Alok Verma leaves from CBI headquarters in New Delhi on Wednesday, Jan 9, 2019. (Photographer: Manvender Vashist/PTI)

#BQDebates: What Precedent Does Alok Verma’s Sacking Set?

BloombergQuintOpinion

Alok Verma was moved out as the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation after a three-member high-powered selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on Thursday, and chose in a split verdict to remove the officer.

Senior Advocates Sidharth Luthra and Sanjay Hegde, and former CBI Joint Director Shantonu Sen weigh in on the development, but first here’s the sequence of events that led to Verma’s ouster.

  • On Feb. 1, 2017, 1979 batch IPS officer Alok Verma—who was then the Commissioner of the Delhi Police—took charge as CBI director for a fixed two-year tenure.
  • In October that year, Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana was appointed special director of the CBI.
  • In July 2018, while Verma was abroad, the Central Vigilance Commission called a meeting to discuss promotions, and sought to know who will attend it. The CBI responded that Asthana had no mandate to represent Verma.
  • The following month, Asthana complained to the Union Cabinet Secretary, alleging misconduct by Verma. The matter was referred to the CVC.
  • In September, the CBI told the CVC that Asthana was facing probes in six cases of corruption.
  • In a flurry of events in Oct. 2018, the CBI loged an FIR with bribery allegations against Asthana, arrested alleged middleman Manoj Prasad and Deputy Superintendent Devender Kumar.
  • On Oct. 23, Kumar and later Asthana, moved the Delhi High Court, seeking the quashing of FIRs against them. The Delhi HC ordered status quo regarding Asthana, and sought the response of the CBI and Verma on both pleas.
  • Late that night, the Department of Personnel and Training divested Verma and Ashtana of their statutory obligations, and appointed M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI chief. The following morning Verma moved the Supreme Court against the DoPT order.
  • On Jan. 8, 2019, the Supreme Court reinstated Alok Verma as CBI chief, and asked the selection committee to meet in a week to decide on his continuance.
  • On Jan 10, the PM-led selection committee removed Alok Verma, and the DoPT issued an order transferring him to Fire Services and Home Guards.
  • On Jan. 11, Verma chose to resign from the IPS, instead of assuming charge as DG, Fire Services and Home Guards.

Take CBI Control Away From Politicians, Civil Service

- Sidharth Luthra, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

On The Turn Of Events:

Once the court had ordered that the committee will look into it, and the committee was entitled to take a view, there was a time frame of a week, and the committee has taken a view. So that's one part. I don't think the committee can be faulted for taking a view with speed.

What, however, needs to be considered is the legal issue that is whether Verma had a right of hearing or not, and whether he was heard. Because natural justice is also an important part of considerations in such a matter.

We don’t have the benefit of the reasons of the committee as of now, and what cases, if any, the committee had for removing him without hearing him, if at all they did not hear him, or did not take a response from him.

On CBIs Credibility:

I think the CBI as an institution has been going through troubled times, and the government’s decision hasn’t been struck down. To reiterate the old principle in the Vineet Narain case, which is that it is the committee which has to determine issues including suspension, removal, transfer.

It is imperative that mechanisms be evolved, and clearly, the Vineet Narain decision has not done enough to ensure that our institutions are manned by people of the highest integrity.

The screening process needs to be absolutely stringent, and also that the functioning of the top echelons of such organisations needs to be scrutinised. As of now, all top police associations are manned by elite police officers.

It’s not about individuals, but we have to have a situation where those who head our public institutions are persons above reproach, persons above question, and that really goes to a larger issue of police reforms from the beginning.

There are going to be checks and balances but there has to be functional independence.

We need to have independent functioning from the level of a constable to the level of a director general of police in a state. This independent functioning should be regulated by law and by oversight bodies. Neither the political class nor the administrative services should have control over the functioning of police agencies. Having said that, it does not mean we can have police agencies that can act as per their whims and fancies.

There’s Been No Loss Of CBI’s Credibility

- Shantonu Sen, Former Joint Director, CBI

On The Turn Of Events:

The institution of the director of CBI is the only question which is important here. What happened to Alok Verma is not significant. As far as the institution is concerned, it has been decided and settled by the Supreme Court. While the CVC is in-charge of the CBI, CVC will superintend the CBI, CVC can even inquire into the director of CBI. But a decision to remove the director of CBI or transfer him or send him on leave will be of the select committee. That decision is important here.

On Credibility Of CBI:

There is no issue of the credibility of the CBI, it has over 6,000 men working under it of which 3,500 are officers. There are 18 directors in the CBI and they are all working at their behest. The director is only the head of the institution. The credibility of the CBI does not entirely repose on him. He is the institution head but there are others on whom the credibility also rests. What does this decision mean, that the director of the CBI is protected up to the highest limit. The government cannot act on the advice of the CVC as far as the director of CBI is concerned. The CVC is undoubtedly the superintendent authority of the CBI. It is big enough to be the supervisor of the CBI. Formerly, the government was the supervisor of the CBI. But because of the Supreme Court judgment, the Vineet Narain case, the CVC has taken over. But the Supreme Court’s wisdom said as far as the director is concerned the select committee will decide.

So, there is no question of any loss of credibility to the CBI.

A Dangerous Precedent Has Been Set

-Sanjay Hegde, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

On The Turn Of Events:

The select committee is like any other administrative body. The question is not of the motive of the committee but the real question is whether it applied its mind to look at relevant considerations or not.

The fact that there was a judicial member does not make all the decisions right.

As far as the CVC is concerned, it is evident that the CVC had acted on the basis of complaints received from subordinates and prepared a report based on which further actions were taken by various authorities.

On Credibility Of CBI:

We now have a dangerous precedent where an inconvenient head of the CBI can be incapacitated by ambitious subordinates.