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Godhra probe officer gets CBI charge

The Narendra Modi government today appointed as acting CBI director a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, prompting questions why it had not picked a full-time chief despite having started the selection process five months back.

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui Published 03.12.16, 12:00 AM
Outgoing CBI chief Anil Sinha at the agency’s headquarters in Delhi on Friday. (Prem Singh)

New Delhi, Dec. 2: The Narendra Modi government today appointed as acting CBI director a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, prompting questions why it had not picked a full-time chief despite having started the selection process five months back.

Rakesh Asthana, a 1984 batch IPS officer, had as inspector-general overseen the initial probe into the Godhra train burning that culminated in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

"He is believed to be very close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. This must be the reason why the government preferred to appoint him as acting CBI director rather than going for a full-time director who may not enjoy its confidence," said a senior Union home ministry official.

This is the first time in 10 years that no full-time CBI chief has been appointed. Anil Sinha, the current chief, retired today. A CBI director enjoys a fixed two-year term.

Sources in the ministry said the process to select a new director had started in early July.

"The department of personnel and training (DoPT) had sought the names of eligible IPS officers and we had sent a list of around 40 in July. It's surprising that the government still chose to appoint an acting CBI director," another official said.

Asthana was moved out of Gujarat in April this year and appointed additional director in the CBI.

Before that, the government had appointed two "controversial" IPS officers, Y.C. Modi and Arun Kumar Sharma, in senior positions in the agency. Y.C. Modi was a former member of the special investigation team that had probed the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and given Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, a clean chit in a riot case. Sharma's name cropped up in connection with the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter investigation and also in a sting on the snoop scandal in Gujarat.

The appointments, cleared by the cabinet's appointments committee headed by the Prime Minister, had led to resentment within a section of the agency.

"The Prime Minister's fascination for bureaucrats from Gujarat was evident as 20 such officers were brought to Delhi within a year of his taking charge in May 2014. He trusts bureaucrats from Gujarat more than his ministerial colleagues," said a senior IPS officer posted in North Block.

Candidates for CBI director are shortlisted by DoPT, which has administrative control over the agency and reports to the Prime Minister's Office. The names are then sent to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) for clearance. Once approved, the names are sent to a collegium, comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India or his representative and the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

The collegium discusses the names and recommends its choice, though the final decision is taken by the Prime Minister-headed appointments committee of the cabinet.

"It seems the government decided to bypass the Opposition and that is why it did not go for the meeting of the collegium as it had decided to hand over additional charge to Asthana," said a former CBI director.

Asthana was elevated as second-in-command in the CBI only two days ago, after a special director, R.K Dutta, was shifted to the home ministry as special secretary.

"Dutta was among the front-runners for the top post. But the government shifted him out to pave the way for Asthana," said a home ministry official.

The move has led to resentment among those shortlisted for the top post, including a woman officer. "It's unthinkable, unfair and smacks of bias and favouritism. The government superseded several officers by giving additional charge to Asthana," said one of the candidates.

Former CBI director Joginder Singh said it was an open secret that ruling parties used the agency to settle "political scores". "The government of the day appoints people in the agency who have been close to them to suit their hidden agenda and the Modi government is doing the same," he said.

Today, a DoPT order said Asthana had been appointed by "the competent authority". "The competent authority has approved assignment of additional charge of the post of director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to Rakesh Asthana, IPS, additional director, CBI with effect from the date of relinquishment of charge by Anil Kumar Sinha, IPS on completion of his tenure with immediate effect and until further orders."

Sinha, the outgoing director, refused to comment on Asthana's appointment. Nor did he respond to questions on whether Gujarat cadre officers were calling the shots in the agency.

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