In a move dubbed by the Government critics as a ‘midnight coup’, the Modi Government divested of his charge and also sent on leave the close ally of CBI Director Alok Verma, against who he had initiated corruption proceedings. Rakesh Asthana against whom proceedings are being carried out is an Indian Police Service officer (IPS) of the 1984 batch of Gujarat cadre.

In a pre-dawn order, the Government appointed Joint Director M. Nageswara Rao as interim CBI chief.

Last week, CBI filed an FIR against its Special Director Rakesh Asthana, an officer believed to have been hand-picked by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What has Rakesh Asthana been accused of?

The CBI says its Special Director Rakesh Asthana and his juniors were running an extortion racket in the garb of the investigation. As per the FIR filed by CBI, Asthana demanded and accepted a bribe from a business associate of meat exporter Moin Qureshi for dropping proceedings against him. The Central Bureau of Investigation had placed in the public domain a copy of its first information report detailing the charge of bribery against its special director Rakesh Asthana for bribery.

Moni Qureshi, who was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) last year is accused, among other things, of helping government officials launder money. Here is a report by Live Mint from last year.  

Last year, the appointment of Rakesh Asthana as the Special Director was challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds of lack of integrity. The petitioner had then cited a corruption investigation into Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech, a company that maintained diaries of bribes in which Asthana’s name had reportedly appeared. In response, Asthana alleged that director Alok Verma had sought to impede his functioning, interfere in the investigation and malign his reputation based on unverified facts. 

With Alok Verma now sent on leave., what happens to the probe against Asthana?

It is a pertinent question given the fact that Alok Verma’s aide, Deputy SP Ajay Bassi and the other investigating officers of Asthana’s bribery case have all been transferred to Port Blair, in what the government called as ‘Public Interest’. Joint Director Arun Kumar Sharma overlooking the probe, too, has been transferred. In fact, the entire team formed by Alok Verma has been removed.

Verma has moved the Supreme Court against the Centre’s decision and his plea will be heard on Friday.

CBI Deputy Inspector General Tarun Gauba, Superintendent of Police Satish Dagar and Joint Director V Murugesan will investigate charges against Asthana, ANI reported.

In 1997, Supreme Court judgment in Vineet Narain laid down fixed tenure. It said that the director shall have a tenure of a minimum of two years, regardless of the date of his superannuation. It also mentioned that the transfer of an incumbent Director in an extraordinary situation should have the approval of the selection committee.

Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, says:

(1) The director shall, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the rules relating to his conditions of service, continue to hold office for a period of not less than two years from the date on which he assumes office.

(2) The director shall not be transferred except with the previous consent of the (selection) committee referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 4A.”

The selection of a CBI Director is governed by the Lokpal Act under which the director is appointed by a committee, including the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the opposition. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the removal of CBI Director was done based on the recommendations of the Central Vigilance Commission. But, as per the CVC act, the CVC supervisory powers over the CBI are only limited to probe under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

There are immediate and arguably more serious dimensions to this crisis. And it revolves around how to repair the image of a CBI riven by a nasty feud, how to protect its independence, and how to address the mess contributed by a government that should have acted much earlier to resolve the controversy rather than let it attain the ugly dimensions it did.



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