Former interim CBI director M Nageswara Rao incurred the wrath of the Supreme Court for transferring CBI joint director AK Sharma, the lead investigating officer probing the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape and murder case, in violation of the court order.
Saying that M Nageswara Rao has committed contempt of court, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi today (Thursday, Feb 7) directed him to appear before the court on February 12 to explain Sharma’s transfer. The court said it will initiate contempt proceedings against all CBI officials who were involved in transferring Sharma.
“We are going to take it very very seriously. You played with our order. God help you,” SC said when CBI counsel informed the court that two officials, including Nageswara Rao, were involved in transferring the officer.
AK Sharma was shifted out as part of the overnight mass transfer by Rao who had taken over as interim CBI chief when the Centre and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) divested Alok Verma of his responsibilities as the agency director on October 23. The very next day, Rao had issued transfer orders for a slew of officers known for their proximity to Verma and those who were, at the point, part of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was probing the CBI’s then special director Rakesh Asthana in graft cases.
Verma had rescinded these transfer orders during the two days that he returned as CBI director (on January 8 and 9) following his condition reinstatement by the Supreme Court. On January 10, when Verma was summarily sacked as CBI director by the selection panel mandated to appoint the agency’s chief, Rao returned as interim chief and re-issued the transfer orders.
The transfers were controversial to begin with as they appeared to be a move aimed at scuttling the probe against Asthana. Some of these transfers are already under challenge in the Supreme Court.
Today, SC directed Bashu Ram, who is in charge of Director Prosecution in CBI, also to appear before it. It directed CBI director to give a list of other officers who processed the file to transfer AK Sharma and directed all of them to appear before it on Tuesday.
Earlier today, the court came down heavily on the Bihar government and ordered the case to be shunted out of Bihar to Delhi for “a free and fair trial”.
“Enough is enough. Children cannot be treated like this. You cannot let your officers to treat children this way. Spare the children,” the SC bench told the Bihar government.
The top court further ordered the trial to be shifted from Bihar to Saket district court in the capital, saying the trial should start within two weeks and be completed within six months.
“The transfer of trial in Muzaffarpur shelter home out of Bihar is needed to ensure free and fair trial in the case,” the court said.
Gogoi said: “Enough is enough. We will ask Bihar Chief Secretary to appear before us. Get someone here who is conversed to what is happening in the state. You can’t let your officers to treat unfortunate children like this. Spare the children.”
The case pertains to alleged mental, physical and sexual exploitation of minor girls residing at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur. The Bihar government had referred the matter to the CBI after pressure from the Opposition. In December last year, the CBI filed a chargesheet against all the accused under the POCSO Act.
The matter had come to light in 2018 when the Bihar Social Welfare Department filed an FIR based on a social audit of the shelter home conducted by Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The audit report stated that many girls at the shelter home had complained of sexual abuse.
Earlier today, while hearing a petition on the sexual exploitation of inmates of a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, the Supreme Court was informed that the CBI officer leading the probe had been transferred, despite the Supreme Court-enforced embargo on transfer of any CBI sleuth who was part of the team investigating the shelter home case.
This enraged Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who pulled up the counsel for the CBI for apparent contempt of court orders and asked him who had authorized Sharma’s transfer. When informed that the transfer was approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), the court sought to know whether information on the embargo on Sharma’s transfer was placed before the committee. The bench had given time to the CBI counsel till 2 pm to find out if the ACC had been informed of the embargo and if it was, why was Sharma still moved out.
At 2 pm, when the bench reconvened to hear the shelter home case, the Chief Justice noted that it appears that the ACC, which includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, was not informed of the embargo by Rao, the authority who recommended the transfer in his capacity as interim CBI director.
The bench has asked Rao and other CBI officers to be present in court on February 12 and directed the agency to identify officers who were involved in the transfer of Sharma.