Supreme Court: The bench of RK Agarwal and AM Sapre, JJ dismissed the plea challenging appointment of senior Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as a special director of the CBI.

Refusing to interfere with the unanimous decision taken by the Selection Committee, the Court said:

“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. Thus, 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.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO Common Cause, had argued before the Court that Rakesh Asthana’s appointment was illegal as his name had surfaced in a diary recovered during a raid conducted by the Income Tax department. He argued that the diary showed the name of Rakesh Asthana as having received an illegal gratification from a company and CBI has recently registered an FIR for money laundering against the accused firm and some public servants. Demanding quashing of Rakesh Asthana’s appointment, the petitioner has also sought a direction to the Centre to transfer him out of the agency during the pendency of investigation.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, on the other hand, argued that Rakesh Asthana had an outstanding career and was looking after eleven zones and supervising high- profile scams including that of AgustaWestland, Kingfisher, Moin Qureshi and Hassan Ali.

Going through the minutes of the meeting of the Selection Committee, the Court noticed that though the secret/confidential letter dated 21.10.2017, furnished by the Director, CBI, enclosing an unsigned note on M/s Sterling Biotech Ltd. and related entities had referred to one Rakesh Asthana, there were no findings in the 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. No further verified material was brought on record and the Committee decided to recommend the name of Rakesh Asthana for appointment as Special Director, CBI.

The Court hence held 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 were factually incorrect. Also, the statement of the Professor of the University of London reported in the Indian Express appears to be based on the newspaper reports which have been found to be factually incorrect, and therefore, it has no substance. It was, hence, held that the appointment of Rakesh Asthana to post of Special Director, CBI does not suffer from any illegality. [Common Cause v. Union of India,  2017 SCC OnLine SC 1374, decided on 28.11.2017]

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