Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana have been sent on leave following a public spat which saw a level of infighting in the agency that was quite dramatic, with each throwing accusations at each other.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has now given the top job to M Nageswar Rao.
At around 1:45 am on Wednesday, an order was issued by the government where both Verma and Asthana were put on leave while Rao was placed as the acting chief of the CBI. This is a move that Verma has challenged in court.
AK Bassi, one of the officials in Verma's team, has been transferred out to Port Blair, according to an NDTV report.
Meanwhile, floor 10 and 11— the offices of Verma and Asthana in the CBI HQ — are now being searched, notes the report.
According to reports, Chief Vigilance Commissioner KV Chowdary had sent the recommendation that both the top officials be sent on a "compulsory wait" and be stripped of all official responsibilities.
Information and Broadcast Ministry explains why CBI chief was sacked overnight
The Information and Broadcast Ministry has come out with a statement where they have mentioned how the now sacked chief of CBI Alok Verma was served three notices spanning a period from August 24 all the way to September 24, reports ANI.
The notices were made because the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) received a complaint that contained a number of allegations on the leadership of the CBI.
On September 11, the then director Verma was asked to submit files and documents before a Commission by September 14, which he reportedly failed to do. I&B Ministry reports that several opportunities and adjournments later, the CBI made promises on September 24 to come through with the files that were asked of him within three weeks.
As a result, CVC came to the conclusion that Verma, was not being cooperative and not producing the records that the Commission was asking of him.
Petition calls for probe into CBI infighting with special task force
A petition was filed at the Bombay High Court to set up a Special Investigation Team to look into the now-sacked chief of the CBI —Alok Verma and his feud with his No.2 man Rakesh Asthana.
The petition has also asked for a retired SC judge to be a member of the SIT, reports ANI. It is not clear at this time who has filed this petition and when it will be reviewed by the court.
Nageswar Rao, interim chief of CBI to take over ongoing cases; AK Bassi refuses to speak out about transfer
Major cases that the CBI is now working on, including the Rs. 7,000 crore Vijay Mallya banking fraud as well as the Rs. 350 crore Agusta Westland helicopter bribery scandal that started in 2013 has now been personally moved under the purview of the interim chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation—Nageshwar Rao, reports ANI.
Meanwhile, DIG AK Bassi who was originally investigating charges against Asthana and is now transferred to Andman refused to take any questions regarding his forced move out of the leadership's team.
Opposition leaders comment on overnight sacking of CBI chiefs
Opposition party Congress has started to mount their own attacks, this time directed at the government. They all seem to mirror the sentiment that the act of placing Alok Verma on compulsory leave was an unconstitutional one.
"The Modi-Shah government has put several of the country's institutions in the ICU by illegal means," said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi.
Randeep Surjewala of the Congress also made a statement wherein he brought up the hot button issue of the Rafale scam. "What PM couldn't do directly by removing the CBI director and his colleagues, he has done surreptitiously and in clandestine fashion by taking shelter behind CVC. Has CBI director been transferred because he was about to order a probe into Rafale corruption?" he said in a statement made to ANI. "PM Modi has buried the last nail in the independence of CBI."
Sitaram Yechury, of the CPI(M) said that, "We don't know if CBI was investigating other issues like Rafale scam. If that was the case, it was ordered to protect the govt, PM & concerned officers. Why was the DIG [AK Bassi] investigating the charges against Asthana has been sent to 'Kala Pani' in Andaman?"
Revamping the CBI: Politicians chime in on the coup
Arun Jaitley Finance Minster of India made a statement on the ongoing CBI situation by saying that both officers were taken out of the equation overnight because the oncoming probe on the accusations levied against both Verma and Asthana needed to take place with the "highest standards of fairness".
"The Central Vigilance Commission's (CVC) recommendation and the government's decision [to place both parties on leave] is meant to restore the CBI's integrity," Arun Jaitley said.
Asthana's team, however, seemingly got a better deal and remain untouched, but about 13 officers have been transferred to different parts of India, this includes SS Grum, who will now serve at Jabalpur.
As for the Verma's appeal to the Supreme Court, the bench will hear his case on Friday.