A furious Supreme Court on Tuesday told all the parties in a case involving the CBI's top brass they did not "deserve" a hearing in the light of the purported leak of the agency chief's reply to the CVC's probe findings against him and making public the sensational allegations by its senior officer Manish Kumar Sinha against top officials.
Making it clear that the court was not a "platform" where people can come and express "whatever they want", an anguished bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi heard the matter twice during the day and said it would not hear any party including the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and confine itself to the purported leak and publication of Sinha's allegations.
The bench, also comprising justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, vent its ire at the start of the hearing and reminded the parties its earlier order asking them to maintain confidentiality of the CVC's preliminary inquiry report on corruption allegations against CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma and his response to it was intended to ensure "respect" and the integrity of the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI).
As the hearing commenced, the bench referred to an article published by a news portal and solicited response from senior advocate Fali S Nariman, representing Verma, by saying, "It is only for you Mr Nariman and not as a counsel for Alok Verma. We have given this to you as you are one of the most respected and senior member of the institution. Please help us." After going through the news report, Nariman said it was totally "unauthorised" and he was very "disturbed and shocked" by the "leak" and also questioned the move by lawyer Gopal Shankaranarayanan, who is also representing Verma, to mention the matter in the court on Monday to seek time to file a reply on behalf of the CBI director.
After providing the copy of the news report to Nariman, the bench adjourned the hearing to November 29 on the plea filed by Verma, who has challenged the Centre's decision to divest him of duties and sending him on forced leave, saying, "We do not think any of you deserve any hearing". In a sudden turn of events, Nariman re-entered the courtroom after few minutes and mentioned the case seeking re-hearing which was allowed. Nariman said the news article in question was published by the portal on November 17 and it was related to Verma's reply given to the CVC during the preliminary enquiry proceedings while the order asking the CBI chief to respond to the vigilance probe's finding was passed only the previous day.
Referring to the media report, Nariman, during the first round of hearing of the day, said, "This gives a new twist to the word responsible press and freedom of press", adding that the news portal and its journalists concerned be summoned by the court. "How can this come? It's a leak. I myself am shattered the way it has been done," he said. Meanwhile, the web portal, in its tweet, said, "This is to clarify that @thewire_in stories were on Alok Verma's responses to questions the CVC put to him. These were not in a sealed cover and were not meant for the SC. As for his response to CVC's final report, handed over to SC in sealed cover, we haven't seen/reported that."
The bench also referred to Nariman about the news articles published based on the allegations levelled by Sinha, who is CBI's DIG, in his separate plea challenging his transfer to Nagpur. "Yesterday, we had refused the mentioning (seeking urgent listing of Sinha's plea) and we had expressed that highest degree of confidentiality was to be maintained. But here is a litigant who mentions it before us and then goes out to distribute the petition to everyone," a miffed CJI said. "Our efforts to maintain the respect of this institution are not shared by these people. They are giving it to everybody," he added. When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CVC, stood up to argue, the bench tersely told him, "We will not hear anything. We will not hear anybody."
The bench then told Nariman about the news articles on Sinha's plea and said, "This is yesterday's article. We want to know what is going on. This court is not a platform for people to come and express whatever they want. This is a place where people come for adjudication of their legal rights. This is not a platform and we will set it right." When the matter was being re-heard, Shankaranarayanan referred to the arguments advanced by Nariman and said he wanted to "clear his name" which has come under a "cloud". Shankaranarayanan said Nariman has submitted that he was not authorised to mention the matter and seek time for filing Verma's reply without the consent of the senior lawyer. "We are not prepared to hear Mr Gopal Shankaranarayanan. We are prepared to hear Mr Nariman only. We want this place clear.
As far as this court in concerned Mr Shankaranarayanan, nobody is under any cloud," the CJI said while refusing to hear the counsel. Sinha on Monday dragged the names of NSA Ajit Doval, Union minister Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary and CVC K V Chowdhury over alleged attempts to interfere in the probe against CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who has also been divested of his duties and sent on leave by the government along with Verma. K V Chowdhury did not respond to queries when his reaction was sought while Doval, the National Security Advisor, was not immediately available for comments. The union minister termed the allegations as baseless and malicious.