New Delhi: The rift at the top in India’s leading investigative agency is out in the open with reports of a fallout between the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana.
While the agency declined to comment on the development, central government officials said that “it was not the job of the government to get involved in every controversy or fight".
The Indian Express on Monday reported that the agency, in a letter to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), had made it clear that the special director had not been given any powers to represent the director, in the latter’s absence.
In response to a CVC letter, asking the “officer holding charge of the CBI director" to attend a 12 July CBI selection committee meeting, the probe agency had stated that “the charge/powers of the director, CBI, have not been given to" Asthana, and had urged the CVC to postpone the meeting to 19 July. Verma, who was on an official tour to Uruguay, arrived in India on Tuesday.
Another senior officer, who did not wish to be identified, said: “The rift between the director and the special director is known. Asthana’s appointment was strongly opposed by the director. So it stands to reason that in Alok Verma’s absence, officiating powers were not vested with Asthana."
Asthana was appointed CBI’s special director in October 2017, following which his appointment was challenged in the Supreme Court by a non-government organisation (NGO), represented by Prashant Bhushan on grounds of “institutional integrity", as Asthana’s name had allegedly cropped up in a matter that was being investigated by the CBI.
Asthana has spearheaded several cases, such as the AgustaWestland scam, the coal scam and the probe against liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
He also headed a special investigation team to investigate the 2002 Godhra Sabarmati Express burning case, and had given Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat chief minister, a clean chit in the communal violence that ensued.
Asthana had also served briefly as the interim CBI chief in 2016.