Government action illegal: Congress
The Congress has described the removal of CBI chief Alok Verma as an “illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate coup” and said neither the government nor the Chief Vigilance Commissioner had the authority to take such a step.
“This is de facto removal as the government knows the CBI chief cannot be removed before the fixed tenure of two years,” Congress spokesperson and top lawyer Abhishek Singhvi said on Wednesday, castigating the decision to send Verma on forced leave.
“Nobody has the power to remove the CBI chief without the approval of the selection committee under any circumstances,” Singhvi stressed, citing Supreme Court judgments and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which governs the CBI.
According to the Lokpal Act 2013, the selection committee is made up of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. No meeting of this committee was held before the government sent Verma on forced leave, citing the CVC’s recommendation.
“This removal negates the Supreme Court orders and the CBI Act. The government knew it can’t remove the CBI chief and hence camouflaged it by using the CVC. The CVC is a supervisory body without any power to appoint or remove the CBI chief,” the Congress spokesperson said.
Singhvi read out Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which says: “(1) The director shall, notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the rules relating to his conditions of service, continue to hold office for a period of not less than two years from the date on which he assumes office. (2) The director shall not be transferred except with the previous consent of the (selection) committee referred to in sub-section (1) of Section 4A.”
The CVC can’t violate Sections 4A and 4B, the Congress spokesperson said.
Singhvi then referred to the 1998 Supreme Court judgment in the Vineet Narain & others vs Union of India case, which said: “The transfer of an incumbent director, CBI, in an extraordinary situation, including the need for him to take up a more important assignment, should have the approval of the selection committee.”
Asked if the Congress representative on the selection committee, Mallikarjun Kharge, would move the Supreme Court as the decision was taken without consulting him, Singhvi said: “We reserve all the rights and options available to us.”
The Congress spokesperson said “a perverse interpretation of CVC’s powers is being made”.
“This is a planned conspiracy to remove the CBI chief to protect the Prime Minister’s blue-eyed boy who has a lot of skeletons in the cupboard. The skeletons are yours but (Rakesh) Asthana has the cupboard’s key,” Singhvi said.
Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre officer said to be close to Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, was appointed CBI special director last October although the CBI director had given a dissent note. Asthana’s name features in a diary, seized in Gujarat in 2011, whose contents were being probed by the CBI. The diary allegedly lists payments to politicians and officials.
Asked about the transfer of 13 officers, Singhvi said: “Whatever I say will be an understatement. One-third of the CBI has been rendered lame duck.”
The Congress spokesperson contested finance minister Arun Jaitley’s attempt to create equivalence between Verma and Asthana.
“This is a false, a fraud equivalence. Asthana is facing corruption and extortion charges. What is the charge against Verma? Asthana was facing charges at the time of his appointment. What was the charge against Verma when the selection committee cleared his name? Now, if Asthana is making a charge against Verma, it is an accused making a charge against the prosecutor. In this way, every thief will say the police is corrupt,” Singhvi said.
“This equivalence was created to enable the government take control of the CBI. Has any government in the last 70 years dealt with any institution in this manner? Why did the Prime Minister interfere in a criminal prosecution? Nobody has the right to summon the investigative officer. Remember, our law minister had to resign when he wanted to see an affidavit to be filed by the CBI. The sordid affair is legally, morally, constitutionally reprehensible and aimed at managing the dark secrets of the government,” he said.