Another Step In The Cavalier Destruction Of Institutions: Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Viewing Alok Verma's removal in light of the "factually-incorrect" Rafale verdict, he says, "the biggest casualty of this affair has been the Supreme Court’s authority."
In an opinion column for the Indian Express, public intellectual and vice-chancellor of Ashoka University Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written that Alok Verma’s removal as the director of the CBI “is another step in the cavalier destruction of institutions.” Mehta has heavily criticised the Supreme Court, saying that the court “returned one of its most cringe-worthy performances in recent memory. The interventions of the Court have produced opaqueness rather than transparency, and the continued subversion of due process, ironically in the name of due process.”
Mehta writes that the Court, while hearing Alok Verma’s plea against the October 23 order that took away his charge, “could not decide whether it wanted to merely rule on the question of the CVC’s powers, or go into the substance of the allegations against Verma. The Court said it wanted to rule on the question of powers. But if so, the entire process was mysterious. It could have ruled on that question in two minutes.” He adds that if it was the question of powers, then what was the need of ordering a CVC inquiry under the supervision of Retired Justice AK Patnaik. He also notes that the standing of Patnaik’s observations is also unclear, and Verma has alleged that they are different from that of the CVC’s. Justice Patnaik has categorically stated that “none of the findings in the CVC report are mine”.
Saying that the apex court has “itself created fire and fury” as it “it decided to do process after examining the substance, and then devolved the question back to the appointing committee,” Mehta adds that as the credibility of the CVC KV Chowdary ‘is under a cloud‘ and the status of Patnaik’s findings are being clear, holding the CVC’s ‘indeterminate report’ as decisive “is to give to the CVC, by the backdoor, the very power over Verma’s future that was in contention.” He argues that the SC had “made a pretence of due process” and at the same time, the court’s nominee, Justice AK Sikri, seemed to deny due process. This is a reference to the fact that Alok Verma was denied a hearing by the high-power selection committee. “We have, first, the farce, and then the tragedy,” he laments.
Mehta has also criticised the jurisprudence of the sealed cover. He writes that leader of the largest Opposition party, Mallikarjun Kharge, who was on the high-power committee that decided Verma’s fate, had argued that the CVC report did not contain any material that suggested that Verma was a threat to the integrity of the CBI. “But since all the relevant material is under “sealed covers,” thanks to our new jurisprudence, the public can never know how credibly to take this claim. All sides have the cover of secrecy,” he writes.
Mehta criticises the court’s handling of the Rafale deal case, where a non-existent CAG report was mentioned in the verdict. In a damning paragraph, he says, “Whatever the truth of it may be, the Supreme Court botched up the matter by its ill-argued and factually-incorrect order in the case. The bad handling of one case related to Rafale may be a mistake, but the bad handling of another case that is indirectly related to Rafale reeks of more.”
He concludes that the “biggest casualty” of this entire saga has been the authority of the Supreme Court. “Its extraordinary haste and contempt for process, now with the prime minister’s imprimatur over it, raises many disturbing questions. And all the staples of law, natural justice, due process, transparency, separation of powers, distinctions between appointing and disciplinary authority stand blurred,” he writes.