In a post-midnight drama, the Centre on Wednesday virtually sacked CBI Director Alok Verma in the midst of the war at the agency’s top, a decision that came under all-round fire from the opposition who termed it “the last nail in the independence” of the organization. Verma moved the Supreme Court, which will hear his plea on Friday.
Verma who has two more months as the Central Bureau of Investigation chief and cannot be removed formally. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), which took the decision on Verma, also asked Joint Director M. Nageshwar Rao to “look after the duties and functions of the CBI Director”.
An official order said the arrangement would continue “during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure”, as the rift between Verma and CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana escalated over bribery allegations.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will hear Verma’s plea challenging the Centre’s order asking him to proceed on leave on October 26.
“The Modi government buries the last nail into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling and denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI’s integrity, credibility and reliability is buried and dead.
“PM Modi seeks to achieve surreptitiously and clandestinely what he can’t do directly to sack the CBI Director. Habitual and perpetual misuse of CBI by Modi government and BJP to tamper fair investigation of serious criminal cases is the reason for this unfathomable mess,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a series of tweets.
The Prime Minister has demonstrated “the true colour of his infamous Modi Made Gujarat Model by this cloak-and-dagger mugging of the CBI, the Congress said. Surjewala asked whether the CBI director was “sacked” for his keenness to probe the layers of “corruption in Rafale Scam”.
“Isn’t the rest a shoddy cover-up? Let PM answer!” he tweeted.
Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said: “What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi government get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is the Modi government trying to hide?”
“The illegal removal of CBI chief by the Modi government to protect their own handpicked officer, against whom serious charges of corruption are being investigated, points to attempts at a serious cover-up to protect his direct links to the BJP’s top political leadership,” Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said.
“To ensure that the CBI is not a caged parrot, Supreme Court had granted protection to the Chief from government’s whims and fancies by giving him a two-year tenure. What is Modi government trying to hide by its panic move? #BJPCorruption,” the Left leader added.
The decision came after Asthana was divested of all supervisory charges on Tuesday. The government appeared to be peeved over the war at the top in the country’s premiere probe agency and took the action as he could not be sacked straight away.
Verma was appointed as CBI Director for two years and his tenure ends in December.
The CBI on Tuesday also suspended its Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, who was arrested on Monday on the charge of falsification of records while probing allegations against meat exporter Moin Qureshi. It also added five new sections into the existing bribery FIR lodged against its Special Director.
Kumar is an Investigating Officer in a case against Qureshi, who is facing multiple cases of money laundering and corruption. A trial court on Tuesday sent Kumar to CBI custody for seven days.
Asthana, a 1984 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Gujarat cadre, is accused of accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana who was under probe in the Qureshi case in order to “wreck” the investigation.
The case was being examined by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Asthana. The CBI has said that there was “no change in responsibilities” of the the second-in-command so far.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday said Verma’s plea would be taken up on October 26 after his counsel pressed for an urgent hearing on the midnight order issued against the central probe agency’s chief following an escalation of rift between the top officials at the organisation over bribery charges.