New Delhi: In an abrupt turn, just a day after being conditionally reinstated by the Supreme Court, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma was removed by the high-powered selection panel on Thursday. He has been made director-general of fire services, civil defence and home guards, while former interim chief M. Nageswara Rao will continue as the CBI director.

Significantly, the casting vote of Supreme Court judge A.K. Sikri swung the decision of the panel that was split between an aye by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a nay by the representative of the opposition, Congress member of Parliament Mallikarjun Kharge.

Implicitly, it validates the charges levelled against Verma by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. The selection panel’s decision came after a perusal of the report of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) detailing infractions by Verma.

Politically, it strengthens Modi, just as it deals a blow to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been levelling allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and accusing the government of muzzling CBI.

“By removing Alok Verma from his position without giving him the chance to present his case, PM Modi has shown once again that he’s too afraid of an investigation, either by an independent CBI director or by Parliament via Joint Parliamentary Committee," Congress tweeted on Thursday.

At the same time, with this distraction behind it, the country’s premier investigative agency will be able to restore its energies in its ongoing investigations of several high-profile cases. These include the 14,356 PNB fraud case, the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam and the ongoing INX Media case against former finance minister P. Chidambaram.

“The director’s chair is sacrosanct and it has been made a mockery of. There are so many important cases, which need to be looked into, and not a soul will take CBI seriously now. It has become a joke where the two top leaders have bickered and now one has been unceremoniously shunted out after being charged with corruption," a former official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the turf war between Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana.

The former official said the situation was “unique and has never happened in the history of the CBI".

According to senior officials aware of the developments, the committee took into account the “extremely serious nature of observations made by the CVC against Alok Verma".

The committee, these officials added, was of the view that “being the head of a very sensitive organization, Verma was not functioning with the integrity expected of him".

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Additionally, CVC found evidence of influencing of the probe into the Moin Qureshi case.

“There was also evidence of a 2 crore bribe. CVC was of the view that his conduct in the case is suspicious, and there is a prima facie case against him. In the IRCTC case (involving former railway minister Lalu Prasad), the CVC felt that it can be reasonably concluded that Verma deliberately excluded a name from the FIR, for reasons best known to him," says the committee report.

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