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'Alok Verma was also playing politics'

Last updated on: October 25, 2018 08:24 IST

'Alok Verma can say he was helpless, but he could have made representations to the CVC, the Chief Justice of India or the prime minister in writing.'
'He could have told them that his number 2 was not cooperating and is corrupt, but he did not do that.'
'He acted arbitrarily and in a hurried manner, overnight.'

In 1993, journalist Vineet Narain filed a Public Interest Litigation (Vineet Narain vs Union of India) highlighting the indifference of Central Bureau of Investigation to probe what was known as the 'Jain hawala scandal'.

That case involved alleged payments to several politicians and bureaucrats from a dubious funding source. Among the accused were senior politicians like Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Kishenchand Advani, the late Congress leader Vidya Charan Shukla and others, but the case folded up in court and none of the political leaders was found guilty.

Post their acquittal, the CBI came under criticism for botching up the investigation which led to Narain to file his PIL. On December 18, 1997, taking cognisance of his complaint, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines on ensuring that the CBI functioned with autonomy and independence, directing that the Central Vigilance Commission be given a supervisory role over the CBI under the CVC Act.

More than 20 years have passed since that landmark ruling, but the CBI continues to be hobbled by political interference and internal turf wars, as the latest instance involving director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana reveals.

With the two top-ranking officials of the country's premier investigating agency indulging in a no-holds-barred battle against each other, the government finally stepped in on Wednesday, October 24, morning to relieve them of their powers and gave additional charge of the CBI to Joint Director Nageswar Rao.

"There is a large game which I do not want to share right now. In coming days I will expose the whole game," Vineet Narain, below, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

How do you see the government's move divesting both CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Asthana of their powers and sending them on leave?

It is very unfortunate that both these officers have made a mockery of the CBI.

I would say that the blame does not go to Alok Verma alone who could not manage the CBI, but also the Central Vigilance Commission for letting the situation come to this pass, and also the prime minister's office.

These things were going on for months, but no action was taken in time.

Having said that, I would like to take you to 1993 when I filed a case on illegal hawala transactions in the Supreme Court. My request was to ensure proper and transparent investigation into the accusation of illegal funding of Kashmiri militants and political parties.

Unfortunately, Prashant Bhushan and team then wanted to divert the attention from the main issue to other issues. Therefore they spoke of autonomy of the CVC and CBI.

I objected at that time by filing an affidavit in the court stating we are not taking the main case (the hawala case) to its logical conclusion, but talking of the future of safety measures, and it will not work.

Has it worked after more than 20 years? It has not worked.

Earlier it was CBI chief Ranjit Sinha who was hobnobbing with all the accused, and now we have Alok Verma against whom Asthana has complained. What is going on?

By giving a two-year term to the CBI chief have we ensured accountability and transparency? No.

In fact, we have given the CBI chief immunity to do whatever he wants to do -- play politics and wash dirty linen in public. In due course, the CBI has lost its credibility completely in the public eye.

Nobody is interested in the CBI as an institution. The Congress will make a noise today.

But...

(Interrupts) The Congress is now saying that Asthana was brought into the CBI through the backdoor from Gujarat. I want to ask them: Who brought Archana Ramasundaram, who was DG (director general of police) Tamil Nadu, into the CBI as additional director?

The Manmohan Singh government brought her, violating the Vineet Narain judgment and the CVC Act.

I immediately objected and a case was fought in the Supreme Court so she could not join the CBI.

The unfortunate part is that the NDA National Democratic Alliance), when it came to power, it too supported Archana Ramasundaram.

It is not one party alone that is responsible for the deterioration of the CBI.

What is the origin of this Alok Verma versus Rakesh Asthana feud?

It is obvious that Alok Verma feels that Asthana is close to Prime Minister Modi and he in turn wants to have complete control over the CBI.

From day one he was opposing Asthana and the message that is going out is that Asthana is corrupt and some people say Alok Verma is honest.

I don't agree with this. How the hell can Alok Verma claim to be honest?

Has this feud crippled the CBI forever? How can the bureau be revived?

I think we will have to go back to court. A larger Constitutional bench and Parliament has to meet and new directives must come.

It is a process that will take time, but definitely the way CBI is running, it is not that we intended to happen in 1997-1998 when the judgment (the Vineet Narain judgment) came. I knew then this will happen.

An interim CBI chief has been appointed. Does it not violate the rule whereby the CBI chief has to be appointed by the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the Opposition?

He has not been appointed, but only given additional charge. And this is a matter which will be discussed on Friday (October 26) by the honourable Supreme Court of India. Let us leave it for the court to decide.

For the last three days I have been saying that this is the only solution, to send both the No 1 and No 2 of CBI on leave. Don't curtail their tenure or sack them. Just get an internal inquiry going against both of them.

Alok Verma only has four months left in office, so why did the government take this decision now? What was the reason it felt it could not wait it out?

Alok Verma was also acting in a hurry. There is a process and he has to share the investigation process with the CVC, but did Alok Verma share it with them?

The CVC cannot interfere in an investigation once the investigating officer is there, but before you take it up, you (Alok Verma) are supposed to discuss it with the CVC. He did not do that.

Alok Verma was also playing politics.

Against Asthana, you mean to say?

Asthana... there is a large game which I do not want to share right now. In coming days I will expose the whole game.

What does the divestment of powers mean to the Supreme Court order that the CBI chief must have a mandatory two-year term?

But what do you do when there is such a mess in CBI? Allow raids and arrests to go on for another three months? What is this happening?

Now Alok Verma can say he was helpless, but he could have made representations to the CVC, the Chief Justice of India or the prime minister in writing.

He could have gone and told them that his number 2 was not cooperating and is corrupt, but he did not do that.

He acted arbitrarily and in a hurried manner, overnight. What is the hurry?

CBI officers close to Alok Verma have been transferred out, but not those close to Asthana.

I just saw on TV that officers close to Asthana too have been transferred, but I am not aware of the fact.

When the PMO brought Asthana into the CBI, what was the reason for doing so? Set up a parallel centre of power? An inside man to keep a check on Verma? Why was it done?

I told you about Archana Ramasundaram when the 2G scam case was going on during Dr Manmohan Singh's tenure.

Archana was brought to the CBI on the pressure of M Karunanidhi by violating the same CVC Act in the Vineet Narain judgment.

Who doesn't do it? All prime ministers control the CBI.

This is my grudge from day one -- that the CBI is not an instrument to investigate corruption.

The CBI is an instrument in the hands of the prime minister of India and ruling party to blackmail political opponents.

That autonomy is never given to the CBI by any government.

Was the CBI independent ever?

The CBI was never independent and was always controlled by the PM's office. Later on, they made the CVC after the Vineet Narain judgment, but what powers do they have?

The directives of the courts have also been diluted by the parliamentary committee which was headed by Sharad Pawar. I think even Sushma Swaraj and Sanjay Nirupam were on that committee. I spoke to them personally, saying why were they doing it? In whose interest were they doing it?

There has been noise all over about the Vineet Narain judgment, but Vineet Narain is the most unhappy person because of this judgment.

But people still seem to believe in the CBI as an institution.

They say so because the state police is in much worse condition. To improve the CBI is the collective responsibility of everyone.

Now accusation games will go on. Opposition parties will attack the ruling party and the ruling party in turn will attack the Opposition. But no one will talk of how the CBI must function well with checks and balances.

I am not in favour of complete freedom to the CBI, then it will become draconian.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com