Centre defends Asthana’s appointment, SC reserves order

New Delhi, Nov 24 (IANS) The Centre on Friday defended Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana’s appointment as CBI Special Director, saying he has an unblemished record and just a few months ago he was described as an “outstanding” officer.

The Centre said this to Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, who reserved order on NGO Common Cause’s plea seeking quashing of Asthana’s elevation as Special Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Before being appointed Special Director, Asthana was the Additional Director, CBI. The court said the order would be pronounced on November 28.

Common Cause has raised questions regarding Asthana for his alleged proximity to Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech Group — a company of the Sandesara Group, which is being investigated by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.

“The company is under investigation by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged money laundering involving Rs 5,000 crore and Asthana’s name figuers in a diary seized by the Income Tax Department in 2011,” lawyer Prashant Bhushan told the court challenging his appointment as Special Director on several counts, including the principles of institutional integrity.

He told the court that Asthana was appointed as CBI Special Director even though CBI Director Alok Verma had opposed the proposal to appointment him or his continuation in the agency.

Bhushan said as per the government rules, he had not declared his assets in 2016 and that itself disqualified him from being even considered for appointment to a higher post.

Defending the decision of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that the selection committee had unanimously approved Asthana’s name for appointment as Special Director.

To buttress his point that Asthana’s selection was unanimously approved, the Attorney General placed before the court the minutes of the selection committee meeting of October 21, 2017.

The selection committee comprised Chief Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chowdary, Vigilance Commissioners Rajiv and T.M. Bhasin, Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba as well as special invitees — CBI Director Verma and CVC Secretary Nilam Sawhney.

Although the Secretary of the Department of Personnel and Training is also a member of the selection committee, he was not present.

The minutes refer to the “secret/confidential” letter submitted by Alok Verma on “Sterling Biotech Ltd & Related Entities”. The entries in the note refer inter alia to a Rakesh Athaanaa.

“The committee considered the note and the matter was also discussed with the Director, CBl,” reads the minutes.

The minutes further say: “Keeping in view that there is no 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 06.07.2017 wherein it has been categorically mentioned that Rakesh Asthana IPS is suitable to hold the post of Special Director, CBl and no further verified material has been brought on record, the committee decided to recommend him for appointment as Special Director, CBI.

“The committee has also kept in view the fact that the Vigilance Commission does not take cognizance of the complaints received just on the verge of appointments or promotions unless they are proven misconduct. The committee has also noted the decisions of the court in respect of such documents,” it reads.

The court was told that Asthana was now supervising 11 zones including Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Patna, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and North-East.

He was also supervising investigations into AugustaWestland case, ambulance scam case, Kingfisher cases, Hasan Ali Khan case, Moin Qureshi case, J.P. Singh bribery case, Paramount case, chit fund Scam cases of West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, coal scam cases and iron ore scam cases of Bihar and Jharkhand.

The petitioner NGO had in December 2016 moved the top court for quashing the appointment of Asthana as interim Director of CBI after former Director Anil Sinha demitted office.

To make Asthana an interim Director, just two days before Sinha was to retire on December 2, 2016, then Special Director R.K. Dutta was transferred to the Home Ministry by creating a post of Special Secretary by upgrading by two layers the post of Joint Secretary.

The top court had issued notice to the Centre on Common Cause’s plea on December 9, 2016.

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