New Delhi/Chennai: Amid an unprecedented maelstrom in India’s top investigative agency, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Alok Verma was divested of his powers and joint director M. Nageshwar Rao given charge as interim director of the agency late on Tuesday night.
Rao, a 1986 Odisha cadre officer, was number three in the ranking order.
As joint director of CBI, he was overseeing the Chandigarh branch, prior to which he was the joint director of CBI’s southern zone.
During his tenure in the agency, he supervised the probes into the Saradha chit fund scam in Odisha and West Bengal.
“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved that during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure...M. Nageshwar Rao, IPS, presently working as joint director, CBI, shall look after duties and functions of director, CBI, and shall take over duties and functions with immediate effect," the government order read.
Rao was handed over the case loads of both Verma and Rakesh Asthana. A chemistry post-graduate from Osmania University, Hyderabad, Rao did his research from the Indian Institute of Technology (Madras) before joining the Indian Police Service.
He is also the recipient of the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service, President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service, Special Duty Medal and Odisha Governor’s Medal.
Even as Rao’s ascension to the post of interim chief was welcomed by the agency, former CBI officials stated that the central vigilance commission (CVC), as well as the prime minister’s office (PMO), ought to have exercised greater prudence in the selection of the interim chief.
“This development was much needed considering that the reputation of the agency was at stake. But even so, the CVC and the PMO should have decided on bringing in someone from outside, who had no stake in the matter or no affiliations to anyone. Rao has served in CBI and that may not be healthy even in the short run," said a former CBI official, requesting anonymity.
The decision comes a day after CBI special director Rakesh Asthana moved the Delhi high court seeking the quashing of the first information report (FIR) filed against him by his own agency. The court later ordered that no action should be taken against Asthana until the next hearing, which is scheduled for 29 October.
While some senior Tamil Nadu state government officials alleged that Rao’s appointment was “not devoid of vested interest," M.K. Stalin, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president and leader of opposition, expressed his strong objection to the appointment.
Stalin questioned whether the move had been initiated to cover up investigations in the Rafale aircraft deal. “This shows an undeclared emergency has been imposed in our country. Appointment of controversial officer like Nageshwar Rao is nothing but to ensure that CBI remains the caged parrot of the BJP government."
“When the CBI is investigating Gutkha scam and Madras high court has ordered an investigation against chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami for awarding contracts to his relatives, the move to send CBI director Alok Verma has raised suspicions," Stalin said in a statement.
He said there were many complaints against Rao and that he had met the deputy CM O. Panneerselvam at the secretariat during his stint at the south zone CBI.