Monday, 30th October 2017

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Plum post with ‘upgrade’ for Rakesh Asthana

From CBI to DG of bureau of civil aviation security, at a time when he faces serious corruption charges

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 19.01.19, 4:43 AM
  • Updated 19.01.19, 9:41 AM
  • 3 mins read
Government sources said the decision to 'rehabilitate' Rakesh Asthana was taken 'at the highest level'. The Telegraph file picture

The Centre appointed Rakesh Asthana as director-general of the bureau of civil aviation security immediately after removing him from the CBI on Thursday night, “temporarily upgrading” his new post as well, prompting many officers to raise questions of “propriety”.

The “plum” posting for Asthana, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, comes at a time the Gujarat-cadre IPS officer is being probed on serious corruption charges that Delhi High Court has refused to quash.

An office memorandum from the home ministry announced Asthana’s new appointment “on lateral shift from CBI, as director-general, bureau of civil aviation security (BCAS) in Level-16 of Pay Matrix by temporarily upgrading the post of director-general, bureau of civil aviation security to that of DG level, on personal basis, for a period of two years….”

Government sources said the decision to “rehabilitate” Asthana was taken “at the highest level”.

Questions have been raised also on the transfers of two other CBI officers, who were part of the team probing bribery charges against Asthana, to less significant posts.

Joint director Arun Kumar Sharma, who was supervising the Asthana probe, has been transferred as an additional director-general to the CRPF. Deputy inspector-general Manish Kumar Sinha has been sent to the Bureau of Police Research and Development.

Both Sharma and Sinha are considered close to former CBI director Alok Verma, who was sacked last week on the basis of charges levelled by Asthana.

“The elevation of Asthana, who is being probed for at least six corruption cases, says a lot about the government’s intentions. The plum posting raises questions of propriety,” an IPS officer attached to the home ministry told The Telegraph.

“It’s surprising to see Asthana bag a plum posting even after being removed from the CBI under a corruption cloud while two other agency officers are shunted out for probing the allegations against him,” a CBI officer said.

“This is gross injustice. This sends out a message to upright officers to either toe the line or face the consequences.”

Sharma had placed material against Asthana in the high court and alleged he was the kingpin and main beneficiary of a racket that squeezed money out of those facing investigations.

Sinha, who had won the President’s medal, had been among the officers transferred hours after the midnight purge in the CBI on October 23-24 night.

Challenging his transfer in the Supreme Court, Sinha had aired explosive charges, including a businessman’s allegation that a serving Union minister had taken a bribe to settle a case and that the national security adviser had intervened in the probe against Asthana.

He had claimed the agency was carrying out a bogus probe because of political interference while the Enforcement Directorate had become an “extortion directorate”.

“Sinha’s transfer will probably make his apex court petition infructuous now. It seems the government has been able to sweep the allegations against some of its top bureaucrats under the carpet,” a CBI officer said.

A colleague echoed him: “The government has killed two birds with one stone.”

The Bureau of Police Research and Development, to which Sinha has been sent, is a Union home ministry arm tasked to modernise the police.

“A posting there is regarded as inferior, especially considering Sinha was investigating high-profile cases in the premier agency. It seems the investigative acumen of officers does not matter to this government,” a CBI officer said.

The post of an additional director-general in the CRPF too is considered insignificant for an officer like Sharma who was joint director (policy) in the CBI and was supervising all its high-profile cases.

In contrast, the bureau of civil aviation security is a regulatory body and an independent department under the civil aviation ministry. Its main responsibilities include setting the security standards for civil flights at international and domestic airports.

On January 11, Delhi High Court had not just declined to quash the FIR against Asthana but also vacated the interim protection from arrest it had given him. It had asked the CBI to complete the probe against the officer within 10 weeks.

“Asthana has the dubious distinction of being the only serving head of the bureau of civil aviation security against whom a corruption FIR has been registered and a probe is pending,” a bureau official said, requesting anonymity.