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'The CBI's clean image is over for now'

January 14, 2019 08:45 IST

'The selection process of the CBI chief has not been appropriate.'
'Three successive CBI directors have been found in corrupt moral practices.'
'A thorough investigation needs to be done before appointing anyone to such a post.'

IMAGE: Alok Verma, while he was CBI director, at the Supreme Court, July 30, 2018. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

On January 9, the Supreme Court of India upheld the petition filed by Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Kumar Verma against his summary sidelining in a midnight operation on October 23, 2018, and reinstated him.

On January 10, Verma assumed charge once again as the CBI director, and promptly reversed the transfer orders served on officers considered close to him in his absence.

Later that evening, the selection committee -- comprising Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge and Supreme Court Justice A K Sikri -- in a 2-1 decision decided to remove Verma in the wake of an adverse Central Vigilance Commission report and shunted him out to an insignificant posting.

Reports say he is the first CBI director to face such action in the Bureau's 55-year history.

"Alok Verma underestimated the gravity of the situation and did not perform his duty on time," journalist Vineet Narain, whose PIL in the Supreme Court in 1993 led to the issuance of guidelines on how the investigating agency's autonomy and independence can be preserved, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

How do you see the shocking developments in the CBI?

The entire mess in the CBI was created primarily and solely by Alok Verma.

He could have handled this crisis in a very mature manner from day one.

He could have gone to the Central Vigilance Commission or the prime minister's office, but instead of that he started playing politics within the department, which no head of institution should be doing.

Even if he had problems with his number 2 Rakesh Asthana, he could have handled it very maturely.

Alok Verma underestimated the gravity of the situation and did not perform his duty on time.

Equally responsible in this crisis is the PMO who had a panic reaction on the night of October 23.

When Alok Verma went to the Supreme Court with his petition along with Prashant Bhushan and others, their concern was the procedure has not been followed. Procedure in terms of the selection committee power whether he can be transferred or not.

I wonder why the honourable Supreme Court took two months to decide on this simple thing. They could have said we agree that the committee should be contacted and decide.

What the Supreme Court said now could have been said two months earlier. They have not said anything new in their order.

But...

Let me complete the background to the case. The Supreme Court court categorically condemned the government for taking those actions.

The order also had 17 references to the Vineet Narain judgement. The court stuck to the original Vineet Narain guidelines where the tenure is fixed and the government cannot remove (the CBI director). That was the stand the government took.

The Supreme Court also gave clear instructions to Alok Verma that he will not take any major policy decisions.

In a way, the court restored the prestige of Alok Verma by sending him back to the CBI, which should have satisfied his ego and his concerns. He should have then waited for the committee to come out with their verdict whether he is guilty or not.

Instead of that, he took a political mode and started cancelling the previous transfer orders.

He did this within a day (of being reinstated), and that created a panic as the government felt this guy has gone out of hand and he can do anything.

Now Alok Verma has not been removed by the government, but by the appropriate, authorised, committee which also has a representative of the Chief Justice of India.

So you cannot blame the government by saying the government has removed Alok Verma.

Though the Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge has given a note of dissent by saying the Opposition party does not agree with this, the Supreme Court judge has given a nod (for Alok Verma's removal) which gave credibility to the committee's decision.

Why was Alok Verma so keen to cancel the transfers on the very first day of his reinstatement? It is very surprising.

More than that, I feel surprised why the government gave another posting to Alok Verma by sending him as director general of fire services, civil defence and home guards. It is not very convincing. This was a surprising move by the government to me.

One thing I would like to highlight is the selection process of the CBI chief has not been appropriate.

Three successive CBI directors have been found in corrupt moral practices. There is major lacunae in the system of the CBI chief's appointment.

A thorough investigation needs to be done before appointing anyone to such a post as he is appointed by the prime minister of India, leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

You are appointing the head of the premier investigation agency of the country and he turns out to be a corrupt man. It happened in the cases of A P Singh, Ranjit Sinha. Now Alok Verma is also under a shadow.

What kind of selection process do you have?

I think the judiciary should recuse themselves from selection of the CBI chief as it is not their job. I was opposed to this kind of appointments.

If the judiciary becomes a party to selection and then the guy turns corrupt, then whom do you go and complain to?

The CBI's image has taken a huge beating.

The CBI's clean image is over for now.

Who will be the new director now and how will he restore its image?

We don't know, as the CBI's image is right now totally damaged. Different states are now saying they will not allow the CBI not to enter their territory.

This is a new development where states ruled by Opposition parties are not allowing the CBI to enter.

I want to file a PIL in court stating that in an election year there should be no prosecution or interrogation of or punishment to any major political parties.

I am not saying that you give them a pardon, but do what you want to do in the first four years of your governance.

In the last year when you use the CBI, then it means you are pressurising opponents and arm-twisting them.

And this has been done by successive governments. It was done by the Congress in the past and now the BJP is doing it.

The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have been alleging that the central government is arm-twisting regional parties whenever they want to pass a bill in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.

Regional parties get notices from the CBI every now and then.

The CBI continues to be an instrument of political blackmail since 1993.

I want to ensure that at least in an election year no grilling of political leaders should take place.

It does not mean that I am giving political immunity or pardoning these political leaders, but I feel four years are enough to find the guilty and punish him.

Why do all these things in an election year?

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com
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