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Selection Committee justifies Asthana’s appointment because there is no finding that he and the one mentioned in the seized papers are the same!

The Attorney General, K. K. Venugopal, today disclosed the minutes of the Selection Committee meeting, which recommended Rakesh Asthana for appointment as the Special Director, CBI. The meeting was held on October 21, and Asthana was appointed on October 22 by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), comprising the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

The AG disclosed the minutes during his submissions before the Supreme Court bench of justices R. K. Agrawal, and Abhay Manohar Sapre, which heard the petition filed by Common Cause, NGO, challenging Asthana’s appointment, on the ground that it violated the principle of institutional integrity.

Ironically, the minutes of the meeting disclose the fact that the CBI Director, Alok Kumar Verma, submitted an unsigned note opposing Asthana’s appointment, because his name figures in an ongoing corruption investigation being carried out by the CBI.

The minutes acknowledge that the committee considered the note, submitted by the DCBI. “It is mentioned by DCBI that the entries in the note refer, inter alia, to one Shri Rakesh Asthana. The committee considered the note and the matter was discussed with the Director CBI.   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 6.7.2017, wherein it has been categorically mentioned that Shri Rakesh Asthana IPS (GJ: 1984) is suitable to hold the post of Special Director CBI, and no further verified material has been brought on record, the committee decided to recommend him for appointment as Special Director, CBI.”

The minutes have added a new twist to the controversy, because if the identity of Asthana mentioned in the papers seized by the CBI and Asthana appointed as Special Director, CBI, are one and the same, it appears the Selection Committee would not have recommended him for appointment. That the Selection Committee did not accept the view of the DCBI on its face value, is a telling commentary on its functioning.

The Selection Committee was chaired by CVC K. V. Chowdary, and attended by two Vigilance Commissioners, who are its members. The Secretaries of Home and DCBI attended it as special invitees. The Secretary DoPT was absent for personal reasons.

Section 4C of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act provides that appointments to the posts of Superintendent of Police and above shall be made by a committee comprising the CVC, VCs, and Home Secretary and Secretary (Personnel), in consultation with the DCBI.

During the hearing before the Supreme Court, the AG sarcastically told the bench that Prashant Bhushan has got every single document, except the minutes, which he claimed was not disclosed to him under the RTI Act.   And the minutes, the AG claimed, reveals why Asthana was appointed as the Special Director.

The AG told the bench that it is usual for the critics of the proposed appointee to gather materials adverse to him, on the eve of his appointment, in order to influence the selection committee. This happens in the case of appointment of Judges, he told the bench, which seemed to agree with him.

Earlier, Prashant Bhushan, during his hour-long submission before the Court, alerted the bench to the fresh disclosures in the second affidavit regarding Rakesh Asthana’s son’s employment with the tainted company, under investigation, and his daughter’s pre-wedding reception at a farmhouse, owned by the same company, last year.

Bhushan claimed that the CBI’s investigation has hardly progressed after the filing of the FIR, whereas the Enforcement Directorate, has arrested a middle man, after filing its FIR. Calling the appointment as totally illegal, Prashant Bhushan said the DCBI has special knowledge about the investigation under progress, and therefore, his view must have prevailed over the Selection Committee. The Selection Committee cannot disregard DCBI’s view without stating valid reasons, he told the bench.

Citing the 2011 CVC case in which the Supreme Court struck down the appointment of the then CVC, P. J. Thomas, he said “institutional integrity” is more important than personal integrity. The case involves Rs.5000 crores of money-laundering, and payments made to a large number of public officials, he told the bench. Can the CBI investigate it in a free and unbiased manner, with Asthana as the Special Director, he asked the bench.

Reading paragraphs 43 and 47 of the CVC judgment, Prashant Bhushan said, if the DCBI’s view does not prevail now, we are in serious trouble.   He added that Asthana’s empanelment was also wrong because he did not file his property returns, as revealed by the Income Tax (Vigilance). The CBI registered its second FIR in the case on October 25, after the appointment of the Asthana as the Special Director. The first FIR was filed in August.

Questioning Asthana’s continuance of even as the Additional Director in the CBI, after the filing of FIR, Prashant Bhushan narrated the sequence of events suggesting undue haste on the part of the Centre to formalize Asthana’s promotion as the Special Director.

The AG, however, relied on the absence of any adverse reports against Asthana during his career so far, and his “unblemished” role in many ongoing high-profile probes. He suggested that the FIR could take its own course, and Asthana’s elevation as the Special Director would not come in its way, as the FIR does not name him.

The AG, however, chose to be silent on the fact that the materials gathered by the CBI during its investigation implicate Asthana.

The bench disclosed that it would pronounce its order in the case on November 28.

Read minutes of the Selection Committee below:

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