CBI vs CBI mess: Centre's post-midnight moves likely spell end of Alok Verma's innings at agency

In all likelihood, Alok Verma will not return to the Central Bureau of Investigation as its director: unless the Supreme Court rules in his favour. Verma is 61 years old. His two-year tenure as CBI chief  ends in January 2019. The government’s post-midnight order sending him on leave pending investigation could thus effectively mean the end of his innings at the agency.

 CBI vs CBI mess: Centres post-midnight moves likely spell end of Alok Vermas innings at agency

CBI chief Alok Verma at the Supreme Court. PTI

So far, Rakesh Asthana, the CBI number 2 was facing the brunt of the law enforcement agency: An FIR had been filed against him with charges as serious as extortion and forgery. However, now it appears that the director, who has been sent "on leave" will face investigations on similar charges by the agency he technically continues to head. This investigation will be done by the Central Vigilance Commission. Of course, the charges against Asthana will be investigated further.

Consider the wording of the official statement issued by the Centre through Press Information Bureau: It asserts that despite repeated reminders, CBI director Verma was non-cooperative and did not respond to the CVC notices. “The CVC, on receipt of a complaint on 24 August, 2018, (by Rakesh Asthana) containing various allegations against the senior functionaries of the CBI has served three separate notices (under section 11 of CVC Act, 2003) on 11th September, 2018 upon the Director, CBI to produce files and documents before the Commission on 14 September, 2018. Various opportunities have been given to produce such records and after several adjournments, though CBI assured the Commission on 24th September, 2018 to furnish the records within three weeks. Despite repeated assurances and reminders, the Director, CBI failed to furnish the records / files before the Commission. The CVC has observed that Director, CBI has not been cooperating in making available records / files sought by the Commission relating to serious allegations.”

The official statement then notes that “the CVC has also observed that the Director, CBI has been non-cooperative with the Commission, non-compliant with the requirements / directions of the Commission and has created willful obstructions in the functioning of the Commission which is a Constitutional body.” The statement then goes on to say while the CVC and the government took a decisive action of divesting to send both the director and special director “of functions, power, duty and supervisory role in respect of cases already registered and/or required to be registered and/or being inquired/enquired/investigated under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, until further orders” and why both were sent on leave.

The statement clearly outlines CVC’s grievances against Verma. It appears that Verma now will have a lot of explaining to do: both to the CVC and the Special Investigation Team. Asthana's case is now before the court and he will have to respond as the hearing proceeds.

Both Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the statement issued by the government stressed the word “interim” to convey the message that the actions taken were to restore the CBI's credibility and give a sense of “fair play” in investigations against the top officers. “Nothing could be more unfair in the world than an accused, or a potential accused or a person against whom allegations are pending being in-charge of investigation or being supervisory head of an agency which is investigating.”

The government statement said “this has been done as an interim measure and will subsist till the CVC concludes its inquiry into all issues which have given rise to the present extra-ordinary and unprecedented situation and till the CVC and/or Government of India takes an appropriate decision in accordance with the law as regards to the measures to be adopted as a consequence thereof.”

The much-awaited intervention from the CVC and the government in the ugly war between the number one and number two in the CBI came around 2 am Wednesday. The government decided to crack the whip when it realised that the factional war in the CBI had taken a toll on its credibility and was giving ammunition to political rivals and critics to question Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administrative ability to rein in such a situation.

Sources told Firstpost preparatory work for the final action began Tuesday afternoon both at CVC and at PMO. While CVC was exploring files, ascertaining facts and mulling recommendations to be made to the government, at the PMO National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was holding a series of informal meetings with officials concerned. He remained in office from Tuesday evening to early morning Wednesday.

An extraordinary meeting of ACC was called following which it was decided to appoint Joint Director M Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI director. Around 1 am, Rao—joint director in CBI—was informed he had to take charge of agency as interim director with immediate effect. Rao quickly reached CBI headquarters at CGO complex, followed by other officers.

Rao had the two top floors— housing offices of CBI director and special director—sealed in his presence. His instructions were clear: nobody and nothing moves in or out of those two floors. Rao then signed a lot of fresh orders transferring and shunting over a dozen officials seemingly aligned with either group. Then, a fresh set of orders giving charge of work supervised by Asthana and who all would be part of the team investigating charges against Verma and Asthana were issued.

The Congress is charging that Verma was “de-facto removed” because he was about to open an investigation into the Rafale controversy. Verma raised eyebrows in the corridors of power after meeting dissident BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, former AAP leader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan in his office on 8 October and accepting their complaints seeking an inquiry into Rafale deal.

Jaitley called these charges “rubbish” and said if Congress, Left and AAP leaders were convinced in what they were saying, then they were demolishing integrity of the person (Verma) they are trying to protect. The implication by the finance minister went thus: How could these leaders know the future moves of the CBI director unless they were in contact with him? That argument does not bode well for Verma.

Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 19:38:43 IST