Rather than bend their mind to getting Vijay Mallya extradited or ferreting out evidence against the Narada accused, India’s premier government sleuths are bending their bodies — at the multi-gym inside the CBI’s glass-fronted headquarters on Lodhi Road.
“Investigations into all high-profile cases have stopped since the government benched our top two officers (CBI director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana) a month ago,” a CBI source said.
“So we are hitting the office gym, partly because we have nothing much to do and partly to stay in shape,” he grinned.
Investigations into cases like the Mallya loan default, Lalu Prasad railway hotel sale, AgustaWestland VIP chopper scam and the Saradha and Narada scandals have come to a standstill, the source said.
“The files have not moved since October 24 (when Verma and Asthana were divested of their powers and responsibilities following a prolonged public spat between them) as these were under Asthana’s direct supervision,” he said.
“Some of these cases are politically sensitive, and senior officers are afraid to even touch the case files lest they end up triggering some controversy or the other and invite the Supreme Court’s wrath.”
Everyone in the agency, the source said, was waiting for the Supreme Court to dispose of Verma’s petition challenging his benching.
“Things have come to such a pass that no senior officer wants to take any decision, even order his subordinates to carry out raids or summon people for questioning — actions that are key to the investigations in these cases. Everyone is playing safe,” the source said.
The problem has been compounded by the Supreme Court’s October 26 order barring interim CBI chief Nageshwara Rao from taking any policy decision or any major step and restricting him to “routine tasks” while it considers Verma’s petition.
“We have no choice but to wait and watch,” a second CBI officer said, putting his earplugs back in place and happily pounding away at the treadmill.
The shabby old building that housed the CBI till April 2011 lacked a gym but the agency’s current home, a swank 11-storey structure sprawling 7,000sqm and modelled after the Interpol headquarters in Lyon (France), has a well-equipped one on the ground floor.
“The feud between Verma and Asthana, and their benching, has dented the agency’s image and put us under a lot of stress. A good workout can help us de-stress,” the first official said.
“Also, we were always overstretched at work,” he joked. “It’s nice to be able to stretch out at the gym for a change.”
The agency knows it will soon have to take one key decision, though — it must pick someone to represent it in the British court that is scheduled to announce its verdict on Mallya’s possible extradition on December 10. Asthana used to handle the case and had flown to London several times to attend the court hearings.