Updated: October 25, 2018 11:13:28 am
With the internal tussle in the CBI showing no signs of abating, the government stepped in and amidst high midnight drama sent the investigative agency’s warring No 1 and No 2 — Director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana — on leave. M Nageshwar Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre officer, and Joint Director at CBI will be the interim chief. However, the government order has run into rough weather, with Verma challenging his removal before the Supreme Court and Opposition parties calling the move “illegal” and the “last nail” into the independence of CBI. Follow LIVE updates here
* Who are Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana?
Alok Verma took over as CBI’s 27th director on January 2017 after the retirement of Anil Sinha. A 1979 batch IPS officer of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territories (AGMUT) cadre, Verma also held the post of Delhi Police Commissioner.
Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer, was elevated to the position of No 2 at the CBI by a selection committee headed by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Dubbed by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi as PM Modi’s “blue-eyed” boy, Asthana, who also served as the Commissioner of Police in Vadodara and Surat, handled many high-profile cases during his tenure.
He probed the Godhra train fire of February 2002, which led to riots in the state. As an officer on deputation in Bihar, Asthana probed the fodder scam and arrested RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. As the additional director at CBI, he probed the Vijay Mallya bank fraud case and AgustaWestland chopper scam. He was also probing the INX Media case involving former finance minister P Chidambaram.
* How did the feud begin? What are charges against Verma and Asthana?
The cracks began to appear between the CBI’s top two way back in October 2017, when the Verma objected to Asthana’s promotion as Special Director. The CBI director handed over a confidential note to the Central Vigilance Commission, which supervises the CBI’s functioning, alleging corruption on Asthana’s part with regard to the Sterling Biotech case.
Verma alleged that according to a diary found on the premises of the company, Asthana was paid Rs 3.88 crore. Sterling Biotech came under probe that year for loan defaults of over Rs 5,000 crore. The CVC panel unanimously cleared Asthana’s promotion, disregarding Verma’s submissions.
The turf war reached a crescendo after the CBI filed six complaints and an FIR against Asthana for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 5 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman Satish Babu Sana through two middlemen to help him get off the hook in the Moin Qureshi case money laundering case. CBI has alleged that at least Rs 3 crore had already been paid to Asthana through the middlemen. Moreover, the agency also arrested Devendra Kumar, a deputy superintendent of police in the agency, who has been working with Asthana.
However, days prior to CBI stating that its Special Director’s role was being investigated, Asthana shot off a complaint to the Cabinet Secretary, listing more than a dozen charges against the Director, including a counter charge relating to Moin Qureshi case, where he alleged that it was Verma who accepted a bribe. Other complaints relate to two businessmen seeking St Kitts citizenship, and a land acquisition case in Haryana.
Asthana said that Babu had claimed that he paid a bribe of Rs 2 crore to Verma to avoid action by the CBI. He added that he was instructed by Verma on February 20 on the telephone not to examine Babu.
* What is the Rafale link in the current crisis?
The Congress smelt a rat behind the removal of CBI director Alok Verma and alleged that it was done in a bid to stop him from investigating the Rafale deal for 36 fighter jets from France. “CBI Chief Alok Verma was collecting documents relating to the Rafale scam. He was forcibly sent on leave. The Prime Minister’s message is very clear that whoever comes near Rafale (issue) will be removed, wiped out,” Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said.
In a separate statement, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked if Verma was “sacked” for his keenness to probe the “layers of corruption” in the Rafale scam and sought an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The allegations by the Congress come a month after BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan moved the CBI with a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar over the Rafale deal. The trio has alleged that the Modi government violated several clauses of the defence procurement procedures to unilaterally announce the inter-governmental contract with France to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets in April 2015. After the latest developments, Sinha, Bhushan, and Shourie on Wednesday approached the Supreme Court seeking registration of an FIR into the Rafale deal.
* What is the Central Vigilance Commission’s role in the matter?
The Central Vigilance Commission, which supervises the CBI’s functioning, found itself caught up in the row after it declined to share details of Asthana’s complaint against Verma and “CBI officers investigating his cases” with the investigation agency. In his complaint to CVC, Asthana had alleged that Verma had sought to impede his functioning, interfere in investigations and malign his reputation on the basis of unverified facts.
Following Verma’s removal as CBI director on Wednesday, the government reasoned that he did not cooperate with the CVC in the probe against him. The government said that despite repeated assurances and reminders, Verma failed to furnish the records/files before the Commission.
* Does law allow the government to send Verma on leave?
With Alok Verma being sent on leave by the government, questions are being asked if he was illegally removed from the post of CBI director. Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan said the PM had no authority to send the CBI director on leave as his tenure was protected. “It is not CBI vs CBI. It is CBI versus a corrupt officer planted in the CBI by the PMO,” he tweeted.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also questioned the “law under which Modi government” initiated the order against the chief of the country’s premier probe agency.
Before 1997, the tenure of the CBI director was not fixed and they could be removed by the government in any manner. But the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain judgment fixed the tenure of minimum of two years for the CBI director to allow the officer to work with independence.
Moreover, in his petition before the Supreme Court, Alok Verma referred to Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, saying it statutorily secures the two-year period of the director’s tenure notwithstanding anything to the contrary. This is precisely to secure the independence of the CBI, but the same has been violated, it said.
“In any event, Section 4A of the Act constitutes a high powered committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India for the purpose of appointing the Director of the CBI as also under Section 4B(2) to grant previous consent for his transfer. The exercise of power by the impugned orders has been to bypass the mandate of the committee,” it said.
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