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Midnight shake-up

-Alok Verma challenges govt decision in Apex court -CBI director and special director sent on leave -Many officers transferred; new SIT constituted

Midnight shake-up
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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 deepening feud sparked a severe 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'.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval reportedly summoned officers around 1 am and asked for the order appointing an interim CBI chief. By 2 am, acting chief Nageswar Rao was in his new room at the CBI headquarters.

Immediately after taking charge around midnight, Rao ordered transfers of a dozen officers 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.

The previous investigating officer, Deputy SP A K Bassi, has been shunted to Port Blair in 'public interest' with 'immediate effect', they said.

Rao appointed Satish Dagar as superintendent of police to probe the case, they said.

His first supervisor will be Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Tarun Gauba, who investigated the Vyapam cases.

At the joint director-level, V Murugesan has been brought in. He will hold additional charge as joint director, Anti Corruption-I, in the CBI headquarters.

In another order, the CBI transferred close Verma aide- Joint Director-Policy Arun Kumar Sharma and posted him as joint director of the Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA),

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 specific 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 an outcry 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 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 Tuesday evening as an 'accused or potential accused' cannot be allowed to be in charge of the investigation against them, Jaitley told reporters.

The government also came out with a detailed statement on Wednesday 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.

"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 organisation," the statement said. with pti inputsMore reports inside

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