With Asthana as Interim CBI Chief, CBI Resembles the Gujarat Bureau of Investigation

With Sharma, Modi and now Asthana, the CBI is filled with acquiescent officers, comfortable to the Modi regime

Rakesh Asthana
With the PMO (prime minister’s office) appointing Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, as the interim director of the Central Bureau of Investigation—violating rules and norms—that has already attracted legal action challenging the move, the Delhi-based CBI today resembles a ‘little Gujarat’ or the Gujarat Bureau of Investigation! Last year, Arun Kumar Sharma, an India Police Service officer from the 1987 batch, with a controversial record was transferred to the CBI as one of its joint directors.  Not only that, showing a clear ‘conflict of interest’, YC Modi who was part of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation tream (SIT) headed by none less than lack lustre former Director, RK Raghavan, was also brought in by Narendra Modi to the CBI last year. [While, according to the CBI website the former is in charge of the BS&F Zone: BS&F Delhi. BS&F Kolkata, BS&F Mumbai, BS&F Bangalore, the latter is AC(HQ)-I Zone, AC(HQ)-I Zone, SC(HQ) Zone, Mumbai Zone, Hyderabad Zone, Bhopal Zone]]
On December 6, a Public-Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court on Monday seeking quashing of government's decision of appointing Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, as the interim director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. The PIL also seeks appointment of a Court-selected person as the interim Director of CBI as well as a meeting of the selection committee, which consists of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the largest Opposition party and the Chief Justice of India, to appoint a regular director of the probe agency.

Gujarat-cadre 1984 batch officer Rakesh Asthana's elevation as interim director of CBI has been termed  as one of a series of steps by the Centre taken in a “completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Asthana was given the charge of CBI director“. As per the plea, the government did not convene a meeting of the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the chief justice of India, even though it was fully aware that Anil Sinha was going to demit the office of CBI director on December 2.

The PIL further states that the government took a series of steps in a "completely mala fide,arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Rakesh Asthana was given the charge of CBI Director and "prematurely curtailed the tenure of and transferred Mr. R K Dutta,Special Director, CBI, to the Ministry of Home Affairs". The PIL has been filed by Kamal Kant Jaswal, the president of Delhi based Common Cause through his counsel Prashant Bhushan.

The PIL cited the landmark judgment in Vineet Narain case in which the court had directed that there should be a selection committee to identify a panel of names for the appointment of Director CBI, and thereafter the final selection to be made by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC).The PIL also cited that the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, , which governs the CBI, was amended in 2003 vide the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act, 2003 to state that the Director CBI shall be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendations of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Vigilance Commissioners and two Secretaries to the Government of India.

"As the above mechanism was not found sufficient to insulate the CBI Director, Section 4A of the DSPE Act, 1946 was further amended vide the Lokpal andLokayuktas Act, 2013 (the Lokpal Act) to provide that the CBI Director shall be appointed by the Central Government on there commendations of the selection committee," the PIL read.

The central government had last week made Asthana, a Gujarat cadre 1984 batch IPS officer, the interim director as the current chief probe agency Anil Sinha relinquished his charge. The decision came two days after CBI Special Director R K Dutta, who was among the frontrunners for the top post, was shifted to the Home Ministry as a Special Secretary leaving the agency without a director for the first time in 10 years. The move has been speculated to be aimed at making it easy for Asthana to slip into this powerful position!

Asthana,who was serving as the additional director of the probe agency had previously headed the state SIT that probed burning of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra in February 2002. The SIT had then found that the burning of a coach of Sabarmati Express, which claimed lives of 59 people, was a "carefully planned and meticulously executed criminal conspiracy". 

 Caged Modi Parrot, the CBI ?
The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) fond of using the ‘caged parrot’ analogy for the CBI when several investigations against BJP strongman Amit Shah were launched by the agency under the orders of the Supreme Court of India (in and around 2010), appears to have no qualms of getting amenable officers into the powerful federal agency.
Scroll. In had reported how the Central Bureau of Investigation was then under pressure to hand over its highly sensitive Policy Division to the Gujarat police official whose name featured in the Ishrat Jahan encounter as well as the case involving the alleged spying on a woman architect when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state, highly placed officials said.

Arun Kumar Sharma, an India Police Service officer from the 1987 batch, was transferred to the CBI as one of its joint directors in April 2015. But he was not given any charge for a while. According to highly placed officials, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sent a clear signal to the CBI that Sharma should be given the charge of the Policy Division. But CBI director Anil Sinha, who is opposed to the idea, has refused to do this. Now with Asthana in the driver's seat, a change as per Modi's wishes could well take place.

The CBI insiders see in these Modi’s moves attempts to establish a direct channel with the supposedly autonomous investigative agency. “For a Prime Minister who has established his own direct link in different ministries through the secretary and joint secretary level officials bypassing ministers, it is only natural to try opening up a direct channel with the CBI bypassing its director,” said a CBI official.

Encounter case
Sharma’s name had appeared on a CD purporting to contain details of discussions between top Gujarat leaders and police officials to derail the investigations into the Gujarat police killing of Mumbai college student Ishrat Jahan in 2004. They claimed that she and the three men shot dead with her were on their way to Gujarat to kill Modi. The CD, which was submitted to the CBI by chargesheeted police officer GL Singhal, contained details of a meeting between Modi’s personal secretary GC Murmu, Sharma and a few other Gujarat ministers and policemen.

Sharma also featured in the claimed operation to illegally snoop on a young woman architect from Bangalore in 2009. The snooping had reportedly been ordered by minister of state for home Amit Shah for his “saheb”. Neither Amit Shah nor any of the police officials involved in the snooping operation has come out to explain who this “sahib” is. According to a senior BJP official in Gujarat, Sharma was very close to Modi when he was the state chief minister. Before being appointed as the CBI joint director in April, he headed Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch as special commissioner, a post created for the first time. Sharma, an IPS officer was IG (Intelligence) in the state in 2013 when Cobrapost and Gulail.com report on what has come to be known as ‘Snoopgate.’ Audiotapes released in the public domain claimed that the Gujarat police was used to conduct illegal surveillance on the movement of a Bangalore-based architect of Gujarati origin. Amit Shah was allegedly overseeing this surveillance
The Outlook had also reported last year how old loyalists from Gujarat were and are being rewarded with the bureau’s top posts; it won’t be long before one of them becomes director. “Can a prime minister or ruling party be faulted for stuffing a ‘caged bird’ with men they trust, notwithstanding their public pronouncements to the contrary? The answer lies in the shrugs and knowing smiles CBI insiders give you in response to the appointment of Y.C. Modi as additional director and Arun Kumar Sharma as joint director at India’s “premier investigation agency” in the last two months.

Belonging to the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, Y.C. Modi was part of the CBI team which investigated the Haren Pandya murder case. Pandya, a former home minister of Gujarat and a political rival of Narendra Modi, was gunned down in a park in Gandhinagar by alleged extremists in 2003. Pandya’s family, however, pointed fingers elsewhere and accused the CBI of derailing the investigation. The investigation by the CBI in the Haren Pandya case has been criticised by the Gujarat High Court.

The Gujarat High Court in 2011 acquitted 12 persons in the Pandya murder case and criticised the CBI for a “botched-up and blinkered investigation”. The judgement went on to these scathing words: “The investigating officers concerned ought to be held accountable for their ineptitude resulting in injustice, huge harassment of many persons concerned and enormous waste of public resources and time of the courts”.

The officer’s Gujarat connection was renewed in 2010 when he was inducted into the Special Investigation Team headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan to investigate the Gujarat riots. Giving a clean chit to the then Gujarat CM, the SIT felt there was not enough evidence to prove that Narendra Modi had either not done enough to stop the post-Godhra riots or had given oral instructions to officers to do nothing to stop the rampaging mobs. Was it a curious coincidence, the magazine had asked that YC Modi had investigated the three most important cases involving the post-Godhra violence, namely Gulberg society, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaam. The SIT investigation into these cases has been found to be far from professional by the Courts. Modi was also involved in the famed Zakia Jafri investigation in which, while the Raghavan-headed SIT has refused to charge sheet powerful politicians and bureaucrats but in which the amicus curaie appointed by the Supreme court, senior advocate, Raju Ramachandran had opined that there was enough evidence to prosecute the former chief minister of Gujarat.



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