CBI Chief Alok Verma Back To Work, With Wings Clipped, After Court Win

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CBI Director Alok Verma has been reinstated as the probe agency's chief by the Supreme Court

New Delhi:

CBI chief Alok Verma today returned to his office in Delhi for the first time in three months, a day after he was reinstated by the Supreme Court, which scrapped an October government order divesting him of his powers and sending him on leave.

Alok Verma's 10th floor office at the CBI headquarters in Delhi had been sealed after he was sent on compulsory leave around 2 am on October 24 and replaced by an interim chief, M Nageswar Rao.

While reinstating him, the Supreme Court said Mr Verma cannot take any major policy decisions for now, until a high-powered select committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India meet and decide on his status. The committee has to give its report within a week.

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Sources say Mr Verma can still file First Information Report (FIRs) and sign off on transfers, given interim chief Nageswara Rao's decisions in the past three months.

Alok Verma had challenged the government's October 23 order arguing that the CBI chief has a fixed two year term and can be removed only by the high-powered committee.

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Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, the CBI's top two officers, were both sent on leave in October in the middle of a bitter feud between them.

Mr Verma's term ends on January 31.

In election season, the top court's ruling was seen as a huge setback for the BJP-led government, which has been accused by the opposition of manipulating the Central Bureau of Investigation and misusing it against rivals.

Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, the CBI's top two officers, were both sent on leave in October in the middle of a bitter feud between them. Around 2 am, Nageswar Rao took charge and signed off on the transfer of half-a-dozen officers on Mr Verma's team.

Mr Asthana remains on forced leave. There is also no decision on the transfers.

During hearings, the government had argued that it had no option but to send both officers on leave since they were fighting like "Kilkenny cats". The Central Vigilance Commission, whose recommendation had spurred the government order, also defended the decision, saying "extraordinary situations need extraordinary remedies."

The Supreme Court had also asked Mr Verma to respond to a vigilance report on him in a sealed envelope. The vigilance inquiry followed corruption charges swapped by Mr Verma and Rakesh Asthana. The CBI Director was accused by Mr Asthana of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman being investigated by the agency. Mr Verma has accused Mr Asthana of the same crime.

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