New Delhi: In a dramatic development, the government virtually removed CBI Director Alok Verma amid speculation that he was planning to order a probe into the controversial Rafale deal, a charge Finance Minister Arun Jaitley dismissed as “rubbish” saying it was done to ensure fairplay in investigations into bribery allegations levelled in the war between him and the agency’s number two Rakesh Asthana.
As an unseemly rift between the two top officials escalated into a full-blown war over the past few days, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet met on Tuesday night and appointed M Nageshwar Rao, a Joint Director to look after the duties and functions of CBI Director.
An official statement later said that in the interest of equality, fairplay and principles of natural justice, the government decided to divest Verma and Asthana of their “functions, power, duty and supervisory role in any manner as Director CBI and Special Director CBI respectively”.
On a day of fast-moving developments, Rao transferred as many as 13 officers of the agency, perceived to be close to Verma, who were probing bribery charges against the Special Director. The CBI also re-constituted the team probing the case against Asthana.
Verma, who cannot be removed from office as he has a mandated two-year term that ends in December, challenged in the Supreme Court the orders of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the government, saying they struck at the independence of CBI and were outside their jurisdiction. The Court will hear the case on Friday.
The official statement said the action against Verma and Asthana was taken on the recommendation of the CVC, which met on Tuesday evening and divested the two officials of their functions and powers in respect of cases already registered and/or required to be probed under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
It said grave allegations of corruption by senior functionaries of CBI against one another has vitiated the official ecosystem of the organisation.
The war between the two officials had escalated after Asthana had written to the CVC in August levelling allegations of misconduct and corruption in the probe into meat exporter Moin Qureshi case while the CBI registered a case on Sunday against Asthana accusing him of accepting bribe to settle Qureshi’s case.
The government action immediately triggered a political war with opposition parties alleging that the government acted against Verma because he could be looking at a probe into the Rafale allegations over
which a delegation of former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan had given a memorandum seeking a probe.
They said the decision also struck at the independence of the investigating agency and constitutional authorities.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said by sending Verma on a “forced leave” for collecting documents on the Rafale “scam”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clear message that anyone coming around the jet deal will be “wiped out”. The country and the constitution are in danger, he said in a tweet.
Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi said the government’s decision stripping Verma of his duties was in violation of the Lokpal Act and the Supreme Court judgement in the Vineet Naryan case. He asserted that the CVC had no power to either recommend the removal of Verma or appointment of a new director.
CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said 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”. — IANS