Opposition points fingers at Modi govt on Rafale as sacked CBI chief approaches apex court for relief

New Delhi, Oct., 24, 2018: Sacked CBI chief Alok Verma, who has been exiled into leave, has told the Supreme Court in his petition that the government’s decision to divest him of his role was “patently illegal” as the law mandates a 2-year tenure of CBI director to ensure the agency’s independence.

“Decision of transfer of CBI director rests with a high powered committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Centre’s decision goes against SC directions for an independent CBI,” the petition reads. Claiming that the autonomy of the country’s premier investigating agency is being compromised, Verma said there are bound to be occasions when “certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government”.

The government has, however, claimed that CBI director Alok Verma was not cooperating with the Central Vigilance Commission and defended its decision to divest him of all charges, saying that an “extra-ordinary and unprecedented” situation had arisen due to “grave allegations of corruption” against senior functionaries of the agency.

The controversy has spilled over to the political realm with the Congress and other Opposition parties alleging a Rafale link to the move. At a poll rally in Rajasthan, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said the Narendra Modi government “removed” Verma as CBI director overnight to stall probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal with France. In its first response to the ongoing turmoil in CBI, the government has said that divesting Verma and CBI special director Rakesh Asthana of their charges was essential to maintain the agency’s “integrity”.

The storm over the war within the CBI refuses to die down, more so after the midnight maelstrom that struck the apex investigative agency with the sacking of Alok Verma.

Even if one was taken in by the Narendra Modi government’s claim that it sent CBI director Alok Verma on leave at the behest of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), there remains the significant simple question : Does it have the power to do that? The answer to which is a firm and definite no.

The government’s claim would probably have gone unnoticed  if it had it not transferred only those officers who were close to Verma, or those who were handling high-profile cases that could’ve reached the Prime Minister’s Office.

For one the CBI chief has a fixed two-year tenure. More importantly  the landmark 1998 Supreme Court judgment in the Vineet Narain & Others vs Union of India case clearly states that the transfer of “an incumbent director, CBI, in an extraordinary situation, including the need for him to take up a more important assignment, should have the approval of the selection committee”.

However, since then, the manner of appointment of the CBI director has also changed. Under the Lokpal Act, 2013, the CBI director is to be appointed on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him.

As per law unless otherwise prescribed, only the selecting/appointing authority can remove a person. But, since he enjoys a fixed tenure, the CBI chief can’t be removed without a proper inquiry. Sending him on forced leave is akin to removal.

Lastly, the power of superintendence and supervision that the CVC enjoys over the CBI is limited to the investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Verma has so far not been booked under any case, least of all under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

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