Asthana as Delhi Police chief raises eyebrows

Two petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court alleging that the apex court’s guidelines have been flouted. The criteria of having a minimum tenure of two years had been ignored, one of the writs says

The appointment of Rakesh Ashthana, an Indian Police Service officer of 1984 batch of Gujarat cadre just days before his superannuation as Delhi Police Commissioner has raised eyebrows. Courtesy his new appointment on July 27, 2021, four days before he was to retire, Asthana now will have a tenure of one more year.

Two petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court alleging that the apex court’s guidelines have been flouted. An NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, has moved the Supreme Court challenging the appointment of IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as the police commissioner of Delhi just four days before his retirement in alleged violation of the apex court directions and various central government rules. In its petition filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, the NGO has sought quashing of the order appointing Rakesh Asthana as the Delhi police commissioner.

The grounds for challenging the appointment of Asthana:

Violation of the directions issued by the apex court in the Prakash Singh case; Asthana did not have a minimum residual tenure of six months; The criteria of having a minimum tenure of two years had been ignored.

Violation of Fundamental Rule 56(d), which stipulates that “no Government servant shall be granted extension in service beyond the age of retirement of sixty years”.

The Centre did not have the power under Rule 3 of All India Services (Conditions of Service-Residuary Matters) Rules, 1960, to relax Rule 16(1) of the All India Services (Death-Cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958, to give extension of service to Asthana.

Violation of policy on inter-cadre deputation of All India Services officers as prescribed under the department of personnel and training office memorandum dated 08.11.2004.

No UPSC panel was formed for appointment of the Delhi police commissioner; and the criteria of a minimum tenure of two years was ignored.

The petition said that the July 27 orders issued by the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) and the Centre appointing Asthana as Commissioner of Delhi Police need to be quashed and a fresh appointment process initiated for choosing an

officer from AGMUT cadre for appointment as police commissioner. The AGMUT is a cadre for Arunachal Pradesh, Goa Mizoram and other Union Territories including Delhi.

Earlier, a contempt petition was filed in the top court by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma submitting that Asthana’s appointment went contrary to the top court’s March 13, 2019 judgment in the Prakash Singh case requiring any officer appointed as director general of police to have a residual tenure of six months for appointment. Asthana had four days to retire as on July 27.

The petition filed by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma on July 30 says that  Asthana’s appointment is in violation of a July 2018 judgment of the top court, which said the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) should consider those officers for such appointments who have two years of service left. The order by the Ministry of Home Affairs said Rakesh Asthana who was serving as the Director-General of the Border Security Force (BSF) has been appointed as the Delhi Police Commissioner with immediate effect for a tenure of one year. In June this year, after the superannuation of SN Shrivastava, Delhi Commissioner of Police, Balaji Srivastav was given the additional charge of Commissioner of Police.

It may be recalled that Rakesh Asthana has in the past too been in the eyes of storm. A NGO, Common Cause, had a few years back approached the Apex Court challenging Asthana’s appointment as Special Director on the grounds that his name had figured in a 2011 diary seized from Sterling Biotech — a company being probed by the CBI for money laundering. Asthana was not named in the FIR but was presumably the subject of an ongoing investigation by his own agency.

Asthana was entangled in a bribery controversy along with Alok Verma, Special Director CBI in a corruption scandal; both accused each other of bribery and subsequently asked to go on leave by the Government, on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission.

It was a most unusual case as for the first time in the history of the country, the appointment of a serving top officer of India’s premier police investigating agency was questioned because he was himself being investigated in a corruption case by the same agency. The person concerned Rakesh Asthana, was appointed as Special Director of the CBI by an order issued by the appointments committee of the cabinet comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh. This appointment was challenged through a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by the non-government organisation Common Cause on the ground that Asthana is not a person of “impeccable integrity.”

Asthana has held a number of important positions in his career, including those of inspector general of police, Vadodara, joint commissioner of police, Ahmedabad city and commissioner of police in Surat and Vadodara. He was part of the special investigation team (SIT) appointed by the Gujarat government to inquire into the infamous Godhra train burning episode in 2002. Asthana is allegedly close to the powers that be.  In April 2016, Asthana was posted as additional director of the CBI. Later he also served as acting/interim director of the CBI for a brief period after Anil Sinha demitted office as CBI director. This was the first time in a decade that the CBI had not been headed by a full-time director for over a month, that is, till Alok Verma was appointed to the position of CBI director.

Later Verma and Asthana were sent on leave on the recommendation of the CVC by the Government of India. Verma went to the Supreme Court of India to appeal and Asthana to Delhi High Court. The Supreme Court cancelled the decision

to send Verma on leave and Verma was reinstated as CBI director two months later with the instruction that he not take any major decisions till the Selection Committee decides his fate over the corruption charges.

To his credit are several important cases that he handled successfully. Rakesh Asthana has in his career handled several sensitive cases including the Fodder Scam, a corruption scandal that involved embezzlement of about 9.4 billion from the treasury of Bihar and in this case a charge sheet was filed against former chief minister and senior leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav leading to his arrest.

In another high profile case, Asthana caught the DGMS Director General taking bribes in Dhanbad.  He was also given the responsibility of investigating the bomb blast on July 26, 2008 in Ahmedabad and he reportedly solved the case in less than a month. Rakesh Asthana had also examined the case of Bapu Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. The absconding Narayan Sai was caught on the Haryana-Delhi border.

The newly appointed Delhi Police Commissioner in his first interaction with media after taking over as such observed, “Delhi Police has a brilliant past. Lot of good work has been done by the force in the past. Lot of complicated cases have been solved. Lot of complicated situations have been handled by the Delhi Police. I believe in team work and I hope with this team work, we will be able to put the best foot forward for the betterment of society and prevalence of peace,” he underlined. Meanwhile, in his first big overhaul as Delhi Police Commissioner, Rakesh Asthana has transferred seven IPS officers showing he is the new boss.