Govt curtails tenure of four CBI officers including Rakesh Asthana; move necessary to clean agency before new chief takes over

New Delhi: After Alok Verma's exit from the Central Bureau of Investigation, the cleanup has officially begun. And, it is not just a surface decoration but a serious attempt by the government to strengthen the foundation of the now shaky institution, which requires complete modification.

The curtailment of the tenure of four officers of CBI on Thursday including Rakesh Asthana and AK Sharma is the first sign of renovation of the premier investigation agency by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Govt curtails tenure of four CBI officers including Rakesh Asthana; move necessary to clean agency before new chief takes over

Representational image. PTI.

The appointment of Asthana, a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre IPS officer as Special Director in October 2017 had triggered cold war in the CBI. Then Director Verma had opposed the government decision and launched offensive against Asthana which finally culminated in all-out war in the CBI and an FIR against his deputy. The real nightmare for the government in this entire controversy has been the creation of two so-called camps and the officers' willingness to choose the sides. The knives were out in October and the government was embarrassed due to ongoing tussle between the Verma and Asthana camps. While Asthana is seeking court’s intervention to quash the FIR against him lodged on the direction of Verma, two other officers — Sharma and MK Sinha — shunted out on Thursday were seen as close to the Verma camp.

Chaos is an unbalanced state of affairs with serious pitfalls and dangers in an important institution like the CBI. According to officials privy to the ongoing developments, the government approach is to bring symmetry in the functioning of the agency just days before the prime minister-led panel is expected to meet to appoint the new CBI Director.

"There was a complete break down and with opposition spreading disinformation and mounting attacks on the government, certain wise and intelligent mechanisms were needed to set the house in order. Since questions were being raised about Asthana’s position since Verma’s ouster, the government made it clear the priority is to reestablish the sanctity of the institution,” an official said.

Sharma, an IPS officer of 1987 batch Gujarat cadre, has been shunted out from the CBI through a latest directive. He was seen as a close confidant of Verma. Interestingly, Sharma was made Joint Director (Policy), an important position the agency just a month after Verma took over the charge of CBI. Earlier, Asthana, in his letter to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had levelled serious charges against Sharma alleging that his family was operating shell companies in partnership with persons who figure in CBI's list of undesirable contacts. Sharma was transferred to MDMA unit during the massive shake up in October. According to sources, the government is keen on further probe into the allegations against Sharma including several companies that have come under the scanner.

"The details of around eight companies which are allegedly run by his family and relatives is with the CVC and the Cabinet Secretariat. These allegations will be probed to get to the bottom of the entire affairs,” Sources said.

Another officer, whose tenure at CBI has been curtailed by the prime minister-led ACC is MK Sinha, a 2000 batch IPS officer of Andhra Pradesh Cadre. Sinha, considered close to the Verma camp was DIG of the anti-corruption unit probing bribery charges against Asthana before he was transferred to Nagpur following a midnight sweep in October last year. Subsequently, Sinha moved to the Supreme Court levelling allegations against a Union Minister and other top officials of the government. He had also alleged that the levers of CBI are controlled by powerful persons just to fit it into their personal objectives of exonerating or implicating certain individuals, irrespective of the merit of the case. Sinha's application, seen more as mudslinging, had perturbed the government, which was fighting the Verma’s removal case in the apex court.

The infighting within the CBI had made the investigation agency an unsettled establishment for the government and a new order was needed for its resurrrection. With Verma gone and the process to pick a new boss for the agency gathering momentum, it was the right time to clean the agency. With this firm directive, the government has also send a clear message that it will not hesitate in imposing the order upon squabbling group of officers.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 07:00:36 IST

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