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Nageswara Rao had transferred the officer probing the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home case in violation of Supreme Court’s orders

In his tearing hurry to transfer all CBI officers who were investigating tainted IPS officer Rakesh Asthana in corruption cases, former interim CBI director M Nageswara Rao seems to have made one blunder – send an officer packing despite a Supreme Court order that forbade the action.

Rao had taken over as interim CBI chief when the Centre and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) divested Alok Verma of his responsibilities as the agency director on October 23. The very next day, Rao had issued transfer orders for a slew of officers known for their proximity to Verma and those who were, at the point, part of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was probing the CBI’s then special director Rakesh Asthana in graft cases.

Verma had rescinded these transfer orders during the two days that he returned as CBI director (on January 8 and 9) following his condition reinstatement by the Supreme Court. On January 10, when Verma was summarily sacked as CBI director by the selection panel mandated to appoint the agency’s chief, Rao returned as interim chief and re-issued the transfer orders.

The transfers were controversial to begin with as they appeared to be a move aimed at scuttling the probe against Asthana. While some of these transfers are already under challenge in the Supreme Court, just as Rao’s appointment as the interim CBI chief is, the latest row seems to have come out of unexpected quarters.

Earlier on Thursday (February 7), when the Supreme Court was hearing a petition on the sexual exploitation of inmates of a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, it was informed that the CBI officer leading the probe had been transferred. The Supreme Court had, through an earlier order, enforced an embargo on transfer of any CBI sleuth who was part of the team investigating the shelter home case.

The information that CBI joint director AK Sharma had been transferred despite being protected under the embargo predictably enraged Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who had pulled up the counsel for the CBI for apparent contempt of court orders. The Chief Justice had then asked the CBI counsel who authorized Sharma’s transfer. When informed that the transfer was approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), the court sought to know whether information on the embargo on Sharma’s transfer was placed before the committee. The bench had given time to the CBI counsel till 2 pm to find out if the ACC had been informed of the embargo and if it was, why was Sharma still moved out.

At 2 pm, when the bench reconvened to hear the shelter home case, the Chief Justice noted that it appears that the ACC, which includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, was not informed of the embargo by the authority who recommended the transfer – i.e Rao, in his capacity as interim CBI director.

The bench has asked Rao and other CBI officers to be present in court on February 12 and directed the agency to identify officers who were involved in the transfer of Sharma.

“We are going to take it very, very seriously. You have played with order of Supreme Court of India. God help you. Never play with the Supreme Court’s order,” the Chief Justice told the CBI counsel after he informed the court that Nageswara Rao was one of the two officers involved in transferring Sharma.

—India Legal Bureau

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