New Delhi: The feud among the top brass of Central Bureau of Investigation moved to the Supreme Court as the agency chief Alok Verma knocked on its doors after the Centre sent him and his deputy Rakesh Asthana on indefinite leave through an order in the small hours of Wednesday.
CBI War Reaches Apex Court; Agency Chief, Deputy Stripped Of All Responsibilities
M Nageshwar Rao, an IPS officer from Odisha cadre-1986, has taken over the duties and functions as interim Director, CBI, an order by the Appointments committee of the Cabinet said here.
Late this evening, the Delhi High Court ordered the maintenance of the status quo.
The apex court said it would hear on Friday the petition challenging the Union government's decision to send Mr Verma on leave indefinitely.
His counsel, Gopal Shankarnarayanan, mentioned the matter before a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. He sought an urgent hearing into the case. Mr Shankarnarayanan informed the bench that the Union of India had today asked Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, to go on leave. He contended that if they go on leave, investigation of many cases would be compromised. The bench also comprised Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph.
CBI chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana have been sent on leave and M Nageshwar Rao, a senior Joint Director with the probe agency, has been given the interim charge as CBI director. 'The appointments committee of the cabinet has approved that during the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure, Mr M Nageshwar Rao, IPS, will look after duties and functions of director CBI and shall take over the duties and functions with immediate effect," the order by the committee said. The order came with recommendation by Chief Vigilance Commissioner KV Chaudhary, that the CBI's warring top two be sent on compulsory wait, stripped of all responsibilities, a top government functionary said. This comes after the probe agency had filed a case against Mr Asthana, in which he was accused by the agency of bribery. Mr Astana has been accused of taking Rs 5 crore as bribe from a businessman Satish Sana. Transfer orders:
Soon after taking over as the new CBI Director, Mr Rao transferred officers who were assigned to investigate the case against Special Director Asthana with immediate effect. In his first order, Rao, a 1986-batch Orissa-cadre officer, removed the entire team probing the case against Asthana, including Ajay Bassi, the investigation officer (IO) and deputy inspector general Manish Sinha.
According to CBI, Deputy SP of CBI AK Bassi has been transferred and posted as Deputy SP CBI, Anti- corruption Bureau (ACB)Port Blair. Additional SP CBI SS Gum has been transferred and posted as CBI, ACB Jabalpur.
CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha, DIG Taurn Gauba, DIG Jasbir Singh, DIG Anish Prasad, DIG KR Chaurasia, HoB Ram Gopal and SP Satish Dagar have been transferred. These officials were probing into the case against Asthana.
In a statement, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry alleged that the CBI Director was always on a high horse and had failed to cooperate with the Union government. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley observed that since it was a sensitive case, hence, it will be probed by a Special Investigation Team of the Central Vigilance Commission. The two top CBI officials, he said, will have to sit out till the completion of the probe. Rafaelphobia?
Opposition Indian National Congress alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was 'experiencing Rafalephobia and had forced Mr Verma to go on leave.'
Briefing reporters here, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said that sending Mr Verma on leave was an "illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate act by Mr Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah.
"The Modi-Shah government has put several of the country's institutions in the Intensive Care Unit by illegal means and and it was clear that the Prime Minister was experiencing Rafalephobia", Mr Singhvi affirmed.
The Congress spokesman also averred that the Central Vigilance Commission had no power to interfere in removal, appointment or reappointment in CBI.
Earlier, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala had asserted that the Modi government had hammered the last nail in the coffin of the CBI, which was once described by the Supreme Court as a caged parrot. Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Verma was sent on leave as he was probing the big-ticket Rafale deal.
Attacking the Modi dispensation, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked for 'reasons' which prompted the Centre to send the two top CBI officials on leave.
Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan tweeted,'As feared and suspected, the govt has removed the Director CBI from his charge, because he was pursuing corrupt Spl Director Rakesh Asthana who was foisted on CBI by PMO despite his being investigated by the CBI itself in corruption cases. Totally illegal. Will be Challenged. "Apart from protecting Asthana from investigation, the Rafale complaint by Shourie, Sinha and myself, entertained by the CBI Director, must be another reason for the Government to remove him with such alacrity by this midnight order," he stated. Jaitley's defence:
"If they are innocent they will come back," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters here.
Reacting to the barrage of opposition charges including from the Congress, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and also Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mr Jaitley said: "Regarding the accusations that you said three opposition parties have made, I regard these allegations as rubbish".
".....and the fact that three opposition parties are saying we know what the agency was going to do next itself casts a serious doubt on the fairness process," he said referring to claims being made in certain quarters that the probe agency was set to commence its probe on high profile and controversial Rafale aircraft deal with France. "I don't believe what they have said is true, but if they are convinced what they have said is true than these opposition parties had access to what is going on in the minds of an individual in the CBI," he said trying to demolish the claim. He added in the same breath, "...That itself demolishes the integrity of the persons whom they are trying to support".