New Delhi: If exiled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma’s responses to Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) queries are to be believed, his deputy in the CBI Rakesh Asthana, the prime minister’s office (PMO) and BJP leader Sushil Modi worked together to book Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav in the IRCTC scam.
The Supreme court intervened in the CBI war between Verma and Asthana to allow the CVC to inquire into allegations of procedural irregularities against the CBI director. The CVC has submitted its report to the bench. However, the apex court has asked the commission to also share the report with the CBI director so he has a chance to challenge it.
The Wire recently published a story on Verma’s testimony before the commission: Not only did Verma refute each allegation, he also held the Narendra Modi government and its disrespect for the CBI’s autonomy responsible for the crisis in the agency today.
One of the accusations Asthana had made was that Verma deliberately weakened the case against RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. The CBI director not only denied this, but countered that Asthana, who was leading the probe, might be politically motivated.
CVC’s queries and Verma’s responses
The CVC asked some specific questions to Verma regarding the IRCTC scam investigation.
First, it asked why he opted for a preliminary enquiry in the IRCTC case instead of a regular case (RC), for which Asthana had sought permission.
Verma replied that Asthana, then an additional director (AD), had “suppressed the fact that a complaint related to the same matter was sent to the CBI in 2013-14 and was closed”.
The case also had a “political angle”, Verma said, adding that “the then AD, Mr Rakesh Asthana was in constant touch with Sushil Modi, a senior BJP leader from Bihar” and that “a senior official in the PMO was constantly following up on the case”.
Given the political sensitivity of the case, and possible law and order problems in Bihar, Verma thought it was better to follow due process and exercise caution, instead of rushing through a case that was almost 11 years old (the case pertained to 2004-06).
He asked the director of prosecution (DoP), the senior-most law officer in the CBI, and the additional legal advisor (ALA) to go through the legal merits of the case.
He further says the reason he recommended a preliminary enquiry was that both the law officers in the CBI said that “the evidence was weak and more material should be collected before registering a RC”.
He adds that the “political fallout” – the end of the alliance between Nitish Kumar and Lalu, and the formation of a new coalition government – in the following days “justified the need to be extra-cautious”.
The curious case of Rakesh Saxena, IRCTC director
Second, the CVC asks why Verma did not include Rakesh Saxena, the then IRCTC director, who according to Asthana was an important link in the case, as an accused.
Verma says that nobody, including Asthana who was heading the probe, brought this to notice when the regular case was registered following the preliminary enquiry. He says that Asthana was making this allegations as an “afterthought” only after the CBI booked him in a corruption case.
“From the IO (investigating officer) up to the joint director”, no one raised the issued of the missing name, Verma says, adding that a search proposal dated July 4, 2017 could verify this.
He says that this specific allegation is therefore “factually incorrect”.
Verma goes on to say that only when the draft FIR (lodged on July 4, 2017) was approved by Verma, Asthana raised the issue of Saxena’s name being missing on July 5. He then approved his deputy’s recommendation to include Saxena as an accused immediately.
“…the non-inclusion of his (Saxena’s) name appears to be an oversight lapse on the part of supervising officers and not a reflection of the Director, CBI’s orders,” Verma says. He adds that premises of two individuals, Manoj Agarwal and S.K Nayak, whose names were not mentioned in the regular case, were searched by the CBI team. So there was no reason why Saxena’s house could not be raided if Asthana felt strongly about it.
“However, no such efforts were made,” Verma says. “To rake up the issue after one year is nothing but a desperate attempt to deflect attention from his own criminal misconduct.”
In yet another counter-allegation, the CBI director further says that, as is evident in file notings, the IO in Patna felt that “the case against Saxena is not adequately proved” but the supervising officers overruled his observation.
He adds that the IO was not convinced about the role of role of either Saksena or the main accused Lalu, or “for that matter the whole case”. He alleges that Asthana failed in his duty to monitor the case well.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar knew about CBI’s plans
Verma also says that the CBI director feared that law and order problems could arise as a result of the agency’s searches at deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav’s residence and the houses of two former chief ministers. He says he was also concerned about the safety of his officers.
So, Verma says, “…since the senior official of the PMO was constantly in touch enquiring about the progress of the case, I had expressed these concerns to him.”
“A decision was taken to inform the chief minister, Bihar and take him to confidence,” the CBI director says, adding that the the raids were conducted as planned.
He goes on to say, “If the commission intends to verify these events, I can disclose to the commission the name of the senior PMO official and ‘other” persons who were privy to the discussions and probably involved in winning the confidence of the Bihar chief minister.”