- October 31, 2018, 5:41 pm
The long-running feud between the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) top boss Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana, the special director who is the No. 2 at CBI, has been marked by allegations and counter-allegations of corruption and interference in high-profile cases, filing of an FIR against Asthana and now the arrest of senior CBI officer associated with him.
BEGINNING OF THE CONTROVERSY
In October last year, Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer, was elevated to the position of No. 2 at the CBI by a selection committee headed by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). CBI head Verma had reportedly opposed Asthana's elevation on the ground that he was being probed in a corruption case related to a Gujarat-based company Sterling Biotech.
Verma had placed before the committee a confidential report on Sterling Biotech in which names of various government officials including Asthana were mentioned for allegedly receiving money from the company. However, Chief Vigilance Commissioner K V Chowdary said the decision was taken unanimously by members of the selection committee.
Later, Common Cause, an NGO of advocate Prashant Bhushan, moved the Supreme Court against Asthana's elevation but the court refused to quash Asthana's elevation.
WHO IS ASTHANA?
Asthana has investigated several sensitive high-profile cases. He probed the Godhra train fire of February 2002 which led to riots in the state. As on officer on deputation in Bihar, Asthana probed the fodder scam and arrested RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
WHEN VERMA REFUSED TO DEPUTE ASTHANA
Since the Supreme Court refused to quash Asthana's elevation as No. 2, the differences between the two CBI bosses remained. The war between Verma and Asthana kept simmering. In July, Verma told the CVC that Asthana could not represent him in meetings to consider postings in his absence. Verma informed the CVC that Asthana’s role in various cases was itself under the scanner. He said Asthana could not be consulted for inducting officers in the agency in his absence. The CVC had sought the presence of the CBI director in a selection committee meeting.
ASTHANA'S ALLEGATIONS AGAINST VERMA
In September, Asthana wrote to the government against Verma and his complaint was referred to the CVC. Asthana accused Verma of trying to thwart investigations in important cases, including one concerning the IRCTC scam in which RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and family are the accused. The CVC sought files of various cases from the CBI to probe the allegations. However, the CBI issued an official statement defending Verma and criticising Asthana.
The CBI termed Asthana's complaint to the CVC against Verma as 'intimidation' of the officers probing Asthana's role in at least six cases. Questions were raised on whether Verma could use the CBI to defend himself against personal allegations. Asthana also wrote to the cabinet secretary and the CVC accusing Verma and his right-hand man additional director AK Sharma of trying to save accused persons in several cases.
He alleged that one Satish Babu Sana, a Hyderabad-based businessman, paid Verma Rs 2 crore to save himself in the case of meat-exporter Moin Qureshi who is being probed by the CBI on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, etc. Asthana also claimed that he wanted to arrest Sana but Verma scuttled the move .
Asthana further claimed when he and his team wanted to arrest Sana in February, Verma called him and told him not to do so. Asthana has also accused Verma of taking him off probes into the IRCTC case against Lalu Prasad Yadav and the INX Media case involving former finance minister P Chidambaram.
WHY WAS ASTHANA BOOKED?
The CBI filed an FIR against Asthana and has now arrested Devendera Kumar, a deputy superintendent of police in the agency, who has been working with Asthana. Interestingly, the FIR was lodged on a compliant by Sana accusing Asthana of extorting money from him to shield him in the Qureshi case .
In his complaint, Sana claims to have paid Rs 3 crore to Asthana through a Dubai-based middleman Manoj Prasad and his brother, Somesh Prasad. He claims that Manoj showed him a WhatsApp conversation with Asthana and he saw Asthana's profile picture with the number which reassured him of Manoj's links with Asthana. Sana alleged that Manoj also claimed that Asthana had stayed at his home in London last year. He alleged that Somesh also dropped the name of a senior RAW officer Samant Kumar Goel. The . The FIR has named Goel too as part of the extortion gang.
Media reports claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has met both Verma and Asthana, though there is no confirmation yet on this. The CBI arrest of DSP Devendera Kumar came after the meeting. Asthana moved the Delhi High Court against lodging of the FIR and sought prevention of any coercive step against him. The court has given an interim relief to Asthana, ruling that he could not be arrested till Monday when the case will come up for hearing.
There have been unconfirmed reports of Verma moving to suspend Asthana and also the government planning to send Asthana back to Gujarat.
APPOINTMENT OF CBI DIRECTOR
- The CBI director is appointed by the Centre on the basis of the recommendation of a search committee comprising of the Prime Minister as the chairperson, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of Opposition.
- The process of selecting the CBI director begins in the Home Ministry, which prepares a list of IPS officers, who are eligible for the post on the basis of their seniority and experience in the field of probe.
- The MHA list goes to the Department of Personnel, which prepares the final list on the basis of "seniority, integrity and experience in the investigation of ant-corruption cases".
- The search committee examines the names and sends its recommendation to the government for the appointment of CBI director. The decision of the committee could be unanimous or divided with a member recording the note of dissent.
CVC and CBI
CBI was set up in 1964 as Special Branch of Delhi Police by the Central Govt. It generally investigates police cases with inter state ramifications and cases under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. CBI has also an economic offence wing to investigate economic offences such as fraud in Banks and else where.
However public servants can be prosecuted by CBI only if their Department Head permits for it. CBI prosecutes such public servants in CBI courts on the basis of their investigation report. In many corruption cases CBI sends its investigation reports to Govt Depts/ Banks for departmental action.
In case of Senior Public servants reference is made to CVC. Before and after departmental inquiry concerned Departments seeks advice of CVC in regard to quantum of punishment. The Departmental proceedings comes to an end after award of punishment or exoneration on the basis of inquiry report and decision of Disciplinary Authority.
Thus CVC acts as a window between the CBI and various Govt Departments under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988
Central Vigilance Commission is a statutory body under CVC Act and serves as the apex anti-corruption body. It superintends the work of CBI. CVC has no investigation wing of its own as it depends on CBI and the Chief Vigilance Officers of central organizations, while CBI has its own investigation wing.