The Centre, which has been dragged intothe CBI mess, has a lot of explaining to do
The abrupt replacement of Alok Verma as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, albeit as an interim measure, is the culmination of a series of murky events that must deeply embarrass the Centre. What was perceived as an unseemly internal tussle among top officers of the premier investigating agency has morphed into a full-blown conflict between the Centre and Mr. Verma. It is one thing if Mr. Verma had merely challenged the legality of his dismissal. But he more than hinted at interference in his functioning. The suggestion that the Centre’s action was meant to protect certain people has led to charges that he was removed because he was politically inconvenient. The Centre may like people to think it behaved with a measure of even-handedness by divesting both Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana of their powers, but the action of the new acting director, M. Nageswara Rao — who has transferred many officers investigating cases against Mr. Asthana — exposes where its sympathy lies. This has raised the question whether the government is adopting strong-arm tactics against Mr. Verma, despite his tenure and independence being protected by the law. The Central Vigilance Commission, in its order divesting him of his office, has said that since the atmosphere within the agency had become vitiated due to a factional feud, it had to intervene. It also charged Mr. Verma with not making available the records and files sought by the CVC in connection with a corruption complaint against him — an approach which it held was wilfully obstructionist. The sordid controversy has raised the important question of whether the statutory changes aimed at insulating the CBI Director’s office from political and administrative interference are adequate. Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act assures the Director of a two-year tenure and makes it clear that he cannot be transferred except by the high-power committee — comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India — that appointed him. The Supreme Court will address the question whether the ‘interim measure’ amounts to unlawfully curtailing the Director’s tenure. It will also examine whether the CVC’s power of superintendence has been rightly invoked in the present case. But there are immediate and arguably more serious dimensions to this crisis. And it revolves around how to repair the image of a CBI riven by a nasty feud, how to protect its independence, and how to address the mess contributed by a government that should have acted much earlier to resolve the controversy rather than let it attain the ugly dimensions it did.