Editor's note: This article was originally published on 20 November, 2018, arguing why Alok Verma did not deserve to return to CBI. It is being republished in light of the Selection Committee's decision on Thursday evening (10 January, 2019) to remove Verma from the post of CBI chief following the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission. The high-powered Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge and Justice AK Sikri voted 2-1 to sack Verma just a day after he resumed office. Here is the piece written on 20 November:
The Supreme Court of India will take up on 29 November further hearing in the plea of Alok Verma, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for being reinstated. Verma was sent on forced leave by the government in the wee hours of 23 October along with Rakesh Asthana, his deputy and special director.
Most of the speculation around Verma's future has since centred on the findings of the court-ordered probe by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) into the charges leveled against him by Asthana. For a few days before and after 12 November the media was full of reports of a CVC clean chit to Verma; the inference being that Verma would give the government a bloody nose in court and return to resume his duties.
That narrative changed dramatically after 16 November when the Supreme Court, having reviewed the report of the CVC, revealed that some of its findings were "very uncomplimentary" to Verma. The chorus changed to how Verma's fate was sealed.
It is clear from the above that there is general agreement that Verma's future is tied to what the CVC investigation has found and what the Supreme Court will make of it once it takes Verma's response on board.
It is stupid to predict what the court will find. I am not treading that path. Instead I am arguing that Alok Verma should not be allowed to set foot in the CBI headquarters ever again, whichever way the Supreme Court rules on 29 November (or later) on the legality of the charges against him.
That's because Verma has simply lost the moral authority to run the CBI, an institution of public trust. As the head of the country's federal investigation agency it is his job to preserve the integrity of the institution. He has instead participated fully in achieving the opposite: besmirching the image of the institution further.
Asthana is as responsible for betraying the trust of the public. It can be said of every employee of every institution that it is their responsibility to preserve the integrity of the institution they serve. But there is one crucial difference between the director and the rest of the staff.
It is only the director of the CBI who gets a fixed two-year tenure. The Supreme Court provided this "suraksha kavach" " a ring of protection " only to the director of the CBI, not to every officer of the CBI, for a very good reason.
The Supreme Court ring-fenced only the director because that officer is the custodian of public trust in the institution. It is the director's responsibility to protect the image of the CBI (such as it is) and enhance it during his charge. The Supreme Court indicated that this trust factor weighs heavily on its mind when it explained on Friday (16 November) why it had asked the CVC to file its report in a sealed cover. "This course of action has been considered necessary by the court keeping in mind the need to preserve and maintain the sanctity of the institution of CBI and public confidence in the said institution," said the court. The operative parts being "sanctity of the institution of CBI" and "public confidence".
Verma claimed his deputy had gone rogue. Even if that were true, the solution was not in turning rogue himself. Never has a CBI director supervised the filing of an FIR as flimsy as the one that was filed against Asthana, his immediate deputy. By the same token it is now clear that at least some of the charges brought by Asthana against Verma have failed legal scrutiny.
If the special director can put up corruption charges against his boss (in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary no less) some which are unsustainable and if the director can file an FIR in retaliation against his deputy that has the smell of a frame up, it throws up important questions:
a) What is the level of efficiency of the CBI that even when the director and the special director want to fix each other, they can't come up with charges that will stick, and b) If this is the extent to which the director and special director can go to fix each other, what must their juniors be doing to ordinary citizen?
It sends a chill down the spine to think of all that a CBI officer scorned can do taking cue from these two illustrious gents. What this sordid drama shows is that both the director and special director have been busy carving up the CBI into their personal fiefdoms, forcing everybody around them to become part of this dirty factional war.
For that and that alone, Verma should be allowed retire in disgrace rather than retake office. In fact, it might be quite in order for the collegium to convene and dismiss him for the simple fact of allowing himself to be leader of one vicious faction of the CBI against another rather be leader of the entire institution.