A day after he resumed duties, CBI Director Alok Verma was on Thursday unceremoniously removed from the post after a 2-1 decision by the high-level Selection Committee, a decision that came under attack from the opposition and legal experts.
The decision of the committee came after CJI nominee Justice A.K. Sikri of the Supreme Court sided with the government that Verma should be shunted out of the post on the basis of the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which went into some allegations levelled against him.
The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Justice Sikri and Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, the other member of the committee, who gave a dissent note and opposed the majority decision.
Shortly after the meeting, Verma was appointed Director General, Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guard till January 31 when his tenure would end.
The government also brought back M. Nageswara Rao, Additional Director, CBI to look after the duties of the Director, CBI till the appointment of a new Director or until further orders, whichever is earlier, a notification by the Appointment Committee of Cabinet said.
Verma, who was removed from the agency’s helm on the midnight of October 23 after his fight with Special Director Rakesh Asthana became public, was reinstated on Tuesday by the apex court on the ground that the government cannot transfer or alter the duties of the CBI chief without going to the Selection Committee.
The committee’s members are the Prime Minister, leader of the largest opposition group and the Chief Justice of India. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who heard the case arising out of Verma’s challenge against the government decision, nominated Justice Sikri as his nominee to attend the committee meeting.
The Supreme Court, while reinstating Verma, had said that the Committee should meet within a week and decide the issue afresh.
Modi convened the meeting of the committee on Wednesday but Kharge sought the CVC report on the allegations against Verma and also time to study it. The committee met briefly and decided to meet on Thursday.
Sources said the Committee took into account the “extremely serious” nature of observations made by the Central Vigilance Commission against Verma.
It was of the view that being the head of a very sensitive organisation, Verma was not functioning with the integrity expected of him, they said.
They said the CVC found evidence of influencing of investigation in the Moin Qureshi case. There was also evidence of taking of bribe of Rs. 2 crore. The CVC was of the view that his conduct in the case is suspicious, and there is a prima facie case against him.
“The CVC also felt that the entire truth will come out if a criminal investigation is ordered,” the sources said citing the Committee’s view.
In the IRCTC case related to former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, the CVC felt that it could be reasonably concluded that Verma “deliberately” excluded a name from the FIR for reasons best known to him.
The CVC found evidence against Verma in several other cases as well. The CVC also found instances of wilful non-production of record, and fabrication of record. The Committee also took note of Verma’s attempts to induct officers of doubtful integrity in the CBI.
On the criticism that Verma was not given an opportunity of being heard on the charges against him, the sources said Verma was given an opportunity to present his case before the CVC in the presence of retired Justice A. K. Patnaik.
The Supreme Court also provided a copy of the CVC report to Verma’s advocate. The mandate of the Selection Panel headed by the PM is limited to the appointment of the CBI chief and transfer of the CBI chief, the sources said.
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.
In his dissent note, Kharge demanded that the Committee restores to Verma the full powers he enjoyed by the office of the Director CBI to ensure proper functioning of the organisation and to restore normalcy. He also sought an additional period of 77 days being the number of days lost by him on account of the “patently illegal” orders of the CVC and the personnel department on October 28.
Kharge said an independent investigation must be carried out to verify the actual events that took place on the night of October 23-24 with respect to Verma’s removal as CBI Director.
Referring to the events of the midnight drama in October and the way the government hastened the exit of Verma would “point to the fact that the entire exercise was in furtherance of a pre-meditated decision to remove Verma as CBI Director with reasons and processes being manufactured as an afterthought”.
He urged the Committee to allow Verma to explain himself before it on the charges against him before any decision is taken in the matter.
Kharge also listed the various allegations made against Verma including influencing the investigation by taking bribe and illegal delay in finalising the probe report in a bank fraud case which were not substantiated, Kharge also listed and said in the light of the above it would be grossly unfair not to restore Verma to the post of the CBI chief and to compensate for the loss of 77 days by extending his tenure by that period.
Meanwhile, the removal of Verma as CBI Director came under severe attack from opposition parties and legal experts saying it was the “desperation” of the government as Modi does not want any probe into the Rafale jet deal.
The critics of the decision also asked how the committee could take a decision without hearing Verma.
The Congress criticised the committee’s decision and said Modi had shown that he was “too afraid” of an investigation into the Rafale deal.
“By removing Alok Verma 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,” the Congress tweeted.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said if it was a majority decision to remove Verma, then it was unfortunate. “I don’t know why Verma was not asked to reply to the charges against him. I have a very poor opinion of the CVC,” he said.
Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan saw a conflict of interest in the role of the Prime Minister, who is part of the three-member committee that also has Leader of the Congress group in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and the CJI nominated representative Justice A.K. Sikri of the Supreme Court.