New Delhi: Alok Verma, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director who was stripped of his powers and sent on leave amid his feud with his deputy Rakesh Asthana, challenged the government’s decision in the Supreme Court on Thursday. Verma contended before the top court that divesting him of his powers “overnight” amounted to interference in the independence of the agency.
He said as the CBI was expected to function completely independently and autonomously, there were bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries did 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).
In his petition, he also accused Asthana – the CBI Special Director who was also sent on leave on Wednesday – of concocting evidence against him to accuse him of corruption, adding that he was inevitably at odds with the opinion of majority officers in sensitive cases.
“Over the recent past, although all functionaries within the CBI from the investigating officer and the superintending officers up to the Joint Director and the Director have agreed on a certain course of action, the Special Director has been of a different view,” the plea said.
It alleged that “hurdles posed” by Asthana had been compounded by his complicity in “concocting evidence” to impugn the reputation of Verma, leading to a separate FIR being registered by CBI which has been challenged by the special director in the Delhi High Court.
He urged the court to stay the Government’s decision to divest him of powers and send him on leave so that such external interference does not occur again.
“The details of many of the cases which have led to the present circumstances are extremely sensitive and cannot with full responsibility be divulged in the present pleadings. The petitioner shall, however, furnish the same to this court,” he said.
Verma said that not all influence that is exerted by the political government would be found explicitly or in writing.
“More often than not, it is tacit and requires considerable courage to withstand,” the plea said.
He sought quashing of three orders of October 23, one by CVC and two by the DoPT, as being without jurisdiction and in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. He added that the orders were manifestly arbitrary, sans natural justice and without due process.
The petition has said whenever investigations were carried on, decisions regarding the direction of the probe were taken by an investigating officer and then approved at all levels right up to the Director CBI.
After the appointment of Asthana in CBI, despite the pendency of cases against him and the reservations in this regard expressed by Verma, decisions that were crucial to the progress of certain probe were stymied by Asthana alone, it alleged, adding many of these concerned very sensitive cases including those monitored by the top court. It said that on Wednesday, three “rapid fire” decisions were taken by the CVC and DoPT.
In an unprecedented shake-up in the CBI’s 55-year-history, both its Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana were stripped of their powers and sent on leave in a dramatic overnight action by the government after their worsening feud sparked a serious crisis in the country’s premier probe agency.
The Congress slammed the move, alleging that the Narendra Modi government feared that the top officer might take steps that could “hurt” him in the Rafale “scam”.
Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the prime minister’s “desperate bid” to cover up the Rafale “scam” had pushed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into complete “disintegration”.
He claimed that the government “panicked” because Verma was likely to file an FIR in connection with the Rafale issue, based on complaints received by the probe agency.
As the rapid overnight changes in the CBI sparked criticism 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 absolutely 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 last evening as an “accused or potential accused” cannot be allowed to be in charge of investigation against them, Jaitley told reporters.
The government also came out with a detailed statement 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 resulted in the powers of both the officers being divested.