Alok Verma: Facts, verification of claims place Congress on weak wicket

Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge had opposed Verma’s appointment as CBI director in 2017; no formal complaint against the Rafale deal was ever made to the agency

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Alok Verma, Mallikarjun Kharge

Barely two days after the Supreme Court had reinstated him, Alok Verma was Thursday removed as CBI director by a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi where the other two members are Justice AK Sikri and Leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge. The charges against Verma were those of corruption and dereliction of duty.

Verma is now director general of the 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.

In CBI’s 55-year history, this is the first time its director has been removed while on duty.

Facts

Verma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, had resumed duty on Wednesday, a day after the apex court paved his return with some riders and asked thethree-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). Verma’s two-year tenure as director of Central Bureau ofInvestigation (CBI) is due to end on 31 January.

The decision to move Verma out of the CBI came after the high-powered committee met for the second time in two days here to decide his fate. Notably, Verma had started moving all officers of the CBI from theirrecent postings in his absence right after joining the office back, creating an anarchic situation in the agency, due to which the committee’s meeting had tobe convened urgently, say sources.

In any case, the meeting had to be held because of an order the apex court had issued while reinstating Verma. The apex court Tuesday reinstated Verma as the CBI director after quashing the Centre’s unprecedented “overnight” order on 23 October.

Did SC find Verma innocent? No

The court, while reinstating Verma, had clipped his wings, debarringhim from taking any major policy decision till the high-powered committeedecided 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 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 Verma of his powers as CBI chief.

Kharge’s duplicity

Kharge gave a dissent note and told the meeting that Verma,who was sent on forced leave, should be given a chance to present his casebefore the Committee on the allegations in the CVC report against him. He also said Verma should not be penalised and be given an extension of 77 days forwhich he was not allowed to attend the office, according to sources.

However, the prime minister and Justice Sikri disagreed with Kharge’s contention paving the way for Verma’s ouster, the sources said.

During the meeting, Justice Sikri said there were charges against Verma — to which Kharge wanted to know where the charges had been registered, according to the sources.

It is for the second time in 11 weeks Rao was given the charge of CBI. He was first given the charge after Verma was divested of his authority and sent on leave but this order was quashed by the apex court on Tuesday.

The INC and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan reacted strongly to the removal of Verma, saying he was not given a chance to present his case.

The INC tweeted:

However, in 2017, as the leader of the INC in the LokSabha, Kharge had objected to Verma’s appointment as the director! The three-member selection committee of that time, which had the then Chief Justice in the position Justice Sikri is in now, with the other two members the same — Modi and Kharge — saw and the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha oppose former Delhi police commissioner Alok Verma’s appointment as the CBI director.

Kharge sent a three-page long dissent note to Prime Minister Modi, citing Verma’s ‘inexperience’ in investigating cases of corruption apart from his short stint of 18 months at the state vigilance. Kharge rather supported RK Dutta, then a special secretary in the home ministry, for the post. In his note, the INC leader said Dutta’s 208 months of experience stood him in better stead than Verma’s 18 months.

Then a staunch opposer of Verma, Kharge noted, “It is incumbent on this committee that the candidate who outranks other candidates on the parameters of experience in the field of anti-corruption and integrity must be accorded (the) highest preference.”

Kharge alleged, “It thus gives rise to apprehensions that the process of selecting the director, CBI, has been vitiated and is being manipulated to pre-empt the decision to be arrived at in the meeting of the selection committee.”

Did Modi or BJP level the charges against Verma? No, CVC did

There were eight charges against Verma in the CVC report presented before the committee. Justice Sikri was 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 2:1 majority, with Kharge opposing the move.

The transfer of Verma came a day ahead of the verdict by the Delhi High Court on pleas by Verma’s deputy Rakesh Asthana, a CBI special director, and others seeking quashing of the FIR against them on bribery allegations.

Verma and Asthana had traded corruption charges and were locked in a bitter feud that led the Centre to divest both of them of their authority and sent them on leave on the night of 23 October.

What made CVC make incriminating observations about Verma?

The CVC report spoke about the controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi’s case. The CBI team looking into it, it said, wanted to makeHyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana an accused but Verma never gaveclearance, officials said. The probe in this case was led by Asthana.

The CVC report also contained intercepts from the Researchand Analysis Wing (RAW), the external snooping agency, in which “money changing hands with number one in the CBI” is talked about, the officialssaid.

Incidentally, Sana is the complainant for a case registered against 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 inquiry registered by the CBI about acquisition of land in Gurgaon. The CVC alleged that 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. TheCVC, which has a supervisory role over the CBI, had also alleged that Verma tried to save an officer in the IRCTC case involving former Union Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav.

It also alleged that 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 thevigilance body.

INC goes ‘Rafale’ again

INC president Rahul Gandhi attacked the government ahead of the Thursday meeting of the committee, saying Modi was in a “tearing hurry” to “sack” Verma because of the Rafale deal.

Gandhi said on Twitter:

A delegation of former ministers Arun Shourie and YashwantSinha along with activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had met Verma on 4 October 2018 with a plea for registering an FIR in the Rafale jet fighter deal with France.

Hitting out at the INC over its attack on the Modigovernment over Verma’s removal, the BJP called it a “sore loser“with party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao saying it has been left to lick itswounds “after failing to subvert the CBI by joining internal personalbattles”.

But it’s not the BJP that has called the INC’s Rafale-in-CBI bluff. It is the record that exposes the INC.

Much before the Supreme Court ruled out an investigation into the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets worth Rs 58,000 crore by any investigating agency of the country, it was found out that the CBI had never received a formal complaint against the India-France government-to-government contract.

It was alreadyin the public domain before the Supreme Court clean chit to Modi government that “the defence ministry received only one anonymous complaint on the Rafaleissue from the CBI, which had asked us to take appropriate action and norequest has so far been received for documents or other details of the casefrom the CBI.”On 24 October 2018, the government had debunked the allegation that then CBI directorVerma had been sent on a forced leave due to the Rafale deal connection.