The Supreme Court on Friday sought explanations from the government on appointing Gujarat-cadre officer Rakesh Asthana as acting director of the CBI after curtailing the tenure of a more senior officer.
A bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman sought to know why senior CBI officer R K Dutta was moved out of the agency merely two days before the last director Anil Sinha was set to retire. Dutta was in contention for becoming the next CBI chief owing to his seniority.
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“You address both these issues. First, the core issue on the meeting of the selection committee to select the new chief and second, how did you curtail the tenure of R K Dutta,” the bench told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the government.
The court underlined that under Section 4-C of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the tenure of a senior CBI official could be shortened only after a due approval of a committee, which comprises Central Vigilance Commissioner, Vigilance Commissioners and Secretaries in the ministries of Home Affairs and DoPT.
“Did you take permission of the committee before curtailing his (Dutta’s) tenure? This is a requirement under the Act,” the bench asked Mehta, who said he would check and revert.
Appearing for PIL petitioner NGO Common Cause, advocate Prashant Bhushan also raised the question why Dutta, who was supervising investigations in 2G as well as coal block allocation cases, was shifted out of the CBI without permission of the special benches in the Supreme Court, which were monitoring the probes.
“This is unprecedented. They transferred Dutta out with a sinister design to have an officer of their own choice. They are frustrating the objectives of judgments of this court and are hell bent on destroying the independence of the CBI,” said Bhushan.
Mehta, on his part, said that a meeting of the selection committee to pick a regular CBI director was on the anvil. “Letters have been issued to the Chief Justice of India and leader of largest opposition party in Parliament. The Chief Justice of India has written back saying he has some difficulty to attend the meeting for a few days. So the meeting will convene thereafter,” stated the ASG.
The bench then issued a formal notice to the government and asked Mehta to file affidavit explaining the position by December 15.
The PIL has alleged that the Centre took a series of steps in a “completely malafide, arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Asthana was given the charge of CBI director”.
It said the government did not convene a meeting of the selection committee although it was fully aware that Anil Sinha was going to demit the office of CBI director on December 2.