Alok Verma Ousted As CBI Chief By PM Modi-Led Panel
Alok Verma on Thursday was removed as Central Bureau of Investigation Director by a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty, barely two days after the Supreme Court reinstated him.
Verma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, had resumed duty on Wednesday, a day after the apex court paved his return with some riders and asked the three-member panel that selects the CBI chief to decide on his continuance in a week. This was done in the light of charges against him in the report of the Central Vigilance Commission.
Verma's two-year tenure as director of Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) is due to end on Jan. 31. Officials said the decision to move Verma out of the CBI came after the high-powered committee met for the second time in two days here to decide his fate.
Verma has been now posted as Director General Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, under the Union Home Ministry till the end of his tenure, according to a statement by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. The charge of the CBI has been given to Additional Director M Nageshwar Rao.
There were eight charges against Verma in the CVC report presented before the Committee that also comprised Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice A K Sikri, appointed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as his nominee. The decision at the two-hour meeting of the Committee was taken by a 2 to 1 majority with Kharge opposing the move, officials said.
It also came a day ahead of the verdict by the Delhi High Court on pleas by Verma’s deputy Rakesh Asthana, a CBI Special Director, and others that sought quashing of the FIR against them on bribery allegations. Verma and Asthana had traded corruption charges and were locked in a bitter feud that led the Centre to divest them of their authority and sent them on leave on the night of Oct. 23.
Kharge gave a dissent note and told the meeting that Verma, who was sent on forced leave, should be given a chance to present his case before the Committee on the allegations in the CVC report against him. He also said Verma should not be penalised and be given an extension of 77 days for which he was not allowed to attend the office, according to sources.
However, the prime minister and Justice Sikri disagreed with Kharge’s contention paving the way for Verma’s outster, the sources said. During the meeting, Justice Sikri said there are charges against Verma to which Kharge asked “where are the charges”, sources added.
It is for the second time in 11 weeks Rao was given the charge of CBI. He was first given the charge after Verma was divested of his authority and sent on leave but this order was quashed by the apex court on Tuesday.
Noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan reacted strongly to the removal of Verma. “The committee did not hear Verma. He should have been given a chance.”
Bhushan had sought a court-monitored Special Investigation Team probe into the allegations of corruption against various CBI officials, including Asthana in what has now come to be known as the CBI versus CBI case.
The Congress too criticised the move. “By removing Alok Verma from his position without giving him the chance to present his case, PM Modi has shown once again that he's too afraid of an investigation, either by an independent CBI director or by Parliament via JPC,” Congress tweeted from its official Twitter handle.
The CVC report spoke about the controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi’s case and claimed that the CBI team looking into it wanted to make Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana an accused but Verma never gave clearance, officials said. The probe in this case was led by Asthana.
The CVC report also contained intercepts from the Research and Analysis Wing, the external snooping agency, in which “money changing hands with number one in the CBI” is talked about, the officials said.
Incidentally, Sana is the complainant for a case registered against Asthana in which he has given graphic details about how he had allegedly paid bribe to his middlemen. He has also mentioned the name of Samanta Goel, the second-in-command at the RAW, of being involved in allegedly protecting the middleman, Manoj Prasad.
The other case relates to a Preliminary Enquiry registered by the CBI about acquisition of land in Gurgaon. The CVC alleged that Verma’s name had figured in the case and at least Rs 36 crore had changed hands. The CVC had recommended a thorough probe into the case.
The CVC, which has a supervisory role over the CBI, had also alleged that Verma tried to save an officer in the IRCTC case involving former Union Minister Lalu Prasad. It also alleged that Verma was trying to bring in tainted officials into the CBI and claimed that efforts seeking cooperation from the CBI chief did not yield results as he continued to keep the files away from the vigilance body.
The apex court Tuesday reinstated Verma as the CBI director after quashing the Centre's unprecedented “overnight” order on Oct. 23. The court, however, had clipped Verma’s wings saying he cannot take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee decides on his continuation since the CVC is probing charges of corruption against him.
The central issue before the court was whether the CVC and the Centre had the authority to divest Verma of his powers as CBI chief. Asthana has not challenged the order against him before the apex court but moved the Delhi High Court for quashing of the FIR against him in a corruption case.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacked the government ahead of Thursday meeting and said Modi is in a “tearing hurry” to “sack” Verma because of the Rafale deal.
A delegation of former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha along with activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had met Verma on Oct. 4, 2018 with a plea for registering an FIR in the Rafale jet fighter deal with France.
Hitting out at the Congress over its attack on the Modi government over Verma's removal, the BJP called it a “sore loser” with party spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao saying it has been left to lick its wounds “after failing to subvert the CBI by joining internal personal battles”.