Fired, ceremoniously: PM-led selection panel votes 2-1 to remove Alok Verma from CBI Director post

Two days ago, when it set aside the October 23, 2018 orders of the CVC and the government divesting Verma of his powers and functions pending inquiry, the Chief Justice of India-led bench had made it clear that the issue of his divestment was “still open”.

Two days after CBI Director Alok Verma was reinstated by the Supreme Court, the high-powered selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed him from the post over charges of corruption and dereliction of duty in a 2-1 decision Thursday evening. He is the first CBI chief to be ousted from the post.

Shortly thereafter, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet put out an order saying Verma had been “transferred from the post of Director, CBI and posted as Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence & Home Guards for the residual period of his present term ending on 31.01.2019”.

The ACC said “as per the earlier arrangement”, M Nageswara Rao, Additional Director, CBI “will look after the duties of the Director, CBI till the appointment of a new Director, CBI or until further orders, whichever is earlier”.

Of the three members of the selection panel, Prime Minister Modi and Justice A K Sikri were against Verma’s continuance as CBI chief in light of the Central Vigilance Commission’s report and “the extremely serious nature of observations made by the CVC against Verma”.

All eyes on panel’s next choice

Clearly, the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Alok Verma as CBI Director two days ago was more about process than the merits of his case. The fact that Justice A K Sikri agreed to his removal today limits how far the Opposition can push its political point. All eyes are now on how this selection panel decides on Verma’s successor.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, the third member, who gave a dissent note, objected to Verma’s removal “simply on the basis of the CVC report”.

Two days ago, when it set aside the October 23, 2018 orders of the CVC and the government divesting Verma of his powers and functions pending inquiry, the Chief Justice of India-led bench had made it clear that the issue of his divestment was “still open”. It asked Verma to confine himself to routine functions and not take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee took a call on his future.

Justice Sikri, who was asked by CJI Ranjan Gogoi to represent him on the panel, was said to be of the firm view that since the allegations against the CBI Director were technically “pending inquiry”, his position had become untenable.

“There were simultaneous discussions but when the view of two members was that the CBI chief should be moved out pending inquiry, then the points raised by Kharge, such as extension of tenure of Verma, took a backseat. The assessment given in the CVC report that the allegations faced by Verma were of serious nature sealed his fate,” sources said.

A copy of the CVC report and Verma’s response to the vigilance body had earlier been circulated among the three members. What tilted the balance against Verma was the observation in the CVC report that while some allegations against the CBI Director had been “established” and found to be prima facie correct, other “grave allegations” needed further probe and for this, the continuation of the officer on the post was undesirable.

As first reported by The Indian Express last October, it was CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana who shot off a missive to Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha on August 24, listing as many as a dozen allegations of grave misconduct and impropriety against Verma.

Among the allegations was one that Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Sathish Babu had paid bribes to Verma in connection with the case of meat exporter Moin Qureshi and that the Director had given him telephonic instructions not to interrogate Sana further. The same businessman later levelled allegations of bribery against Asthana which became the basis for an FIR filed against him on October 15.

In the IRCTC case, the CVC felt it could be reasonably concluded that Verma deliberately excluded a name from the FIR. The CVC was said to have received fresh complaints against Verma — besides the dozen allegations levelled by Asthana — and the Commission’s view was that some of these had serious financial implications and the probe would need assistance from other countries.

Speaking to The Indian Express after the meeting Thursday evening, Kharge said he gave a letter conveying his dissent on the decision to remove Verma.

“My argument was that he (Verma) has got a two-year term and the allegation made by the CVC is not proved or he is not convicted. Simply on their report, if you remove him, it is not fair. You should continue him, restore his position and also the 77 days which have been lost because of your wrong decision. And the decision of DoPT and CVC order, both has been set aside. When the Supreme Court has set aside these two orders, that means you have committed a mistake. So that is your (government’s) fault. Therefore, for your wrong decision, he should not be punished,” he said.

The Prime Minister, Kharge said, maintained that the government took action on the basis of the CVC report. Kharge said the meeting lasted for over two hours because he argued “every point”. “How did the CVC report come? Why should you not call the report from Verma? Because he has given some note in his defence to the Supreme Court. We don’t know that. What is his defence? You are telling only allegations. What is his counter view? You get that. What are the views of Justice (A K) Patnaik who inquired?”

“You have not placed all the records, except one-sided. Ever since the beginning they are fighting… CBI, CVC, CBI within CBI… on that it (the meeting) went on… issue by issue. I told them that if anybody makes allegations, are you going to remove immediately without or with inquiry,” he said.

Government sources, however, pointed that Verma had already responded to the CVC report before the Supreme Court and his response had been recorded by the CJI-led bench. “The mandate of the selection panel headed by PM is limited to appointment of CBI chief, and transfer of CBI chief. The committee felt that as a detailed investigation, including criminal investigation, was necessary, in some cases, his continuation as CBI Director was not desirable, and he should be transferred,” sources said.

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