SC notice on plea for quashing Asthana’s appointment as interim CBI chief

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the central government on a PIL by NGO Common Cause challenging appointment of Rakesh Asthana as an interim Director of CBI alleging that it amounts to government interference in the agency’s functioning and seeking it be quashed.

Issuing notice, the bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice R.F. Nariman sought the government’s response on the question if the tenure of the former Special Director R.K. Dutta was curtailed in accordance with the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act by which CBI was established says that the tenure of an officer could only be curtailed on the recommendation of a committee having tje CVC and other senior raking secretaries to the Central government.

The government has to reply by December 16 – the next date of hearing.

Two days before the incumbent Anil Sinha was to retire, Dutta was shifted to Union Home Ministry as Special Secretary, Internal Security after a post of joint secretary was elevated by two layers to accommodate him.

Describing the government action as being “unprecedented, extraordinary” and “sinister” , counsel Prashant Bhushan appearing for Common Cause told the court that the government action completely destroys the objective of insulating the CBI from government interference.

Bhushan told the court that Dutta who started his career as Superintendent of Police in the investigating agency rose to the rank of Special Secretary in last 15 years was an expert in investigating anti-corruption matters, whereas Asthana had served CBI only for two years.

The court was told that Dutta was Director General, Anti-Corruption in Lokayukta police when Justice Santosh Hegde was the Lokayukta in Karnataka, and was also associated with the investigation of 2G and coal scam cases

Bhushan accused the government for not convening the meeting of the selection committee comprising Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India for deciding on the successor of Sinha well ahead of his retirement.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that letters for the convening of the selection committee have already been sent. The Chief Justice has sought accommodation for a few days bemuse of his prior commitments and the meeting would take place soon.

Mehta also said he would take instructions whether the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act were complied with before curtailing the tenure of Dutta and shifting him to the Home Ministry.

The petition by Common Cause has pointed out that it was for the first time in one decade that an interim director was thrust on the investigating agency. It said that the process for the appointment of Sinha’s successor should have commenced well in advance.

This shows that the “Government wanted to appoint its own choice as Interim CBI Director, even if it meant bypassing the statutory law, the norms of propriety, and the directions (of the apex court) … in Vineet Narain’s case”.