In a collapse of governance at the highest levels in the country, director of the CBI Alok Verma, whose appointment had ensued from a collegium process in which the participants were the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, was dislodged from office in a post-midnight tawdry drama in the early hours of Wednesday.
Mr Verma’s removal came after the CBI, under his leadership, registered an FIR in a corruption case against the special director foisted on him in controversial circumstances. This officer is widely believed to have partisan political backing. Mr Verma has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge being sent on leave by the Narendra Modi government. All those handling sensitive cases and reporting to Mr Verma have been transferred.
In the history of the CBI, no other director has had his term cut short. In fact, the CBI director is the only secretary-level officer in the Government of India whose two-year term is especially protected by making the Chief Justice part of the appointment process. In Mr Verma’s removal, recourse was taken to an obviously elicited recommendation of the head of the Central Vigilance Commission who, incidentally, is to retire today.
The CVC has oversight of the CBI in administrative matters. It is far from clear, however, that the CBI director can be removed under the CVC’s authority. Doing that makes a mockery of the very carefully choreographed appointment process for the director of the country’s chief investigating body against corruption, whose independence is crucial to maintain.
Armed with the CVC’s recommendation, reports suggest that the national security adviser swung into action to get the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet to have Mr Verma removed and have him replaced by an “interim director” for the time being.
Since the position of NSA was created under former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, the NSA has played an altogether different hand — helping articulate and implement policy at the tri-junction of the military, intelligence and foreign policy. The CBI cannot be his remit. If NSA Ajit Doval intruded into this territory, on whose instruction or counsel did he act, or was he acting solo?
It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court — to save governance from more self-inflicted wounds and to ensure that the CBI is not pushed into blatant partisanship — would at the earliest unearth the games at the top that the country has had the misfortune to witness. It must supervise a probe to bring out the facts and caution the executive against arbitrary acts.