Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has dropped out of the high-powered selection panel that has to decide within one week on the future of Alok Verma, because he was in the Supreme Court bench that reinstated him as CBI director yesterday. The Chief Justice has nominated Justice AK Sikri for the meeting of the panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The selection panel, which includes the prime minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the Chief Justice or his nominee, was asked by the Supreme Court to take a decision within seven days on Alok Verma, who was restored as CBI boss but with limited powers.
PM Modi, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice Sikri are also expected to decide on the next CBI chief to succeed Alok Verma, who retires on January 31.
Mr Verma was sent on compulsory leave by the government in a post-midnight order on October 23 and replaced by an interim chief, Nageswar Rao. He contested the action in the Supreme Court, saying a CBI director has a two-year fixed term and only the selection panel headed by the prime minister can remove him.
The court yesterday agreed, and so left it to the panel to take a decision on Mr Verma.
Mr Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were both sent on leave - on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission - as they swapped egregious corruption charges. On his petition, the top court asked the Central Vigilance Commission to inquire into the charges against Mr Verma and also asked for his response to them.
Defending its recommendation to send the two officers away, the vigilance body had said "extraordinary situations need extraordinary remedies." Yesterday, union minister Arun Jaitley said the government had acted to protect the CBI's integrity and credibility.
While Mr Verma has returned to the top job, Mr Asthana, who had also challenged his removal, remains on leave.
Mr Verma today returned to his office in Delhi for the first time in three months and was received at the entrance by M Nageswara Rao, who had been appointed interim chief in his place.
Sources say for now Mr Verma can still file First Information Report (FIRs) and sign off on transfers; they argue that interim chief Nageswara Rao also discharged these functions after being ordered by the top court to steer clear of major policy decisions.