How can the Opposition claim that the real reason why the CBI Director Alok Verma was removed overnight was to prevent him from investigating the Rafale deal? Even for a moment assuming that it was true, may one ask how did Rahul Gandhi come to know of Verma’s intentions? Unless Verma was playing partisan politics and hobnobbing with the Opposition leaders, his removal cannot be linked to his potential moves. The truth is that Verma showed a complete lack of institutional leadership, engaging himself in a petty turf fight and a grudge match with his juniors with the sole intention of spoiling the prospects of the Special Director Rakesh Asthana to succeed him when his own term ended next January. On his part, Asthana might have been tactless and indiscreet in seeking to broadcast his proximity to the current regime in order to carve for himself a bigger role than his superior, the Director, CBI, was willing to assign him.
But Verma took the tussle with his number two too far when he launched a fishing inquiry against Asthana, misusing the CBI personnel to wreak vengeance on a senior colleague whom he had unsuccessfully tried to stop from joining the CBI. Probing as to who had paid for the wedding celebrations for Asthana’s daughter some years ago when he was posted in Gujarat left none in doubt that Verma was out to tar the reputation of the Special Director. Under the circumstances, it was inevitable that the CBI would get riven into hostile camps, with the Director and the Special Director targeting each other. The revelation that despite several reminders, Verma declined to respond to queries raised by the Central Vigilance Commission in regard to a detailed complaint of corruption against him filed by Asthana, too, reveals Verma in bad light.
Even if he considered the complaint frivolous, he was duty-bound to respond to the CVC. In fact, Verma behaved in such a cavalier manner that when asked to support the complaint he had filed against his deputy with the CVC, he did not respond despite repeated reminders. It was as if he had decided that the CVC had no locus in the matter. A fixed two-year tenure did not grant the CBI chief a carte blanche to do as he pleased unmindful of the basic tenets of administration and accountability. If Verma was not willing to account for his actions before the CVC, the body charged with the supervision of the CBI by the apex court, he was clearly defying the highest court in the land as well. Therefore, when Verma’s plea challenging his removal comes up for hearing before the Supreme Court, it is hoped that the court would not endorse his wayward behaviour by granting him relief.
Verma had proven himself unfit for heading the premier investigating agency by his obsession to ‘fix’ Asthana, and misusing the agency for the purpose. Of course, there should be no question of Asthana being brought back into the CBI. He, too, stands tainted by the long tug-of-war between him and the CBI Director and must not be given a key assignment.
Indeed, the only sensible way out of the present stalemate in the CBI is for the three-member panel of the PM, the LoO and the chief justice, to recommend a new Director for the agency. Uncertainty of leadership of the CBI when several key investigations are pending can only aid the corrupt and the criminals.
Of course, there is an inherent flaw in the way CBI is manned by personnel drawn from various State cadres without any reference to their investigating skills and/or experience. More often than not, at mid-and lower-levels, it has become a parking place for officers during the cooling off period when instead of returning to their parent cadres they wangle a CBI posting only for them to depart at the end of the mandatory cooling off period. As a specialised investigating agency the CBI needs to have a cadre of its own, with forensic experts, financial consultants, chartered accountants, lawyers, company secretaries, et al, filling key slots since probing corruption scams is one of its foremost tasks. Investigating white-collar crimes requires specialised skills which ordinary policemen are not known to possess. However, the change cannot be forced down the gullet of the CBI by the courts, it remains out of its remit. It is for the government to carry out these reforms following wider consultations with experts and former CBI chiefs.
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