NEW DELHI — Ousted Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Alok Verma, told the Supreme Court that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to remove him from his post illustrated why India's premier investigative agency needed to be shielded from its political masters.
In a petition opposing his removal, Verma said the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)-led government's actions "give serious credence to the requirement" that the CBI be given independence from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which "seriously hinders" the agency's "independent functioning".
"Not all influence that is exerted by the political government would be found explicitly or in writing. More often than not, it is tacit, and requires considerable courage to withstand," Verma's petition stated.
"Not all influence that is exerted by the political government would be found explicitly or in writing. More often than not, it is tacit, and requires considerable courage to withstand." — Ousted CBI Director, Alok Verma.
Verma's ouster comes in the midst of a stand-off between him and his immediate deputy, Rakesh Asthana — a Gujarat cadre officer who investigated the infamous Godhra train burning incident in Gujarat 2002, which sparked the communal riots that have continued to haunt Prime Minister Modi. Modi was the Chief Minister of the state at the time of the riots.
On Wednesday, the government removed both men from their positions and installed Nageshwar Rao as the CBI's interim Director.
In an interview with HuffPost India, former Director General of Police R.B. Sreekumar said Asthana's investigations in the Gujarat riots gave him a reputation as "a consummate careerist".
Opposition leaders have accused the Modi government of using the CBI as a tool to settle scores with his political opponents.
On Wednesday, Verma told the Supreme Court he should be reinstated as the CBI chief for the following reasons:
The orders violate section 4-B of the DSPE Act, 1946, which secures the CBI Director's tenure at two years, by asking Verma to go on leave (the two year tenure gets over in January, 2019).
The orders bypass the mandate under law given to a three member, "high powered committee" comprising the Prime Minister , Chief Justice of India and Leader Of Opposition for the appointment or transfer of the CBI Director.
The government's actions "give serious credence to the requirement" that the CBI be given independence from the DoPT which "seriously hinders" the former's "independent functioning".
The former CBI Director's petition further emphasised that, "The CBI ought to be insulated from Governmental interference and that is at the core value laid down by a common thread running through the Vineet Narain, CPIL, 2G and coal cases. The insulation is only maintained by the High Powered Committee that is sacrosanct and given express statutory mandate."
Meanwhile Verma's former deputy Rakesh Asthana, moved the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, asking the court to quash a First Information Report (FIR) registered by the CBI against him. The HC had given an interim order directing the status quo to be maintained till October 29, effectively nullifying any possibility of Asthana's arrest. This FIR was a part of the "unprecedented" situation within the CBI which the government said forced it to intervene in the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday and divest both the officers of their respective roles. Till Wednesday evening, it was unclear whether Asthana was also planning to challenge the CVC orders divesting him from his role.
His lawyers could not be reached for comment.