It takes a man of integrity and courage to point out that since he had passed the age of superannuation age and was serving as the Director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by virtue of a fixed tenure associated with the office, he could not accept the transfer to another post offered by the Government and remain in Government service.
By refusing to accept the transfer to Director General of Fire Services and Home Guards, the ousted CBI chief Alok Verma may also have saved himself from further humiliation. With his term in the CBI ending on January 31, his term as DG, Fire Services and Home Guards would have lasted for barely three more weeks, when the Government would wave woken up to the fact that he should have retired in July last year itself.
There is now little doubt that Verma has been ousted to protect Rakesh Asthana, the Gujarat cadre IPS said to be close to both Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah and who was foisted in the CBI as Special Director. It is also not in doubt that the duo wanted Ashthana to become the Director, CBI but had to relent in 2017 because his batch was relatively junior and was not in consideration for the job then. After Verma’s tenure would have got over, Asthana was clearly the heir apparent at the CBI headquarters.
But Verma, it is now known, had opposed the promotion of Asthana as Special Director. This too would have required some steel in the spine for Verma to oppose the Government’s favourite. Not surprisingly Verma had to give in because the Central Vigilance Commission cleared Asthana’s case and gave its green signal for his promotion. With both the CVC and the Government pushing for Asthana’s appointment, even the Supreme Court threw out a petition challenging his suitability in the CBI.
The voluntary ‘retirement’ of Verma cannot bring closure to the scandal. There is certainly a need to inquire about the role of the CVC and the charges against Asthana to be investigated. There is a buzz that Asthana will go in appeal against the Delhi High Court’s dismissal of his plea to quash CBI’s FIR against him
But Verma is clearly made of sterner stuff. While it is not clear what made Asthana write to the Cabinet Secretary complaining of corruption against Verma last year—an act of insubordination---but while the Cabinet Secretary forwarded the complaints against Verma to the CVC, the Government clearly sat over the complaints made by Verma to the DoPT against Asthana.
Even this move to initimidate Verma failed and he ordered an FIR to be lodged against Asthana at the beginning of October following allegations of bribery levelled against him by a Hyderabad based businessman. Verma ensured that the businessman’s statement was recorded and a team constituted to investigate the charge. The arrest of the intermediary, Manoj Prasad, a Dubai based financial consultant, on October 16 last month is what finally set the cat among the pigeons.
While Asthana scurried for cover, the controversial Chief Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chowdary called on Verma at his residence to intercede on behalf of Asthana. Leave Asthana alone and all would be well, he is said to have communicated to Verma on October 22. But when Verma remained noncommittal, Chowdary, who was to leave for Denmark the next day on an official tour, was made to cancel the trip and hurriedly recommend that both Verma and Asthana be sent on forced leave, ostensibly to protect the ‘institutional integrity’ of the CBI.
When the Supreme Court finally reinstated Verma earlier this week after 77 days at home, the first thing he did was to cancel the transfer orders of the members of the team who were investigating the case against Asthana. This appears to have alarmed the Government so much that it called a meeting of the High Powered Committee, the appointing authority of the CBI Director, to decide on the charges against him. With the consent of the judicial member of the committee, Justice A.K. Sikri, the Government managed to ‘transfer’ Verma out of the CBI within 48 hours. And it did not take the interim director Nageshwar Rao even that long to reverse the orders of Verma and ensure that the team investigating Asthana remain far away from Delhi and do not cause any ‘mischief’.
The voluntary ‘retirement’ of Verma cannot bring closure to the scandal. There is certainly a need to inquire about the role of the CVC and the charges against Asthana to be investigated. There is a buzz that Asthana will go in appeal against the Delhi High Court’s dismissal of his plea to quash CBI’s FIR against him. It remains to be seen how the judiciary behaves in this case.
But if the grapevine is to be believed, it is Verma who is going to face the music. Modi and Amit Shah, the unforgiving duo, are said to have given directions to investigate the charges against Verma. Notwithstanding the pliable CVC which found no substance in six of the ten charges against him and despite Justice (Rtd) A.K. Patnaik telling the media that there were no charges of corruption against Verma, don’t be surprised if you find Verma getting arrested by the CBI , instead of Asthana.