CBI Dispute: Alok Verma resigns after PM Modi-led panel removed him as CBI Chief

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The sacked CBI Chief, Alok Verma on January 11, 2019 announced his resignation from service, refusing to take charge of the new role as DG, Fire Services. The move comes a day after a high-powered selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed him from the post of CBI Director in a 2:1 vote, less than 48 hours after he was reinstated to the position by the Supreme Court after he was sent on forced leave by the government.

The selection panel removed Verma from the post over charges of corruption and doubtful integrity as per the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission. There were eight counts of charges against him in the CVC report presented before the Committee. This makes him the first chief in the history of CBI to be ousted from the post.

Besides the Prime Minister, the high-level committee comprised Chief Justice of India’s nominee Justice AK Sikri and the leader of the opposition, Mallikarjun Kharge. While the PM and Justice Sikri held that the CVC report had provided sufficient grounds for Verma’s removal, including evidence to initiate a criminal investigation, opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge dissented on the decision, saying that the committee should not arrive at a conclusion without hearing Verma’s side.

Based on the panel’s recommendation, the PM-headed Appointments Committee of the Cabinet immediately issued orders to transfer Verma as Director General Fire services, civil defence and home guards for the remainder of his term, which ends on January 31, 2019.

Further, the ACC appointed M Nageswara Rao, CBI Additional Director to look after the duties of the CBI Director until the appointment of a new director.

SC reinstates Alok Verma as CBI Director

The Supreme Court had on January 8, 2019 reinstated Alok Verma as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director, setting aside the orders of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) which divested Alok Verma of his powers of CBI Director and sent him on forced leave in October 2018.

However, the bench of the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S. K. Kaul and K. M. Joseph restrained Verma from taking any major policy decisions until his case is finally disposed off by the Selection Committee under section 4A of the DSPE Act.

The apex court held that the word ‘transfer’, as used in section 4B of the DSPE Act, needs to be understood as encompassing all acts which impact the independent functioning of CBI Director. 

The Court further said that the DSPE Act did not enable the Government to take any interim measure against the CBI Director without the prior consent of the statutory committee.

Earlier on December 6, 2018, the apex court reserved its order on the pleas filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma and NGO Common Cause, challenging the decision of the Central Government to remove Verma as the CBI chief. The bench questioned the overnight decision of the CVC and government to send the CBI’s top two officials Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana on leave after tolerating their fight since July 2018.

Timeline of Alok Verma case
October 23, 2018 Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana were divested of their powers of CBI Director and CBI Special Director respectively by orders passed by CVC & DoPT
October 24, 2018 Alok Verma approached the Supreme Court after his removal from the post of CBI Director
October 25, 2018 NGO Common Cause filed PIL seeking SIT probe into circumstances leading to Alok Verma’s removal.
October 26, 2018 SC directed the CVC to complete enquiry in allegations against Verma under the supervision of retired SC judge Justice A K Patnaik by November 12.
October 26, 2018 SC also ruled that Interim Director of CBI, M Nageswara Rao is not authorised to take any policy decisions.
November 12, 2018 SC received CVC report in sealed cover, and the matter was adjourned to November 16
November 16, 2018 SC directed the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to hand over the copy of the probe report to CBI Director Alok Kumar in a sealed cover and asked Verma to file his response.
December 6, 2018 SC reserved its order. The bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph questioned the overnight decision of CVC and government to send the CBI’s top two officials Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana on leave after tolerating their fight since July 2018.
January 8, 2019 The Supreme Court reinstated Alok Verma as the CBI Director. However, the court restrained Verma from taking any major policy decisions until his case is finally disposed off by the Selection Committee.

Note: The Selection Committee is the High Powered Committee that consists of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India or his nominee judge and the Leader of Opposition.

January 9, 2019 Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi nominated senior most SC Judge Justice AK Sikri to be part of the high powered committee to decide the fate of CBI Director Alok Verma, in order to avoid the conflict of interest in the Case.
January 10, 2019  PM-led high selection committee voted 2:1 to remove Verma as CBI Chief.
January 11, 2019 Sacked CBI Director Alok Verma resigns

What prompted the overnight decision against Alok Verma?: CJI to Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had on December 6, 2018 asked the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, that what prompted it to take an “overnight” decision to divest Alok Verma of his powers as CBI Director without consulting the Selection Committee.

The apex court ruled that the factors that prompted the CVC to take the decision on CBI Director Alok Verma did not happen overnight. It further said, “If you had tolerated them since July, then what the reason for this immediate action suddenly without which the institution would have crumbled and fallen?”

KK Venugopal, representing the Central Government, had told the judges that extraordinary circumstances led to the decision, since the two CBI officers Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana had been fighting like “cats” since July 2018. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s argument

On behalf of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Tushar Mehta argued that CBI director Verma was an Indian Police Service officer and the conduct rules for All-India Service officers applied to him as well. Every all-India service officer is covered by the CVC Act, 2003. 

He based his argument on the 1997 Jain Hawala case judgement in Vineet Narain vs Union of India case.

He said that before 1997 judgement, either under the Police Act, 1861 or under the DSPE Act, 1946, the CBI director was subject to the IPS rules. Even in the 1997 judgment, it is nowhere said that the IPS rules would not apply to him and only a minimum tenure of two years is guaranteed.

Mehta defended the action against Verma and Asthana correct as the two officers were raiding and investigating each other, instead of investigating serious cases. 

Mehta reiterated that Verma was not transferred but only sent on leave signifying the act to be a temporary arrangement in nature. 

Alok Verma’s counsel Fali Nariman’s argument

Alok Verma’s counsel Fali Nariman argued that the government’s order of stripping Verma of charges has no basis, that the CBI director can be removed only with the approval of the Selection Committee.

1997 Jain Hawala Case Judgement in Vineet Narain vs Union of India case
The now known Jain Hawala Case got a momentary boost in 1993 when Vineet Narain filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court. He exposed the terrorists and politicians’ Hawala network and approached the apex court demanding honest probe in this case.

In 1996, for the first time in Indian history, several Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers, Governors and Leaders of Opposition besides bureaucrats were charge-sheeted for corruption.

In July 1997, Narain compelled the then Chief Justice to reveal what was happening behind the scene in such high-profile case. CJI’s revelations caused major uproar in the parliament and media.

As a part of the judgement, the apex court had ruled that the Director of the CBI should be appointed on the recommendations of a Committee headed by the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Home Secretary and the Secretary in the Department of Personnel as members.

Who filed the petition?

The bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph was hearing the petition filed by CBI Director Alok Verma and PIL filed by NGO Common Cause against the orders of CVC and Central Government divesting Verma of the powers of CBI Director and giving the charge of CBI to M. Nageshwara Rao.

CBI-Alok Verma- Rakesh Asthana Dispute

After a spell of internal strife in the CBI, the CVC and Central Government divested CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana from their roles and asked them to go on leave. Verma and Asthana accused each other of taking bribe and blocking investigation of several important cases.

Asthana, a 1984 batch Indian Police Service officer of Gujarat cadre, is alleged to have demanded a bribe of Rs 5 crore and accepting Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana through two middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad to help Sana get clear of his charges in the Moin Qureshi case. The case was being examined by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Asthana.

On the other hand, CBI chief Verma also alleged corruption charges on Asthana with regard to the Sterling Biotech case.

However, Asthana hit back by writing to the Cabinet Secretary saying that Verma received Rs 2 crore bribe in the Moin Qureshi case and had tried to stop a raid on Lalu Prasad in the IRCTC case, alleging corruption on Verma’s part.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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