Alok Verma, reinstated as CBI boss by the Supreme Court, signed off on five transfers today, a day after cancelling the transfers of 10 officers. The move raised questions as a high-powered committee met at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home to decide on his future, on whether he will continue in the post with full powers and on his successor.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court scrapped the government’s midnight order sending Mr Verma on compulsory leave and replacing him with an interim CBI director. But while restoring him to his post, the court ruled that he would not take any major policy decisions until a high-powered selection committee featuring the PM, the Chief Justice of India or his representative and the leader of the largest opposition party decided on his status.
Mr Verma returned to his office yesterday and soon after, cancelled the interim CBI chief’s orders transferring officers in his team. Ten transfers were overturned.
Today, Mr Verma ordered the transfer of five officers – Ajay Bhatnagar, MK Sinha, Tarun Gauba, Murugesan and AK Sharma.
Whether he has the power to take these decisions is being debated. Sources close to Mr Verma argue that he is exercising the same powers as M Nageswara Rao, the interim chief, did even after being told by the Supreme Court not to take any policy decisions.
Mr Verma had approached the Supreme Court after the government sent him and his deputy Rakesh Asthana on leave and appointed an interim chief in a midnight swoop on October 23. Mr Verma’s office was sealed and members of his team were transferred overnight by Nageswar Rao, who took charge as interim chief around 2 am that night.
The Supreme Court’s rejection of that move is a major embarrassment to the government, which has been under opposition attack over allegations of manipulating the CBI and using it as a tool against political rivals.
The government defended its move in court saying it had to protect the CBI’s integrity and credibility after Mr Verma and Mr Asthana traded corruption charges.
Sources say even more embarrassing for the government is that Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress leader in the selection committee, had strongly opposed Mr Verma’s appointment in 2017.
But Mr Verma was appointed CBI director despite Mr Kharge’s dissent note.
The three member committee, which includes Justice AK Sikri, besides PM Modi and Mr Kharge, will also discuss names for a new CBI director. Mr Verma retires on January 31.
The committee is also expected to consider the charges against Mr Verma. He was accused by his deputy of taking Rs 2 crore as bribe from a businessman being investigated by the CBI.