CBI infighting may lead to loss of credibility

Kushal Jeena

The current infighting between two top bosses of India’s premier investigation agency The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has virtually brought it to a terminal decline as it is at war with itself. This it would lead to the destruction of the federal agency because the director is trying to assert his supremacy whereas his deputy is throwing challenge to his authority by flouting his orders.

The situation in the premier investigation agency has come to such a pass that government seems to be working overtime to defend one officer to get him exonerated from charges of corruption and subsequent departmental inquiries. The decision to send both officers in the agency on leave was taken at the highest level is reflective of the desperation on the part of the government to fix CBI director Alok Verma because he is reported to have asked for some files in connection with Raffle aircraft.

Instead of intervening in the ongoing tussle between the two top officers of the CBI, the government seems directly intervening in the departmental affairs of the agency as indicated by the fact that all officers assigned to probe the allegations against Asthana have been transferred at the stroke of midnight.

Rakesh Asthana, the officer in question was dealing with high profile cases including Gujar riots at and Madhya Pradesh recruitment case that include after his elevation as special director in Asthana was assigned to probe almost all cases of frauds by businessmen who fled the country after committing large scale financial irregularities.

After sending two top officer officials on forced leave and transfer of all who were considered to be close to the agency chief has given a fresh ammunition to the opposition which took on the government on the issue saying the action was arbitrary and illegal because as per an order of the apex court the head of the CBI is to be chosen by an panel that consists of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Central Vegillance Commissioner and leader of opposition a fined term of two years and can only be removed by panel only. Verma has approached the Supreme Court challenging the government’s decision directing him to go on leave.

It has happened for the first time in the history of independent India that the premier investigation agency of the country is mired into such a deep controversy that has come up as a threat to the very existence of the agency.

The feud that led to the arrest of one of senior officials of the agency has refused to die town despite the interference of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who summoned both director Alok Verma and his second in command Rakesh Asthana and asked them to resolve their differences. The war of attrition between Verma and Ashthana took an interesting turn when the arrested officer Devendra Sharma posted as deputy superintendent of police at the agency approached the court challenging his arrest.

The agency feud began two month ago when Asthana wrote a letter to the Cabinet Secretary accusing his boss of taking a bribe of Rs. 2 crore from an accused in meat exporter Moin Qureshi to grant relief to him in the case under investigation by agency’s special investigation team that Asthana headed. The infighting took a serious turn when CBI filed a first information report against Asthana, a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre officer of the Indian Police Service, his junior Sharma and a middleman for allegedly receiving bribes to favour one Hyderabad-based business man Satish Sana in Qureshi case.

Asthana is considered to be close to Modi and his party chief Amit Shah. He had also headed a SIT constituted by the Gujarat government to probe Gujarat riots in 2002 in which a score of people from Muslim community were killed during Prime Minister Modi’s term as the chief minister of Gujarat. Asthana came closer to Modi and Shah after the he was exonerated both in the riots case. The BJP president was reported to be instrumental in bringing Asthana to the CBI after Modi took over reign of power at the centre.

The war between the two started gaining ground when the agency chief objected to the induction of IPS officials into the agency during his absence as he was on a overseas tour. Asthana who was asked to head the agency in the absence of its director also irked his boss when he removed officials at the level of DIG and directors. After the incident of removal of officials the CBI was flooded with complaints against Asthana on the basis of certain mysterious documents and a diary seized by the enforcement directorate.

The infighting reached to an alarming point when country’s federal investigating agency issued a statement saying it is probing the role of its special director in at least in six cases. The statement also accused Asthana of making frivolous and baseless complaints against his boss to the government.

“It is unfortunate that baseless and frivolous allegations were being made publicly without proper verification of facts to malign the image of the director of CBI and intimidate the officials of the organization,” said the agency statement.

Verma had objected to the appointment of Asthana as special director promoting him from the past of additional director. The Prime Minister Office overlooked his objections and proceeded with the installation of Asthana as special director. Asthana has been throwing his weight around the agency headquarters boasting he was close to the political leaders in the government.

“The director Verma informed the CVC-led panel that Asthana was under probe in the Sterling Biotech case. But the panel turned down Verma’s contention and recommended the name of Asthana for promotion. The Cabinet Committee on Appointment immediately cleared his name,” said a senior agency official.

Asthana was also accused of renting out his residential premises to Sterling Biotech. In his defence the CBI
special director admitted of giving his residential premises on rent to the company in question saying it has duly declared his annual returns to the government.

The tension between the two escalated when Asthana transferred Rajiv Singh, a joint director rank official at the agency. Singh was heading bank security and fraud unit of the agency. He was also entrusted with several important cases including the case of diamond merchant Nirav Modi. It is openly said in the agency headquarters that Asthana was instrumental in the repatriation of Singh back to his home cadre in Tripura. Asthana was also accused of leaking key portion of a draft report in the Aircel-Mexis case.

The SIT that the CBI special director Asthana is heading has been handling several important cases including Augusta Westland chopper scam, bank loan fraud involving fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya and the Quershi case.

The CBI statement against one of its official underlines seriousness of the situation within the agency and reflects the fact that how the political interference has been in the federal investigating agency.

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