Alok Verma's removal as CBI chief by Narendra Modi-led panel raises political storm, but legality can't be contested

On Thursday evening, CBI director Alok Verma was removed from his post after a high-powered selection committee consisting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice A K Sikri, who was nominated by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to represent him, recommended his transfer. While Modi and Justice Sikri agreed on Verma’s removal, Mallikarjun Kharge dissented on the decision.

In a short order it was stated, 'The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the following: (i) Shri Alok Kumar Verma, IPS(AGMU:79) is transferred from the post of Director, CSI and posted as Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence & Home Guards for the residual period of his present term ending on 31.01.2019. (ii) As per the earlier arrangement, Shri M. Nageshwar Rao, IPS(OD:86), Additional Director, CSI will look after the duties of the Director, CSI till the appointment of a new Director, CSI, or until further orders, whichever is earlier."

File image of Alok Verma. Getty images

File image of Alok Verma. Getty images

While the transfer of Verma is being marked as ‘removal’ and ‘demotion’, the fact remains that all ‘due process’ was followed in the decision to transfer Verma from CBI chief to Director General of Fire Services.

Supreme Court advocate and former Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer, Dr Ashok Dhamija, who has also previously worked in CBI rightly pointed out, “It was a "transfer" from post of CBI Director and S. 4-B of DSPE Act also calls it "transfer", and it was not "removal". Officers are not given chance to defend before transfer and S. 4-B also does not provide that. Transfer was on CVC report and Verma was given chance before CVC”.

Dr Dhamija, however, while appreciating the appointment committee’s decision to remove Verma, pointed that government “should have followed this committee method in October itself instead of unilaterally sending him on leave then."

Commenting on questions raised by the Kharge as to why Verma was not given a chance to present his case in front of the the three-member committee before he was removed from the post of CBI Director, Dr Dhamija said, "It was technically a 'transfer' from the post of the CBI director and not 'removal' as is being made out in the media. As per reports, Alok Verma has now been transferred to the post of DG, Fire Services, Civil Defence, and Home Guards. Even Section 4-B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act talks of 'transfer' of CBI Director and not 'removal' from the said post."

He added, "There is no requirement under law, and there is no such practice or procedure, to give an officer an opportunity to represent or defend before his transfer. No government follows any such practice. Even under Section 4-B of the said Act, there is no requirement that the threee-member committee must have given the Director CBI an opportunity to defend before recommending his transfer. The Supreme Court also did not give any such direction in the present matter."

He also pointed out that since the recommendation of the three-member selection committee is based on the enquiry conducted by CVC (supervised by a former Judge of Supreme Court), Verma was given the opportunity to defend himself during the said CVC enquiry.

"There is nothing wrong if the said committee did not give any formal opportunity to Alok Verma to defend. It was not required. It is a transfer and he is now appointed to another post. It is not a punishment under the rules. In fact, even for suspension, the rules do not require giving a formal opportunity to defend beforehand," said Dr Dhamija.

According to Section 4B — which states the terms and conditions of service of the CBI director — the director shall, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the rules relating to his conditions of service, continue to hold office for a period of not less than two years from the date on which he assumes office, and, the director shall not be transferred except with the previous consent of the committee that consists of the prime minister, leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

On 24 October, when Verma was ‘sent on leave’, no law was violated as it was done on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission’s (CVC). If the powers of the CVC is analyzed it has power to investigate and maintain the fairness of the investigation and as Verma and Rakesh Asthana who was send on leave along with Verma was accused of corruption they could not have expected to investigate the allegations fairly.

The fact that Verma was neither removed nor transferred had put the decision squarely within the legal powers of the executive. On Thursday, the decision to transfer Verma was only done following the approval of the appointment committee recommendation which rests in harmony with the rules enunciated in Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

While the 'removal' of Alok Verma as CBI chief has already ignited a fierce political debate, the legality of the decision can hardly be contested.

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Updated Date: Jan 11, 2019 11:15:59 IST

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