Hours after resuming charge as CBI Director following a Supreme Court judgment, Alok Verma Wednesday reinstated “with immediate effect” key officers considered close to him, who were moved out after he was sent on leave last October following a bitter spat with his then No.2, Special Director Rakesh Asthana.
Meanwhile, the high-powered selection committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, met to decide on the future of Verma. However, no decision was reached, with the committee scheduled to meet again at 4 pm Thursday.
Supreme Court Justice A K Sikri attended the meeting on behalf of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, with Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, taking part as the third member. (Explained: Why CJI Gogoi nominated Justice Sikri to attend the meeting)
Inside the CBI, a key return on Verma’s orders was that of A K Sharma, a Gujarat-cadre officer, who returned to the important post of Joint Director (Policy). Sharma had been transferred to the Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA).
The other significant comeback was that of Anish Prasad as DIG of SU-1 (Surveillance) unit. Prasad, who had been transferred to the Administration and Personnel Department, was at the centre of a tussle between Asthana and Verma last July — Verma had ensured that Prasad was brought back from Tripura.
Among the others reinstated were DIG M K Sinha, Additional SP S S Gurm, and DySPs A K Bassi and Ashwani Gupta. Last November, in his plea in the Supreme Court against his transfer, Sinha had accused National Security Advisor Ajit Doval of interference in cases against Asthana.
Sinha had been transferred to Nagpur, Bassi to Port Blair, and Gupta sent back to his parent cadre of the Intelligence Bureau. Gurm, who was considered close to A K Sharma, had been transferred to Jabalpur.
Most of these officers were probing corruption charges against Asthana, including the FIR that he had demanded and received Rs 3 crore in bribe through conduits. Asthana, who was also sent on leave along with Verma, has denied the charges and approached the Delhi High Court to quash the FIR — the court is yet to decide on his plea.
Of all the key transfers and postings made by interim chief M Nageswara Rao on October 24, 2018, Verma chose to let Joint Director Sai Manohar stay in place. Manohar, an MP-cadre IPS officer, is investigating the Vijay Mallya and Agusta Westland cases. Agusta middlemen Christian Michel has been extradited to India, and the CBI secured a favourable order in the Mallya case.
During the selection panel’s meeting, sources told The Indian Express, Kharge said the agenda was not circulated among the members and documents not made available for discussions. Justice Sikri, sources said, was also of the view that the relevant documents were needed to proceed further.
The members were then provided with a copy of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) report against Verma on the basis of which the government divested the CBI chief of all powers on October 23, 2018.
Sources said Kharge carried a letter with him for the meeting in which he demanded that Verma be allowed to complete his two-year tenure with an additional two-and-a-half months added for the time he was on leave.
In the letter, sources said, Kharge claimed that the case containing allegations against Verma also included the names of NSA Ajit Doval, Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, Central Vigilance Commissioner K V Chowdary and R&AW Special Secretary Samanth Goel. The letter questioned why the government “singled out” Verma, and attributed “ulterior motives” to this move, sources said.
On Tuesday, in its order reinstating the CBI Director, the Supreme Court had asked the selection committee to consider Verma’s future in the agency within a week. The court had also barred Verma from “taking any major policy decisions till the decision of the committee permitting such actions and decisions becomes available”.