In a stunning turn of events on Thursday, CBI director Alok Verma was removed from his position by a three-member panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just two days after the Supreme Court had annulled the government’s directive which had kept him on forced leave for 77 days. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who as leader of the largest Opposition party in Parliament is on the committee to appoint and transfer the CBI chief, along with the PM and the Chief Justice or his nominee, moved a written note of dissent.
What is striking is that Mr Verma wasn’t given a hearing by the committee, raising questions whether the principle of natural justice was being abjured by a panel that included a representative of the CJI. Mr Kharge drew attention to this in his 21-page dissent note, as did BJP leader and former Union minister Subramanian Swamy publicly. It remains to be seen if this can become a cause for legal action.
In the wake of the Supreme Court order in the Vineet Narain case of 1997, it was decided to give the head of the CBI a statutory undisturbed two-term to insulate the elite anti-corruption investigative body’s chief from governmental interference. Recent events suggest, however, that the executive still mocks the very idea of independence for the CBI.
Since the Modi government has for the past five years stonewalled demands for appointing a Lokpal, an idea accepted by Parliament under pressure of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, the CBI remains the only institutional instrument to probe corruption in high places.
The PM-led panel relied on the findings of Central Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chowdary, who has relied on circumstantial evidence to suggest that prima facie allegations of corruption and dereliction of duty can be made against the CBI chief. Primarily much of the stuff being bandied about is from allegations made against Mr Verma by his junior Rakesh Asthana, who was foisted on the CBI as special director by the government against the director’s written objections, which drew on the fact that Mr Asthana was under probe for corruption. On Friday, the Delhi high court refused Mr Asthana’s plea to quash the case against him.
Mr Chowdary, as head of the Central Board of Direct Taxes earlier, had been reluctant to process the file pertaining to the infamous Birla-Sahara diary, which had strongly hinted at bribery. The Supreme Court had not permitted a probe into the circumstantial allegations. Can the CBI director be removed on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and without a hearing? The government’s actions seem to indicate that it is not in favour of ensuring an impartial CBI, and that Mr Verma is being hounded as he seemed to assert his independence. Have we heard the last of the matter?...