February 12, 2019:
He was found them guilty of Contempt & was sentenced till the rising of the court.
CBI’s M Nageswara Rao stood up from his seat in the back benches of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s court. A government lawyer said Rao wanted to say something.
The senior police officer, who for a few months called the shots in the Central Bureau of Investigation, had been glued to his seat for nearly four hours. It was a punishment.
The judges had held Rao & the legal adviser guilty of contempt of court shortly before noon. They had to pay Rs 1 lakh each in fine also.
This meant the two officers had to keep sitting in the court, even during the hour-long lunch break. They did get to eat biscuits & nutri bars that some government lawyers had got them for lunch.
Chief Justice Gogoi had been upset that Nageswara Rao, who had led the central investigating agency for months, had disobeyed the Supreme Court’s explicit order not to transfer joint director AK Sharma.
File notings that the Supreme Court judges saw indicated that Nageswara Rao was aware of the directions but yet, chose not to seek the top court’s concurrence & quietly carried out the transfer orders.
As the CBI officer approached the bench, the Centre’s top lawyer KK Venugopal spoke on Nageswara Rao’s behalf. “It really wasn’t willful disobedience,” Attorney General Venugopal said, pleading to let the CBI additional director leave the court.
The Chief Justice clearly didn’t seem to agree. “Look, we have found them guilty & sentenced them till the rising of the court. And this court has not yet risen,” Chief Justice Gogoi said, snubbing the officer. It was still about 3.45 pm.
“You ask him to go back to his seat or else, we might sentence him for one more day that is tomorrow,” Chief Justice Gogoi said, delivering a clear unequivocal warning.
The judge had underlined early in the day why he wasn’t inclined to let off the senior officer.
Chief Justice Gogoi said it was for the first time that he, or the two other judges on the bench, were going to invoke their power to punish for contempt.
“But it has to be the first time. Speaking for myself I believe dignity & majesty of court should be maintained… & this is blatant,” the Chief Justice said.
Venugopal did not give up. It would ruin his career, he said.
The Chief Justice said the career of the officer was anyway “blemished” even “if the court were to hold him guilty of contempt on his own admission & accept his apology”.
A 1986-batch Indian Police Service officer, Nageswara Rao shot to national headlines when he was elevated as acting CBI director in October last year after the government sent CBI director Alok Verma & his deputy Rakesh Asthana on forced leave.
Rao was again the government’s first choice for the job after a high-powered committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to move out Alok Verma from the top post.
A petition filed against Nageswara Rao’s appointment as interim director is already before the Supreme Court. The judges have completed the hearing & had reserved its verdict.