A Petition has been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the elevation of Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer Rakesh Asthana as the Special Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The Petition, filed by the NGO Common Cause, contends that Mr. Asthana has been appointed in violation of the principles of “impeccable integrity” and “institutional integrity”.
It submits that as per Section 4C of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, the Special Director needs to be appointed by the Central Government on recommendation by a Committee comprising the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Vigilance Commissioners (VCs) and Home Secretary and Secretary (Personnel), in consultation with the CBI Director.
The Petition then claims that Mr. Asthana's appointment was categorically objected to by CBI Director Mr. Alok Verma, who had reasoned that Mr. Asthana's name figured in an ongoing corruption probe by the agency.
The investigation pertains to a diary obtained from the premises of Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech and Sandesara Group of Companies at Mumbai, Vadodara and Ooty. Mr. Asthana's name had allegedly surfaced in this diary for accepting bribes from the companies.
As per the Petition, despite the Director's objection, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), comprising the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, had issued the order of his appointment the next day.
It relies on an article published by The Pioneer, wherein renowned investigative journalist J. Gopikrishnan had claimed that the reason for opposition to the proposal was an issue pertaining to the “integrity clause”.
A report published by The Hindu has also been cited, which quotes a member of the selection committee as stating, "…the meeting did take place on Saturday but no decision was taken. Members of the committee were divided on Mr. Asthana’s promotion and we decided to meet again on Monday."
This was, however, rebutted by CVC Mr. K.V. Chowdary, who had asserted during a press conference that the decision to appoint Mr. Asthana was unanimous. He had further said that the CBI Director is not a member of the selection committee and is only required to be consulted.
Laying out the factual position, the Petition then asserts that the opinion of the CBI Director had been overlooked and contends, "While there is no clarity over what actually transpired in the selection committee and whether its recommendation in terms of Section 4C was in fact obtained on 21.10.2017, it is clear that the Government and the selection committee overruled the opinion of the Director, CBI in violation of the law on the purport statutory consultation as laid down in various judgments referred to hereunder."
It goes on to assert that the appointment is invalid, as the views of the CBI Director cannot be ignored without giving cogent reasons for the same, explaining, "This is specially so because the Additional Director (as Respondent No. 2 was before his promotion) works under the CBI Director and the latter is in the best position to judge the merits and suitability of the proposed appointee. The opinion of the CBI Director, therefore, ought to have been given the highest regard and should not have been overruled without sufficient reason."
The Petition also brings to light the fact that Mr. Asthana has failed to file his property returns for the year 2016, which is mandatory for empanelment in the CBI.
It, therefore, submits, "...the appointment of Respondent No. 2 (Mr. Asthana) to the post of Special Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is arbitrary, mala fide and in violation of the principle of impeccable integrity and institutional integrity as laid down by this Hon’ble Court. The aforesaid attributes are sine qua non for an appointment to a key position in an integrity institution such as the CBI. A proper appointment as per the statutory law is necessary for upholding the rule of law and for enforcement of the rights of the citizens under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India."
The Petition then seeks that his appointment be quashed and he be transferred out of the CBI during the pendency of the investigation in the corruption case.