Barely two days after the Supreme Court reinstated him, Alok Verma was on Thursday removed as CBI Director by a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty, in an unprecedented action in the central probe agency's 55-year history.
Mr Verma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, had resumed duty Wednesday, a day after the top court paved his return with some riders and asked the three-member panel that selects the CBI chief to decide on his continuance in a week in the light of charges against him in the report of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Mr Verma's two-year tenure as director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is due to end on January 31.
Officials said the decision to move Mr Verma out of the CBI came after the high-powered committee met for the second time in two days to decide his fate.
Mr Verma has been posted as Director General Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, under the Union Home Ministry. The charge of the CBI has been given to Additional Director M Nageshwar Rao, said a government order issued on Thursday evening.
There were eight charges against Mr Verma in the CVC report presented before the Committee that also comprised Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice AK Sikri, appointed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as his nominee.
The decision at the two-hour meeting of the Committee was taken by a 2 to 1 majority with Mr Kharge opposing the move, officials said.
It also came a day ahead of the verdict by the Delhi High Court on pleas by Mr Verma's deputy Rakesh Asthana, a CBI Special Director, and others seeking quashing of the complaint against them on bribery allegations. Mr Verma and Mr Asthana had traded corruption charges and were locked in a bitter feud that led the Centre to divest them of their authority and sent them on leave on the night of October 23.
Mr Kharge gave a dissent note and told the meeting that Mr Verma, who was sent on forced leave, should be given a chance to present his case before the Committee on the allegations in the CVC report against him.
He also said Mr Verma should not be penalised and be given an extension of 77 days for which he was not allowed to attend the office, according to sources.
However, the Prime Minister and Justice Sikri disagreed with Mr Kharge's contention paving the way for Mr Verma's outster, the sources said.
During the meeting, Justice Sikri said there are charges against Mr Verma to which Mr Kharge asked "where are the charges", according to sources.
It is for the second time in 11 weeks Mr Rao was given the charge of CBI. He was first given the charge after Mr Verma was divested of his authority and sent on leave but this order was quashed by the top court on Tuesday.
The Congress and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan reacted strongly to the removal of Mr Verma, saying he was not given a chance to present his case.
"By removing #AlokVerma from his position without giving him the chance to present his case, PM Modi has shown once again that he's too afraid of an investigation, either by an independent CBI director or by Parliament via JPC," Congress tweeted from its official Twitter handle.
"The committee did not hear Verma. He should have been given a chance," said Mr Bhushan, who had sought a court-monitored SIT probe into the allegations of corruption against various CBI officials, including Asthana in what is known as the CBI vs CBI case.
The CVC report spoke about the controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi's case and claimed that the CBI team looking into it wanted to make Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana an accused but Mr Verma never gave clearance, officials said.
The probe in this case was led by Mr Asthana.
The CVC report also contained intercepts from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the external snooping agency, in which "money changing hands with number one in the CBI" is talked about, the officials said.
Incidentally, Sana is the complainant for a case registered against Mr Asthana in which he has given graphic details about how he had allegedly paid bribe to his middlemen.
He has also mentioned the name of Samanta Goel, the second-in-command at the RAW, of being involved in allegedly protecting the middleman, Manoj Prasad.
The other case relates to a Preliminary Enquiry registered by the CBI about acquisition of land in Gurgaon. The CVC alleged that Mr Verma's name had figured in the case and at least Rs 36 crore had changed hands.
The CVC had recommended a thorough probe into the case.
The CVC, which has a supervisory role over the CBI, had also alleged that Mr Verma tried to save an officer in the IRCTC case involving former Union Minister Lalu Yadav.
It also alleged that Mr Verma was trying to bring in tainted officials into the CBI and claimed that efforts seeking cooperation from the CBI chief did not yield results as he continued to keep the files away from the vigilance body.
The top court Tuesday re-instated Mr Verma as the CBI director after quashing the centre's unprecedented "overnight" order on October 23.
The court, however, clipped Mr Verma's wings saying he cannot take any major policy decision till the high-powered committee decides on his continuation since the CVC is probing charges of corruption against him.
Asking the committee to meet within a week, the court said it was "still open" for the panel to consider the matter involving Mr Verma and decide on divesting his authority.
Holding that the statute does not have any provision with regard to interim suspension or removal of the CBI director, the court made it clear that any such decision has to be taken after obtaining the consent of the selection committee.
The central issue before the court was whether the CVC and the Centre had the authority to divest Mr Verma of his powers as CBI chief.
Asthana has not challenged the order against him before the apex court but moved the Delhi High Court for quashing of the complaint against him in a corruption case.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacked the government ahead of Thursday meeting and said PM Modi is in a "tearing hurry" to "sack" Mr Verma because of the Rafale deal.
"Why will he not allow the CBI Chief to present his case in front of the selection committee? Answer: RAFALE," Mr Gandhi said on Twitter.
A delegation of former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha along with activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had met Verma on October 4, 2018 with a plea for registering an FIR in the Rafale jet fighter deal with France.
Hitting out at the Congress over its attack on the Modi government over Mr Verma's removal, the BJP called it a "sore loser" with party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao saying it has been left to lick its wounds "after failing to subvert the CBI by joining internal personal battles".
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