Days after the panel headed by the Prime Minister shunted CBI chief Alok Verma out and a week before it meets again to select his successor, the government on Thursday moved out CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana with whom Verma had a running feud.
Along with Asthana — once considered the favourite to lead the agency — the government also moved Joint Director A K Sharma, DIG M K Sinha and SP Jayant Naiknavare out of the CBI with immediate effect.
A Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) order said that the “Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the proposal…for curtailment of tenure” of these officers.
Barring Naiknavare, the others moved out of the CBI were key players in the Asthana-Verma battle. While Naiknavare is likely to go back to his parent cadre of Maharashtra, the others are likely to retain their central deputation with postings in central agencies and paramilitary forces.
“As and when a decision is taken on their new postings, fresh orders will be issued,” a Home Ministry official said.
Sources said Asthana is likely to be posted as chief of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security; Sharma in the CRPF as Additional DG; and, Sinha is likely to go to Bureau of Police Research and Development.
Asthana joined the CBI as Additional Director in April 2016 while Sharma joined the agency a month later as Joint Director.
Locked in a battle with Verma for over a year, Asthana faces a corruption FIR by the CBI where he is alleged to have received Rs 3 crore from a Hyderabad businessman to help him in the Moin Qureshi case. Joint Director Sharma, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, was considered close to Verma. The FIR against Asthana was being looked after by a team under Sharma’s supervision.
On October 24, the night after government divested Verma and Asthana of their powers in a midnight operation, Sharma was transferred to Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency, a moribund department of the CBI which has been probing the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi’s killing for years now.
However, as soon as Verma took charge as CBI director following Supreme Court orders, Verma brought back Sharma as Joint Director (Policy), a key CBI post which Sharma earlier held. This order was later reversed by interim Director M Nageswara Rao who took charge after the PM-led panel fired Verma.
Asthana had, notably, written to the Cabinet Secretary in August that Sharma had set off officers on a roving enquiry into his personal life and that one of the officers was of doubtful integrity while the other was a personal staff officer of Sharma. Asthana also alleged that this officer and Sharma’s son had allegedly set up some companies with people of doubtful credentials.
During his two-day reinstated tenure, Verma had also brought back DIG Sinha to the headquarters. Sinha had been transferred to Nagpur on October 24. Sinha was then supervising the case of alleged corruption against Asthana.
Sinha had also filed a petition in the Supreme Court in November following his transfer alleging that NSA Ajit Doval had been interfering in the CBI probe against Asthana and had even stopped a search at his place.
Claiming that his transfer to Nagpur was the fallout of the investigation against Asthana which he was overseeing, Sinha sought that the transfer order be quashed. His petition levelled allegations against Minister of State for Coal and Mines Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary and Law Secretary Suresh Chandra — both denied the charges.
Naiknavre’s transfer, sources said, was not connected to the Asthana-Verma battle. Sources said that he had himself sought repatriation to parent cadre after spate of transfers within the agency. “I have not seen the order yet. It is a coincidence that it has come out today,” said Naiknavare, who is currently in the CBI’s Economic Offences Wing.
Naiknavre is a state cadre officer who was promoted to the IPS last year and allotted the 2004 cadre. In October, he made a representation to the CBI asking to be repatriated to the Maharashtra Police after his elevation as Deputy Inspector General to avail the benefits of promotion.
His representation was forwarded to the Department of Personnel and Training on October 16, 2018, with the approval of the CBI Director. He was previously the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Anti Narcotics Cell in the Mumbai Police. His deputation in the CBI was to end in 2021.
(with inputs from ENS, Mumbai)