(Source: BloombergQuint)

CBI Crisis Deepens As Director Alok Verma Sent On Leave, Moves Supreme Court

In a first for the 55-year old Central Bureau of Investigation, its Director Alok Verma, and Special Director Rakesh Asthana were stripped of their powers and sent on leave in a dramatic overnight action by the government. The worsening feud has sparked a serious crisis in the country's premier probe agency.

As the government went into a damage control mode, Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, was appointed to look after the "duties and functions" of the director with "immediate effect" as an "interim measure.”

Immediately after taking charge at around midnight, Rao ordered the transfers of a dozen officers, with one of them being sent to Port Blair. He also constituted a fresh team to probe bribery and extortion charges against Asthana. Most of the officers who were shifted were part of the probe teams against Asthana, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer.

A late night order on Tuesday from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Verma and Asthana on leave.

Verma then went on to move the Supreme Court today, challenging the government's decision. The top court has scheduled the hearing of his plea for Friday. Targeting the Centre, Verma contended that divesting him of his powers "overnight" amounts to interference in the independence of the agency.

He said that since the CBI is expected to function completely independently and autonomously, there are bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government.

Verma also contended that the Centre and the CVC's move was "patently illegal" and such interference "erodes" the independence and autonomy of the CBI.

The government's move came hours after the Central Vigilance Commission recommended that Verma and Asthana be sent on leave and a Special Investigation Team be formed to probe corruption allegations against them. The CVC, which is headed by KV Chowdary, has superintendence over the CBI in cases of corruption.

As the rapid overnight changes in the CBI sparked criticism from the Congress and other opposition parties, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley put up a spirited defence of the government action.

Jaitley said the government's decision to remove the CBI's top officers is based on the CVC's recommendations, asserting it is absolutely essential to restore the agency's institutional integrity and credibility.

The SIT will look into the charges and both officers will "sit out" the duration of the probe, he said, adding they have been sent on leave as an interim measure.

The CVC, which received details of the charges both officers had levelled against each other, made its recommendations last evening as an "accused or potential accused" cannot be allowed to be in charge of investigation against them, Jaitley told reporters.

The government also came out with a detailed statement saying that wilful obstructions caused by Verma in the functioning of the CVC, which was looking into complaints of corruption against him, and a "faction feud" with Asthana that "vitiated" the environment in the agency resulted in the powers of both the officers being divested.

"The grave allegations of corruption by senior functionaries of the CBI one against another, which has been widely reported in media, has vitiated the official ecosystem of the organization," the statement said.

It added that the environment of faction feud had reached its peak in the CBI, leading to a potential loss of credibility and reputation of the agency.

But the opposition parties led by the Congress cried foul over the action against Verma. The Congress also dubbed the action as "last nail" in the independence of the CBI.

Leading the charge, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "CBI Chief Alok Verma was collecting documents relating to the Rafale scam. He was forcibly sent on leave."

But Jaitley dismissed as "rubbish" the allegation of a Rafale link.

Gandhi also repeated the charge against the government over Verma's removal at a poll rally in Rajasthan.

The government removed Verma to control the premier agency and avoid the day of reckoning arising from "Rafale-o-phobia", Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi claimed at a press conference

The interim CBI chief constituted a fresh team to probe an FIR against Asthana, registered by the agency on Oct. 15 on the basis of a statement of a Sathish Sana, alleging that he paid a bribe through middlemen to get clean chit in the case probed by the CBI.

The fresh team will have Superintendent of Police Satish Dagar and his senior DIG Tarun Gauba, who will report to Joint Director V Murugesan, a CBI order said.

CBI Crisis Deepens As Director Alok Verma Sent On Leave, Moves Supreme Court

A CBI spokesman later said that the SIT will carry out an impartial and fair inquiry expeditiously.

AK Bassi, who was probing the case against Asthana, was dispatched to Port Blair in public interest with immediate effect.

His reporting officer Additional SP SS Gurm was transferred to Jabalpur while supervisor DIG MK Sinha was moved to Nagpur, the order said.

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