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PM Modi-led panel removes Alok Verma as CBI Chief

In a dramatic twist to the CBI versus CBI fight, a high-power committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday removed CBI director Alok Verma from his post on charges of corruption and dereliction of duties, an action taken barely 48 hours after the top IPS officer was reinstated to the post by the Supreme Court after 77-day forced leave. Mr Verma, whose fixed tenure of two years was to end on January 31, is the first chief in the 55-year CBI history to face such an unceremonious exit.

The panel’s decision to remove Mr Verma was based on a majority vote of 2:1 with Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge opposing it and Justice A.K. Sikri, appointed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as his nominee, siding with the government, sources said.

The panel considered a CVC report which levelled eight counts of charges against Mr Verma, who had been reinstated by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and cited telephone interceptions by external spy agency RAW.

According to a government order issued on Thursday evening, the responsibility to head the CBI has once again been given to additional director M. Nageshwar Rao who was heading the agency during Mr Verma’s 77-day forced leave from Oct. 23, 2018, that followed his feud with his deputy special director Rakesh Asthana over corruption allegations. Mr Verma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, has now been posted as director general fire service, civil defence and home guards, under the Union home ministry.

Mr Verma, on his return to work on Wednesday three months after being sent on leave by the government in a midnight swoop, took a series of controversial decisions during which he cancelled transfers of 10 officers and transferred five others.

The meeting to decide the fate of Mr Verma was held at the residence of Prime Minister Modi at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, at around 4.30 pm. The meeting continued for nearly two hours with Mr Kharge strongly arguing for giving a chance to Mr Verma to present his case before the committee on the allegations levelled by the CVC against him.

However, the Prime Minister and Justice Sikri did not agree with his position. Sources said the panel, barring Mr Kharge, felt that investigation, including criminal probe, was necessary, in some cases, and Mr Verma’s continuation as CBI director was not desirable, and he should be transferred.

The meeting of the committee was earlier convened on Wednesday which lasted nearly 30 minutes but it failed to take a decision.

Reacting to the development, the Congress said, “By removing Alok Verma from his position without giving him the chance to present his case, PM Modi has shown once again that he’s too afraid of an investigation, either by an independent CBI director or by Parliament via JPC.”

However, hitting out at the Congress over its attack on the Modi government following the removal of CBI director, the BJP called it a “sore loser”, saying the party has been left to lick its wounds “after failing to subvert the central probe agency by joining internal personal battles”.

“Sore loser Congress is licking its wounds after failing to subvert the CBI by joining internal personal battles. The only investigation pending is of ‘The Family’ that received bribes from ‘Mama Christian Michel’ in multiple defence deals. Lies of Rahul Gandhi completely exposed,” BJP spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said.

In a tweet, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP also added, “Shameless Congress lies again. Here are facts: 1) Shri Verma was given an opportunity to present his case before the CVC in presence of Justice Patnaik (retd), appointed by the Supreme Court. 2) Supreme Court also provided a copy of the CVC report to Verma’s advocate.”

Taking a dig at the Congress’ leader in Lok Sabha, Union minister Piyush Goyal tweeted, “Indeed, Mr Mallikarjun Kharge is a man of amazing consistency. When Shri Alok Verma was appointed CBI chief by the selection committee, he dissented. Now, when Shri Alok Verma has been removed by the same Selection Committee, he has dissented.”

Sources said the eight counts of charges cited against Mr Verma by the CVC included alleged attempts to induct tainted officers, compromising probe in the case related to controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi and IRCTC scam, among others. The CVC claimed that it had found evidence of influencing of probe in the Moin Qureshi case and there were intercepts of RAW that `2 crore had changed hands. The CVC was of the view that his conduct in the case was suspicious and there was a prima facie case against him, and wanted a criminal investigation to be conducted in the case.

In the IRCTC case, the CVC felt that it can be reasonably concluded that Mr Verma deliberately excluded a name from the FIR, for reasons best known to him, sources said.

The CVC also found instances of wilful non-production of record and fabrication of record.

The committee also took note of Mr Verma’s attempts to induct officers of doubtful integrity in the CBI. The CVC said that he had been given ample opportunity to present his case before the CVC, in presence of Justice (retd) Patnaik.

The apex court had said in its order on Tuesday that any further decision against Mr Verma would be taken by the high-powered committee which selects and appoints the CBI director.

The Supreme Court in the Vineet Narayan judgment had fixed a minimum tenure of two years for the CBI director to give him immunity from any political interference. Later, through the Lokpal Act, the process of selecting the CBI director was handed over to a selection committee.

A delegation of former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha along with activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan had met Mr Verma on October 4, 2018, with plea of registering an FIR in the Rafal aircraft purchase deal.

Reacting to Mr Verma’s removal, Mr Bhushan said on Thursday dubbed this as a desperate move by the Narendra Modi government. “mr Verma’s removal is motivated by the possibility of a probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal,” he said.

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