The Centre on Tuesday sent Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana on leave and appointed M Nageshwar Rao the interim director. Rao was a joint director at the agency. Several officers investigating the alleged involvement of Asthana in a bribery case were transferred.
Verma and Asthana have been locked in a power tussle and have accused each other of accepting bribes. Last week, the CBI, under Verma, named Asthana in a First Information Report in a bribery case.
7.18 pm: Central Vigilance Commissioner KV Chaudhary refuses to comment on the removals of Verma and Asthana, according to ANI. “I am under oath of secrecy,” he says. “I can’t speak to anybody.”
6.09 pm: Congress President Rahul Gandhi alleges Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed the CBI director to stop him from investigating the Rafale deal. “Mr 56 broke the law when he bypassed CJI & LOP [Leader of Opposition],” Gandhi says on Twitter. “Mr Modi, Rafale is a deadly aircraft with a superb radar. You can run, but you can’t hide from It.”
5.28 pm: An unidentified spokesperson of the CBI says that the agency’s image will not be tarnished as it stands for the country and not for individuals, reports ANI. “Whatever investigation is required is being done,” adds the spokesperson.
5.25 pm: The Department of Personnel and Training says an independent inquiry should look into the facts and circumstances that led to “such an extraordinary and unprecedented situation” in the CBI, according to ANI. This should happen before any further erosion to the credibility of the institution, it says.
4.07 pm: Communist Party of India National Secretary D Raja says there is speculation that the occurrences at the CBI “have something to do with the Rafale deal”, reports PTI. “People want to know the truth,” he says. “The prime minister being the head of the government should explain to the people and the nation.”
Raja likens the removals of the agency’s top officials to a coup. “The CBI has been plunged into such a crisis,” he says. “Its credibility stands completely destroyed.”
4.02 pm: All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi says he believes that the Supreme Court will give relief to Alok Verma as the director’s removal is a violation of Section 4 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, reports ANI.
“I want to know which section did the CVC use to remove him?” asks Owaisi. “Why is the PM protecting a corrupt officer? All democratic institutions are being undermined.”
3.55 pm: Earlier, Alok Verma moved a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Centre’s decision. His plea says that the law mandates a secured two-year tenure of the CBI director to ensure independence, according to ANI. The decision of transfer of the director rests with a high-powered committee and the government’s decision goes against the Supreme Court’s directions for an independent CBI, it says.
The Supreme Court will hear his petition on Friday.
3.30 pm: Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati says the ongoing disturbance at the CBI is a matter of great concern for the nation, according to ANI. “The misuse of government machinery and interference in the CBI’s functioning have earlier also caused disasters,” she claims.
Mayawati expresses satisfaction that the matter is now before the Supreme Court.
3.24 pm: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin says that the appointment of a controversial officer like M Nageshwar Rao is a step to ensure that the CBI remains the caged parrot of the BJP government, ANI reports. “Is this move initiated to cover up the Rafale scam investigations? Stalin asks. “This shows an undeclared emergency has been imposed in our country.”
“It is autocratic to change the CBI chief who enjoys tenure protection,” Stalin says according to NDTV. He calls the move a “misuse of office by the prime minister”.
Stalin also claims that Rao was communicating with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu. “Nageshwar Rao met [Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister] O Panneerselvam at the state secretariat,” he alleges. “When CBI is investigating the gutka scam and the Madras High Court has ordered an investigation against [Chief Minister] Edappadi Palaniswami for awarding contracts to his relatives, the move to send CBI director Alok Verma [on leave] has raised suspicions.”
3.19 pm: According to the release, the Central Vigilance Commission on August 24 received a complaint containing various allegations against the CBI’s senior functionaries. Verma was served three separate notices against Section 11 of the CVC Act, 2003, on September 11 and directed to produce files and documents before the Commission on September 14.
“Despite repeated assurances and reminders, the Director, CBI failed to furnish the records before the Commission,” says the ministry. “The CVC has observed that the Director, CBI has not been cooperating in making available records sought by the Commission relating to serious allegations.”
The Commission also observed that the CBI director had been non-cooperative and non-compliant with the directions and created wilful obstructions in the functioning of the commission which is a constitutional body, it says.
3.10 pm: The Centre says that the removal of the CBI’s senior functionaries was necessitated by their grave allegations of corruption against one another. Those allegations vitiated the CBI’s official ecosystem and resulted in a potential loss of its credibility and reputation, it says in a press release issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The government decided to divest Verma and Asthana of all charges after being satisfied that an extraordinary and unprecedented situation has arisen, it says.
2.46 pm: Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant described institutions like the CBI, CVC, Election Commission and judiciary as “pillars of democracy”, according to ANI. “It is really sad that the chiefs of the topmost investigation agency are accusing each other of corruption,” he says. “This is a big issue for the upcoming Parliament Session.”
2.30 pm: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is the next leader, after Randeep Singh Surjewala and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, to draw an alleged link between Alok Verma’s removal and the Rafale deal. Gandhi claimed that Verma was sent on leave as he had been collecting documents related to the Rafale “scam”, and that both the country and the Constitution are under threat.
“The Prime Minister’s message is clear – whoever comes near Rafale will be removed, wiped out,” he tweeted.
2.20 pm: New interim CBI chief M Nageshwar Rao will personally supervise all sensitive cases, including those involving fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya and the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, ANI reports.
2.15 pm: At a press conference in New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi claims that the government is misusing the Central Vigilance Commission as well as other institutions. He alleges that the supervisory body has no power to interfere in appointments, PTI reports.
1.50 pm: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee says that the CBI has become the BJP’s policing agency – “BBI [BJP Bureau of Investigation]”.
1.48 pm: Congress President Rahul Gandhi brings up the matter at an election rally in Rajasthan. “The watchman [Modi] removed the CBI director last night because the CBI was questioning the Rafale deal,” he says.
1.19 pm: Here’s a summary of what Arun Jaitley said at the press briefing:
- Allegations by Verma and Asthana against each other are “bizarre and unfortunate”, and this is an “extraordinary situation”, Jaitley said.
- “The government’s decision to remove Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana is based on the recommendations of the Central Vigilance Commission, and it was absolutely essential to restore the agency’s institutional integrity and credibility.”
- The government has no power to investigate the allegations, it is the Central Vigilance Commission that has the power of superintendence in investigating the CBI.
- Verma and Asthana have been sent on leave “in the interest of fairness, purely as an interim measure”.
- A Special Investigation Team will probe the charges and both persons will “sit out” on leave till then. “Nothing can be more unfair in the world than an accused being in charge of an investigation against them.”
1.07 pm: After Surjewala, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has also hinted at a connection with the Rafale deal.
“Under which law did the Modi government get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act?” he asks. “Is there a co-relation [between] Rafale deal and removal of Alok Verma? Was Alok Verma about to start investigations into Rafale, which could become problem for Modi ji?”
12.55 pm: Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has called Verma’s removal “illegal”, reports PTI. He says the move is to protect the government’s “handpicked officer” – a reference to Asthana – against whom serious charges of corruption are being investigated.
“To ensure that the CBI is not a ‘caged parrot’, the Supreme Court had granted protection to its chief from government’s whims and fancies by giving him a two-year tenure,” Yechury says. “What is Modi government trying to hide by its panic move?”
12.52 pm: According to the Lokpal Act and the Supreme Court judgement in the Jain Hawala case, the CBI director has a fixed tenure of two years, says Congress leader Manish Tewari.
“Government cannot curtail tenure/take interim measures without a meeting of Committee consisting of the prime minister, chief justice of India and leader of the Opposition/single largest party,” he tweeted.
12.50 pm: Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweets the transfer orders and wonders if the government is scared of an investigation into the Rafale deal with France. He says, “Illegality, interference and unconstitutionality of Modi government today has hit a ‘new low’.”
12.48 pm: The government’s decision was based on recommendations by the Central Vigilance Commission on Tuesday, says Jaitley. “CVC in its yesterday’s meeting said neither of these two officers nor any agency under their supervision can investigate charges against them,” he says, according to ANI. “The CVC’s recommendation and the government’s action is intended to restore the institutional integrity and credibility of CBI.”
12.35 pm: “To maintain the institutional integrity of CBI and in the interest of fairness, purely as an interim measure, they [Asthana and Verma] will sit out by going on leave,” says Jaitley. “An SIT not functioning under either of these officers will investigate. This is in accordance with highest standards of fairness.”
12.30 pm: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defends the transfers, says they were “absolutely essential for fair investigation”, reports ANI. “Director has been accused by special director,” he says. “A special director has been accused by CBI. Two topmost officers of CBI have been accused. Now who will investigate it? Requirements of fairness and fair play have to be there. Government can’t investigate it.”
11.55 am: The Centre has transferred a number of CBI officers who were investigating the alleged involvement of Rakesh Asthana in a bribery case. Deputy Superintendent of Police AK Bassi has been posted to the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Port Blair and asked to join his new post immediately in “public interest”, while Additional Superintendent of Police SS Gurm has been transferred to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.
The other officers who have been transferred are Deputy Inspectors General Manish Kumar Sinha, Tarun Gauba, Jasbir Singh, Anish Prasad, KR Chaurasia, Amit Kumar, and senior officers Ram Gopal, Satish Dagar, Arun Kumar Sharma, A Sai Manohar and V Murugesan.
9.50 am: There will be no movement of officials or files at either Verma’s or Asthana’s office till 2 pm, unidentified officials tell ANI.
9 am: Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala says that with the decision to remove Verma, the Narendra Modi government has buried the “last nail” into the independence of CBI. “Systematic dismantling [and] denigrating of CBI is now complete,” he tweets.
8.50 am: Multiple reports say the CBI headquarters have been sealed, and nobody is being allowed in as a team of officers is inside, according to PTI.
8 am: In a late night order, the Centre sends Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana on leave and appoints M Nageshwar Rao the interim director, according to The Indian Express. Rao is currently a joint director at the agency.