Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition challenging the appointment of senior Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as a special director of the CBI. It found ‘no illegality’ in the appointment of Asthana as special director of the CBI on October 22. A bench led by Justice R K Agrawal 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.” Prior to his elevation as special director, Asthana was additional director, CBI. While dismissing the plea of Common Cause, an NGO, the apex court also reiterated that once there was a consultation, it is beyond the scope of judicial review, though lack of effective consultation could be examined.
The NGO had alleged that the 1984-batch officer’s appointment was done in violation of rules and regulation. Its counsel Prashant Bhushan had challenged Asthana’s appointment on different counts, including his name figuring in a 2011 secret diary, which was recovered during an income tax raid, carrying the details of alleged payments made by a Surat-based company to several people. Common Cause had 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.
Rejecting the arguments, the court said that in the FIR filed by the CBI on August 30, 2017 Asthana’s name was not mentioned at all. “Thus, lodging of FIR will not come in the way of considering Asthana for the post of special director, after taking into consideration his service record and work and experience,” it said. After going through the minutes of the selection committee meetings provided by attorney general K K Venugopal, the SC also found the news reports as factually incorrect which stated that no meeting had taken place on the appointment of special director on October 21.
The court noted that the selection committee has even discussed the secret and an unsigned note was produced by the CBI director. The committee found that it was not clear if the note was about the same Asthana and further there was nothing about the veracity of its content, the court said. The Centre had defended Asthana’s appointment as special director, saying that he had an unblemished record and that just a few months ago he was described as an ‘outstanding’ officer by the investigating agency itself.