Less than a month in office is too short a tenure for anyone to be judged. Still, one must admit that the new Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has started on a very impressive note in terms of fair play and jurisprudence by giving a balanced verdict in the high-profile CBI case.
He has evidently delivered a blow to the hopes of the Congress and the opposition, which had been demanding reinstatement of the outgoing CBI director Alok Verma, by not questioning the investigations on charges of alleged corruption and favourtism ordered against Verma by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.
But, at the same time, he has directed a retired SC judge to monitor the probe while directing the CVC to complete the investigation in two weeks. Plus, the acting CBI director M Nageshwar Rao has been directed not to take policy decisions till the next hearing in the case on November 12.
The judgement shows great maturity and a sense of fair play on the CJI's part.
Meanwhile, the outgoing CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, whose spat with Verma on the posting of controversial officers started the battle between the two, has challenged the CVC order to send him on leave.
The CJI had to step in to mediate the Asthana vs Verma controversy. (Photo: PTI)
Asthana's plea is that his fight with Verma, resulting in the latter filing an allegedly false FIR against him in a built-up corruption case, started when he opposed the posting of officials recommended by him in the CBI since they were apparently controversial, with issues reportedly of integrity .
Sources close to Asthana say he paid the price for upholding the honour of the CBI and for that, he should apparently, they suggest, be rewarded and not punished.
Asthana has had an impressive record as a police officer. His past tenure in the CBI was also very good where he played a key role probing the fodder scam involving Lalu Prasad Yadav. As an investigator, he has enjoyed the reputation of being an officer who takes the case he is handling to its logical end. He also proved the conspiracy theory correct in the 2002 Godhra train burning case while heading the SIT in this case.
While he is being targeted by the opposition now for allegedly being close to the BJP, it shouldn't be forgotten that he also played a key role in the prosecution of convicted godman Asaram Bapu, when a section of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a unit of the Sangh Parivar, was defending him. Says former CBI joint director Shantanu Sen, "Asthana has worked under me in the fodder scam. He is a very fine officer."
Interestingly, Asthana, in his petitions to the CVC, had been demanding that an independent probe in the form of an SIT be set up on Verma's charges against him in which he said three CBI officers including Verma shouldn't be there in the interests of a fair probe.
Asthana now has an opportunity to prove himself innocent.
Significantly, the money entries worth Rs 3.80 crore in a diary of Sterling Biotech (a Vadodra-based company being probed for a Rs 5,000 crore bank fraud ) which were being attributed to Asthana by his rivals have now been owned by another company as part of its transactions with Sterling Biotech.
The probe, of course, continues.
Asthana being sent on leave seems a blow to the Modi government as he was handling important cases like those of Vijay Mallya and AgustaWestland; it is said that very few officers have skill and commitment like his to take such cases to their logical end.
In a petition before the court, Asthana has now sought squashing of the FIR against him, alleging that he had taken Rs three crores from one Sathish Babu Sana in the Moin Qureshi case.
While all concerned parties will be watching the SC-minotired probe closely, a positive finding for Asthana could vidicate the officer.