NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s top court yesterday reinstated the country’s chief federal police investigator, whose sacking by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government sparked accusations of political overreach.
The Supreme Court ruled the government had no authority to dismiss Alok Verma in October as head of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s equivalent of the FBI.
The government had defended its decision, saying Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana had been “fighting like Kilkenny cats” and risking the reputation of India’s premier crime-fighting institution.
The pair were sent on forced leave after publicly accusing each other of corruption, allegations that are being investigated.
Verma, whose two-year tenure is scheduled to end on January 31, appealled the decision in the Supreme Court.
In reinstalling him, the court said Verma could not take any major decisions until the investigation into the graft allegations is completed.
The CBI pursues high-profile individuals or cases deemed outside the reach of local police.
But the Supreme Court has in the past labelled the agency a “caged parrot” constrained in its inquiries by the government of the day.
Indian opposition parties accuse Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to interfere with and undermine the agency’s independence.
Verma’s lawyer Sanjay Hegde said the Supreme Court’s decision was not just a win for his client.
“I see it as a victory for democracy and institutional integrity in India,” he told reporters outside the court yesterday.
India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said the government would respond after considering the court’s order in detail.
“The government does not favour (any) person, all it wants is the transparency of CBI,” he said.