On CBI chief, blatant action

On CBI chief, blatant action

CBI chief Alok Verma arrives at CBI headquarters in New Delhi. PTI

The statement of Justice AK Patnaik, who had supervised the vigilance investigation against former CBI director Alok Verma, that there was no evidence of corruption against the officer knocks the bottom out of the decision taken by the high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to transfer Verma out of the CBI. The committee took the decision on the basis of the “findings’’ of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner that there was prima facie evidence of corruption against Verma. But Justice Patnaik has dissociated himself from the findings and clearly said that the panel took a “very, very hasty’’ action against Verma. This supports the claim made by Verma that he was removed for no fault of his. The charges against Verma were made by Special Director Rakesh Asthana, an officer known to be close to the prime minister, against whom Verma had ordered an inquiry. The CVC report was based on Asthana’s charges. 

The entire episode exposes the fault lines and flaws in the system and shows how vulnerable the CBI is. The panel’s decision to take action against Verma was very similar to the midnight operation on October 22 when he was sent on forced leave. The Supreme Court restored Verma to his position as the government’s action was procedurally wrong. While the court asked for a decision by the committee in one week, the committee met in just three days and took its decision to remove Verma. While the leader of the opposition and Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge dissented, the Prime Minister and the chief justice of India’s representative Justice AK Sikri decided to transfer the CBI chief. Verma was not given a chance to present his case, on the ground that he had been given such a chance by the CVC, who, it seems, was doing the government’s dirty work for it. The argument that it was only a transfer and not punishment is only technical. It is clear that the government had decided to get Verma out of the way and it is unfortunate that the CJI’s representative became a party to it. Why did the committee ignore Justice Patnaik’s view and accept the CVC’s finding, which was only circumstantial? 

The Supreme Court said its concern was over the violation of procedure in the government’s action against Verma. In that case, why did it seek a CVC report on the charges and, when it got the report, why did it ignore Justice Patnaik’s refusal to endorse the CVC’s findings? These are troubling questions. The Verma case shows that the legal and judicial protection available to the CBI director is inadequate and a determined government can get rid of an inconvenient officer by manipulating the laws, procedures and the existing system.   

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