The Narendra Modi government on Friday defended its decision to curtail the tenure of senior IPS officer RK Dutta at CBI before the Supreme Court, saying it was done in accordance with the law and the process to appoint a new director for the agency had already begun.
Responding to a petition challenging senior Gujarat-cadre police officer Rakesh Asthana’s nomination as interim director, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the court that there was no malafide intention in the appointment
A government affidavit filed later in the day hinted at the possibility of Asthana taking over as the CBI top boss, an apprehension the petitioner – NGO Common Cause – expressed during the hearing.
“I state and submit that it is a consistent practice followed in the CBI to give charge of the post of Director, CBI, to an officer who will work as an acting director,” read the affidavit.
On Dutta’s new assignment, Rohatgi said he was heading a sensitive post in the ministry of home affairs where he will be coordinating between all intelligence agencies. The new department headed by him was one of the several steps the government has taken to combat terrorism, he told the bench.
Dutta’s exit from the probe agency was done in pursuance of section 4C of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act and was approved by a special committee. The provision empowers the government to extend or curtail the tenure of a CBI officer.
Asthana, an IPS officer of 1984-batch, was elevated as CBI’s additional director on December 2 when its special director RK Dutta, who was reportedly among the frontrunners for the top post, was shifted to the home ministry as a special secretary.
Rohatgi told the bench that for appointing a full time director, the Chief Justice of India-led high-level committee will convene a meeting by December end. The committee also comprises the Prime Minister and leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha.
“The meeting could not take place due to unavoidable circumstances like the on-going parliament session, advancement of presentation of budget and several pressing and complex issues like combating menace of black money, matters of national and border security,” Rohatgi said when the bench sought to know why the meeting wasn’t convened prior to the last director’s retirement date.
The bench then fixed January 17 to hear the petition, saying it would like to wait for the outcome of the meeting.
Petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan argued the government should not consider Asthana for the CBI director’s post because he was not eligible as per a SC judgement.
To this Rohatgi said that the government was aware of the judgement and would not take any decision in contravention to the ruling.