CBI director and spl director sent on leave; Verma challenges decision in SC
New Delhi: In an unprecedented shake-up in CBI's 55-year-history, both the CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana were stripped of their powers and sent on leave in dramatic overnight action by the government after their worsening feud sparked a serious crisis in the country's premier probe agency.
As the government went into damage control mode, Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, was appointed to look after the "duties and functions" of the director with "immediate effect" as an "interim measure".
Immediately after taking charge around midnight, Rao ordered transfers of a dozen officers with one of them being sent to Port Blair and also constituted a fresh team to probe bribery and extortion charges against Asthana. Most of the officers shifted were part of the probe teams against Asthana, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer.
A late night order Tuesday from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Verma and Asthana on leave.
But Verma knocked the doors of the Supreme Court Wednesday challenging the government's decision after which it agreed to hear his plea on Friday.
Targeting the Centre, Verma contended that divesting him of his powers "overnight" amounts to interference in the independence of the agency.
He said as the CBI is expected to function completely independently and autonomously, there are bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government.
Verma also contended that the Centre and the CVC's move was "patently illegal" and such interference "erodes" the independence and autonomy of the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI).
The government's move came hours after the Central Vigilance Commission(CVC) recommended that Verma and Asthana be sent on leave and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) be formed to probe corruption allegations against them. The CVC, which is headed by K V Chowdary, has superintendence over the CBI in cases of corruption.
As the rapid overnight changes in the CBI sparked criticism from the Congress and other opposition parties, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley put up a spirited defence of the government action.
Jaitley said the government's decision to remove the CBI's top officers is based on the CVC's recommendations, asserting it is absolutely essential to restore the agency's institutional integrity and credibility.
A Special Investigation Team(SIT) will look into the charges and both officers will "sit out" the duration of the probe, he said, adding they have been sent on leave as an interim measure.
The CVC, which received details of the charges both officers had levelled against each other, made its recommendations last evening as an "accused or potential accused" cannot be allowed to be in charge of investigation against them, Jaitley told reporters.
The government also came out with a detailed statement saying that wilful obstructions caused by Verma in the functioning of the CVC, which was looking into complaints of corruption against him, and a "faction feud" with Asthana that "vitiated" the environment in the agency resulted in the powers of both the officers being divested.
"The grave allegations of corruption by senior functionaries of CBI one against another, which has been widely reported in media, has vitiated the official eco-system of the organization," the statement said.
It added that the environment of "faction feud" had reached its peak in the CBI, leading to a potential loss of credibility and reputation of the agency.
But the opposition parties led by the Congress cried foul over the action against Verma. The Congress also dubbed the action as "last nail" in the independence of CBI.
Leading the charge, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "CBI Chief Alok Verma was collecting documents relating to the Rafale scam. He was forcibly sent on leave."
But Jaitley dismissed as "rubbish" the allegation of a Rafale link.
Gandhi also repeated the charge against the government over Verma's removal at a poll rally in Rajasthan.
The government has removed Verma to control the premier agency and avoid the day of reckoning arising from "Rafale-o-phobia", Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi claimed at a press conference
The interim CBI chief constituted a fresh team to probe an FIR against Asthana, registered by the agency on October 15 on the basis of a statement of a Sathish Sana alleging that he paid a bribe through middlemen to get clean chit in the case probed by the CBI.
The fresh team will have Superintendent of Police Satish Dagar and his senior DIG Tarun Gauba who will report to Joint Director V Murugesan, a CBI order said.
A CBI spokesman later said the SIT will carry out an impartial and fair inquiry expeditiously.
A K Bassi, who was probing the case against Asthana, was dispatched to Port Blair in public interest with immediate effect.
His reporting officer Additional SP S S Gurm was transferred to Jabalpur while surpervisor DIG M K Sinha was moved to Nagpur, the order said.