v. Union of India, 1 SCC 226, which was followed by an amendment to the Act. The rationale of this was to allow the officer to work independently without any political pressure. Also, the Supreme Court in the coal scam case called CBI a caged parrot and asked the government to ensure that the CBI functions free of all political pressure.
     
  3. Many legal experts have echoed the sentiments of Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who said, “The CBI director’s minimum tenure is two years and he can’t be removed prematurely by the government. If this practice starts, then the government can transfer or send any officer who doesn’t toe its line before his/her term gets over.
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