India

CBI: India's top court reinstates police agency chief

Alok Verma taking charge as CBI chief on 1 February 2017 in Delhi. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alok Verma (r) and his deputy Rakesh Asthana accused each other of corruption

India's top court has reinstated a federal investigation agency chief who was suspended after he and his deputy both accused each other of corruption.

The Supreme Court said there was no "provision" for the government to "divest the powers" of Alok Verma of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Mr Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were both relieved of their duties pending an inquiry after the allegations were made.

Mr Verma challenged the decision.

Although it ruled in his favour, the Supreme Court said that Mr Verma could not take "major policy decisions" until the investigation of corruption cases against him was completed.

Mr Asthana too had appealed against his suspension but his challenge is still pending in the Delhi High Court.

The ruling is being seen as a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP-led government.

Opposition parties have welcomed the court's decision - they had accused the government of overreach and interference in the CBI's internal matters.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the verdict as a "direct indictment" of Mr Modi.

The top crime fighting agency, also known as the CBI, is under the administrative control of the federal government and has often been accused of being manipulated by successive ruling parties to settle scores against their opponents.

The decision to remove Mr Verma and Mr Asthana from office in October was unprecedented and shocked India.

The government announced the move after a midnight meeting that was called amid an escalating public spat between the two men.

Mr Verma had filed a complaint against Mr Asthana, accusing him of taking a bribe of 30 million rupees (£320,000; $409,000) from a businessman who was being investigated by the agency.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opposition parties held protests against the CBI chief's suspension

But Mr Asthana told the government that he was being framed. He said it was Mr Verma who had taken 20 million rupees as a bribe from the same individual. Mr Verma denied the charges.

The government responded by placing both them and several other officials on "indefinite leave". Both their offices were sealed and another officer immediately took over as interim chief of the agency.

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