Three days before the Supreme Court resumes hearing on CBI Director Alok Verma’s petition challenging the October 23 government order sending him on leave and divesting him of all responsibilities, a new row rocked the probe agency Monday after it emerged that interim CBI Director M Nageswara Rao passed an order on November 11 to close a case against chartered accountant Sanjay Bhandari and Income Tax officials.
Rao had been directed by the Supreme Court on October 26 that he “shall, as of from now, not take any policy decision(s) or any major decision(s) and will only perform the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional”. The case for which a closure order was issued on November 11 dates back to June 2016 when the CBI booked Bhandari and his two sons, Shreyans and Divyang, along with nine Income Tax officials, including S K Mittal, Principal Commissioner, Income Tax, Delhi, for allegedly indulging in corrupt practices. It was alleged that these Income Tax officials availed illegal favours, including stay at five-star hotels, travel in luxury cars and flight travel, at the expense of Bhandari in lieu of helping him in the cases of his clients.
The case had stemmed from another case registered by the CBI in January 2015 in which Bhandari was named along with Joint Commissioner Sallong Yaden who was arrested while allegedly “receiving” a bribe from Shreyans Bhandari. Rao’s decision overturned CBI Director Verma’s decision on June 7 in which he refused to close the case and ordered re-opening of inquiry during a visit to Madurai. Rao’s decision came on a November 9 noting by Praveen Sinha, Additional Director of CBI at Delhi, which stated “later during visit of Madurai, competent authority (Verma) had orally observed to reopen the case” after the case had been closed by the Chennai anti-corruption bureau on March 13.
Ignoring Verma’s direction, Rao’s order stated that “the case has already reached its finality on 13-3-2018. HOB (Head of Branch) to take decision accordingly.”
Incidentally, Rao was Joint Director in-charge of Chennai zone of CBI in March who recommended that the case against Bhandari be closed. Rao moved to CBI headquarters in Delhi in May, before taking over as interim Director last month.
A CBI spokesperson justified Rao’s decision against Verma’s direction, stating that, “after investigation and for want of evidence, decision was taken by earlier Director on 13.3.18 for closure of case. Subsequently, file was moved for re-investigation before interim Director. Giving an approval would have amounted to taking a policy decision which would have been against the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court. Hence, the request for re-opening was turned down.”