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The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the appointment of Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as Special Director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) saying it did not find any illegality in it.
“…We are of the considered opinion that the appointment of Shri Rakesh Asthana…to the post of Special Director, CBI does not suffer from any illegality,” a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said, dismissing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause.
A 1984-batch IPS officer, Asthana was appointed CBI Special Director on October 22, 2017.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan who represented the NGO had questioned the appointment claiming the CBI Director had raised objections to the same at the CBI Selection Committee meeting held on October 21. He alleged that Asthana’s name figured in a diary seized during raids carried out by the Income Tax Department on the premises of a company Sterling Biotech Ltd.
The counsel claimed that the officer had close relations with the firm which was under the lens and contended that it raised in questions of Institutional integrity.
The Centre, however, defended the posting saying he had an “outstanding career” and his promotion was recommended by the CBI itself in the past.
Attorney General K K Venugopal who appeared for the Centre told the court that the FIR had not named Asthana.
“The FIR is agaisnt unknown people and by the time it is proved, careers of people would have been lost”, the AG said. He also submitted before the bench minutes of the CBI Selection Committee Meeting held on October 21 in the officer of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and said the CBI Director, who was a special invitee to the meeting, had produced a confidential letter which had an “unsigned note on Sterling Biotech and related entities”.
“The Committee considered the matter and it was also discussed with the Director CBI. Keeping in view that there is finding in these papers that the person mentioned therein is the same person under consideration for appointment and there is nothing about the veracity of the contents of the document and the further fact that the CBI itself moved the present proposal on July 6, 2017 wherein it has been categorically stated that Rakesh Asthana is suitable to hold the post of Special Director CBI and no further verified material has been brought on record, the Committee decided to recommend him for the for appointment as Special Director CBI,” the AG said quoting the minutes.
The Court had reserved its order in the case on November 24 after hearing both sides.
Tuesday’s order said: “We cannot question the decision taken by the Selection Committee which is unanimous and before taking the decision, the Director CBI, had participated in the discussions and it is based on relevant materials and considerations. Further, even in the FIR filed by the CBI, the name of Shri Rakesh Asthana has not been mentioned at all”, the Bench said.
The court added “lodging of FIR will not come in the way of considering Shri Rakesh Asthana for the post of Special Director, after taking into consideration his service record and work and experience. From the Minutes of the Meeting (MoM) of the Selection Committee, we find that the news items reported in the print and electronic media that no decision was taken with respect to the appointment on the post of Special Director, CBI in the meeting of the Selection Committee held on 21.10.2017 are factually incorrect”.
Meanwhile, yesterday via social media, Bhushan alleged that CVC had sent a questionnaire to CBI seeking details on the note that raised doubts on Asthana’s integrity days after it cleared his promotion. He released a document purportedly signed by R N Nayak, Officer on Special Duty with the CVC, that asked the CBI whether the note was anonymous and whether the agency had verified it. It also asked for copies of documents mentioned in the note.
Bhushan said that while Asthana’s promotion was cleared by CVC on October 21, the questionnaire to CBI was sent on November 9. “After dismissing note of CBI Director objecting to promotion of Rakesh Asthana because he is being investigated in 5Kcr Sterling Biotech money laundering case, CVC writes on 9/11 (20 days after Asthana’s promotion) asking for authorship, verification & docs! Alice in Wonderland!” he wrote on Twitter.