The Supreme Court will on Friday hear a plea by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma challenging the Centre's order asking him to proceed on leave.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday said Verma's plea would be taken up on October 26 after his counsel pressed for an urgent hearing on the midnight order issued against the central probe agency's chief following an escalation of rift between the top officials at the Bureau over bribery charges.
Verma had two more months to go before his tenure ends and the government cannot formally remove him, counsel contended.
In a late-night order, the government on Wednesday divested Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) chief Alok Verma of his charge and Joint Director M. Nageshwar Rao was asked to take charge as interim chief.
The development comes hours after Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were sent on leave.
"The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved that during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure, cited in reference above, Shri M Nageshwar Rao, IPS, presently working as Joint Director, CBI shall look after duties and functions of Director CBI and shall take over the duties and functions with immediate effect," the ministry of DoPT said in an order issued last night.
Opposition attacks BJP on 'removal' of CBI director
The opposition on Wednesday attacked the Narendra Modi-led BJP government over the "removal" of Verma in the midst of a war at the top of the agency over bribery allegations.
"Modi government buries the last nail into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling and denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI's integrity, credibility and reliability is buried and dead.
"PM Modi seeks to achieve surreptitiously and clandestinely what he can't do directly to sack the CBI Director. Habitual and perpetual misuse of CBI by Modi government and BJP to tamper fair investigation of serious criminal cases is the reason for this unfathomable mess," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a series of tweets.
Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also questioned the authority of the government in taking this decision.
"What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi government get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is the Modi government trying to hide?" he asked in a tweet.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury also took to Twitter to criticise the central government's decision and deemed it as "illegal".
"The illegal removal of CBI chief by the Modi government to protect their own handpicked officer, against whom serious charges of corruption are being investigated, points to attempts at a serious cover-up to protect his direct links to the BJP's top political leadership," he said.
"To ensure that the CBI is not a caged parrot, Supreme Court had granted protection to the Chief from government's whims and fancies by giving him a two-year tenure. What is Modi government trying to hide by its panic move? #BJPCorruption," he added.
(With inputs from agencies)