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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Justice AK Sikri agree on transferring Verma out, Mallikarjun Kharge gives dissent note

Just two days after the Supreme Court conditionally reinstated him as the CBI Director, Alok Verma was, on Thursday (January 10) evening, shunted out again by the selection panel mandated to appoint or remove the agency’s chief.

The decision to remove Verma as the CBI chief was taken after the selection panel, consisting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Supreme Court’s Justice AK Sikri (nominated on the panel by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi) and Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge met for a second time in two days to decide his fate. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court, through a judgement authored by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had reinstated Verma but made his continuance in office subject to a final decision to be taken by the selection panel.

Sources told India Legal that Kharge submitted a dissent note to the panel, making it clear that Verma had a legally protected two-year tenure as the CBI Director and cannot be summarily discharged from his responsibility without being heard by the selection panel on the charges brought against him. However, the Prime Minister and Justice Sikri agreed that allegations against the agency’s top boss along with findings of an enquiry conducted against him by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) warranted his immediate removal.

It is not yet clear whether the action against Verma is of the nature of suspension or sacking but given that his tenure in office was slated to end on January 31, there seems little chance of his reinstatement now. Verma, however, is expected to challenge the selection panel’s decision in the Supreme Court, pointing out again that the allegations leveled against him were motivated.

It is learnt that the CVC enquiry against Verma, on complaints filed by his immediate subordinate, CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, found several charges to be partly or wholly true while it said that other allegations required further investigation. It may be recalled that even during the proceedings in the Supreme Court on the petition filed by Verma challenging the October 23 order of the CVC and Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had pointed out that the CVC enquiry had thrown up some complimentary and some very uncomplimentary findings against him.

However, since the top court had ordered absolute confidentiality to be maintained on the CVC enquiry report, its exact contents were hitherto unknown.

At the earlier selection panel meeting, on Wednesday (January 9), Kharge had asked to be given a copy of the CVC report. Sources told India Legal that at Thursday’s meeting too, Kharge repeatedly told the panel that he had not had sufficient time to go through the CVC enquiry report and verify its findings. However, the panel went ahead with its decision to sack Verma.

It is not immediately known whether Nageswara Rao, who had been appointed as the agency’s interim chief by the CVC, when verma was first sent on leave, will return to the role again or if another officer will take charge of the agency.

Since Verma resumed office on Wednesday, his key decision had been to cancel the transfers and new posting ordered by Rao. This included bringing back officers who were probing the graft cases against Asthana but were transferred by Rao and transferring pout those who the interim chief had replaced Verma’s confidantes with.

It is pertinent to note that the Delhi High Court is, on Friday afternoon, expected to pronounce its verdict on the petition filed by Asthana challenging the CBI’s FIR against him in a graft case linked with meat exporter Moin Qureshi. The FIR had been filed against Asthana on Verma’s directions and become the final flashpoint between the two top bosses of the CBI. Days after the FIR was registered, the Centre had sent both Verma and Asthana on leave and claimed that the action was taken to protect the integrity of the investigation agency.

With Verma being moved out for a second time, it is expected that his ouster will turn the Congress-led Oppsotion’s diatribe against Modi government shriller. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has maintained that the Modi wanted Verma out because he was about to order a preliminary enquiry into the controversial Rafale Deal. While many had anticipated that ordering the PE into Rafale would be among Verma’s first decisions after being reinstated, he had not done so over the past two days.

Whether Verma succeeds in getting another relief from the top court – an unlikely scenario given that the CBI director’s selection panel is within its mandate to sack or transfer the agency’s director – notwithstanding, the political slugfest over his removal is going to turn deafening in the days to come.

— India Legal Bureau

 

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