Adding more fuel to already heated debate on former CBI director Alok Verma, on 12th January several media houses published reports claiming that Justice Patnaik had told them that there was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption. The Supreme Court had asked justice A K Patnaik to supervise the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) investigation against Alok Verma. According to the reports, the retired judge of Supreme Court said that there was no evidence of corruption against Verma and the decision of the selection committee to remove Verma from his post was “very, very hasty”.
Although all the media houses are claimed that have talked to Justice Patnaik, surprisingly, the quotes they got are exactly same. According to NDTV, their reporter Sunil talked to the retired judge. India Today also said that they have talked to the Justice Patnaik. Indian Express also published a similar report. On its website, CNN18 credited Indian Express for the report, but on their TV report, they said that they talked to Justice Patnaik and it was an exclusive story. The Telegraph also made a similar claim like many other media houses saying that justice Patnaik talked to them. According to the reports, Justice Patnaik also said that “none of the findings in the CVC report are mine”.
After these reports came out, retired Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju decided to a little probe, and talked to Justice Patnaik on phone. He published some detail of the conversation in an article published at The Week. According to him, Justice Patnaik told him that no journalist sought an appointment with him to discuss the matter. He also said that only one lady journalist from The Indian Express had telephoned him, and they spoke for less than a minute. Thus, going the version of Justice Katju, several media houses ran a story copied from Indian Express claiming to be their original stories. On the basis of a single conversation, several media houses ran elaborate stories, each claiming they had spoken to Justice Patnaik.
Reacting on the statement attributed to Justice Patnaik that the decision to transfer Alok Verma was “hasty”, Justice Katju pointed out that Supreme Court had given only one week for the committee to take a call on Verma, therefore the three-member selection committee had to arrive at a decision soon. The SC order was given on January 8th, so the committee had time till January 14th only.
Before this, the media also ran stories saying that the Committee should have heard Verma before taking the decision. Along with prime minister Narendra Modi, justice A K Sikri gave the decisive verdict in favour of transferring Verma. Media had reported that Verma was ‘sacked’, and it was a punishment, but the fact is that he was merely transferred to a different post with equal rank. Justice Katju explains that an opportunity to hear needed to be provided only when someone is dismissed, the same is not needed when someone is transferred or even suspended. Moreover, CVC had already heard Verma, who had also submitted his response to the CVC report to the Supreme Court. Therefore, there was no need for the committee to hear him. Justice Katju had also spoken to Justice Sikri earlier, and he had given these reasons for not hearing Verma and transferring him.
Media could have talked to Justice Sikri before declaring the decision to be wrong, and they apparently ran a story claiming to have talked to Justice Patnaik without talking to him. Criticising such behaviour of media, justice Katju said that it amounts to ‘fake news’. He said that media is the true enemy of people, which largely believes in creating sensations and providing masala to the public. There is no surprise that the people do not hold most of the media and journalists in high regard, he added.
The comment of Patnaik that the findings of the CVC report are not his is a matter of fact that the media tried to spin. Supreme Court had not appointed justice Patnaik to investigate Verma, he was only asked to supervise CVC’s probe on Verma. His role was to ensure that the CVC probe was fair, and Verma got adequate opportunity to present his side. Therefore, it is factually correct that it is a CVC report, not a report by justice Patnaik.
It is important to be noted that the decision to transfer Alok Verma was taken on the basis of CVC report, and two Supreme Court judges had found that there are some serious allegations against him which need to be probed. Before Justice Sikri decided that Verma should be removed from the post CBI Director to ensure a fair probe, CJI Ranjan Gogoi had said that some allegations against Verma are serious, while commenting on the CVC report which was submitted to the court in a sealed cover. CJI Gogoi had said that on some charges, the CVC report is very complimentary for Verma, on some, not so complimentary, on some, it is not at all complimentary, and on others, further investigation is required.
Now ignoring the ruling of the two sitting Supreme Court judges, including the CJI, media is trying to build a narrative that allegations against Verma are based only the statements of CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, and Alok Verma is actually innocent. By making such claims, they are actually questioning the judgements of CJI Gogoi and Justice Sikri.