Time to restore CBI’s sagging image

The removal of Alok Verma from the prestigious post of Director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by a high-powered three-member panel led by Prime Minister Modi on charges of corruption and dereliction of duty is unexceptionable. Verma was clearly under a cloud in the report of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) which went into the question of his integrity at the behest of the Government. Only two days earlier, the Supreme Court while reinstating him with curtailed interim powers had left the final say in the hands of the CVC. In Thursday’s meeting of the committee while Modi and Justice A K Sikri supported Verma’s sacking, Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge dissented claiming that Verma had not been given a chance to explain his position. Evidently, the Supreme Court decision to reinstate Verma was more about process than the merits of the case.

Significantly, Kharge had dissented also on Verma’s appointment and time has turned a full circle with the Congress leader filing a dissenting note on his sacking. Both Prime Minister Modi and Justice Sikri held that the CVC report had provided sufficient grounds for his removal including evidence to initiate criminal investigation. That immediate orders were issued for the transfer of Verma as director-general of fire services, civil defence and home guards was appropriate to ensure that he did not interfere in the affairs of the CBI headquarters. Verma has, however, quit the service and is on the warpath, claiming that he was not given an opportunity to be heard by the three-member panel.

This view is being supported by the Congress which sees in the whole drama triggered off by the arch-rivalry between Verma and his number two, Special CBI director Rakesh Asthana, an opportunity to score political brownie points. Even as the CBI’s two big bosses were washing dirty linen in public, the institution itself was being tarred by a dubious reputation. That messy politics played a role in the whole controversy is now difficult to refute. It is yet too early to say whether the CBI controversy is at an end after all the bad blood that has besmirched its reputation. The new interim chief Nageswara Rao has reversed the transfers that Verma had made in the few hours he had after he was restored as director by the apex court.

The tug of war continues even as Asthana’s plea to quash the proceedings against him initiated by Verma has been rejected. While the main charges against Verma were in respect of two individuals in two specific cases relating to going soft on RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and taking bribes from the country’s biggest meat exporter Moin Qureshi, further investigation on these would follow to establish the truth. On directions of Alok Verma, the CBI had registered an FIR against Asthana and his deputy Special Director Devendra Kumar for allegedly taking a bribe from Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana to clear his name from the Moin Qureshi case.

The investigating agency defended the arrest of Devender Kumar saying “incriminating documents and evidence were found after raiding his office and residence”. In an unprecedented move, the CBI had told the court that an extortion racket in the garb of the investigation was being run from the CBI headquarters and that Kumar was also part of it. It is indeed time that the bureau be restored to its old prestige and authority. While the Union government must give it a measure of autonomy as has been the demand of the Opposition under various regimes, the Opposition, especially the Congress, must stop fishing in troubled waters.

Corruption at the highest levels of this key investigating body must be attacked without fear or favour. The credibility of the CBI must be restored on the highest priority. Both Verma and Asthana who have been responsible for lowering the reputation of CBI through intense infighting must be brought to justice. It must be ensured that the investigating agency is kept insulated from political interference. To satisfy these goals if a commission needs to be appointed, it must be done, because the CBI is too important a body to be kept out of genuine institutional reforms.

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