The whistle-blower's ordeal
Asthana’s credibility cannot be diminished as CBI remains stuck in the controversial impasse
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – the prime Government investigating agency – is in news these days as the recent controversy of CBI and continuous interpretation and concern about the future of CBI, has raised more questions than it has answered. Continuous projection of corruption charges against both, Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, has created an impression as if both of them were involved in numerous doubtful activities. Though much on the expected lines, media is projecting this game of allegations and counter-allegations as the war between two crooks to make it a delicacy for newspapers and TV channels. However, it is virtually a war between a whistleblower and the retaliator.
I have known Rakesh Asthana for years together – as student, a teacher and as a super-cop – about whom RJD chief Lalu Prasad had once candidly and sportingly told me in a personal interaction in his Railway saloon while returning after the inauguration of Banka Railway station in Bihar - "Rakesh Asthana ko khareedna mushkil hi nahi namumkin hai." Even his former Boss Upen Biswas, who was in charge of the Bihar fodder scam investigation in CBI with Asthana part of his core team and reporting to him for 10 years, had marked Asthana as "incorruptible" in his last appraisal. And, that's why I have all the reasons and evidence to believe that he should be protected from any victimisation as per the rights that are given to a whistleblower under Chapter V of the Whistle Blower Protection Act 2011. Because Asthana did not prefer to keep mum on the information received against the misconduct of Director CBI and Chief Vigilance Officer–cum-Joint Director (Policy) or to go to Media or to lodge an FIR against those officers as per the powers vested under Criminal Procedure Code to him. But, this brave man took a conventional path in high position to maintain the institution's honesty and integrity and wrote to the Cabinet Secretary – the head of bureaucracy in India – on August 24, 2018. Not to forget, he could have written it directly to CVC, PMO, DoPT or Ministries and perhaps could have emerged a bigger blue-eyed boy. Instead, he brought the matter to the cognizance of the Cabinet Secretary in his letter and requested him to take appropriate action under the administrative norms and laws.
The Cabinet Secretary, in his own wisdom, took an unprecedented decision: He asked the Chief Vigilance Commissioner to look into the matter and submit the report after a thorough enquiry. And, that was the point from where the whistleblower started receiving retaliation. Despite repeated reminders, the CVC could not succeed in getting the files relating to the complaints, before the Supreme Court asked to do it in black and white.
Irked with his No 2's daredevil approach, the CBI director started looking for the ways to counter-blast the complaints by Asthana. On August 24, Asthana had written that Satish Sana had paid bribery to Verma as Sana had always managed to influence Verma to avoid any coercive action by the CBI. Asthana has categorically mentioned in his complaint with the Cabinet Secretary that how Verma called him on SIP phone on February 2, 2018, and instructed that Sana shall not be examined.
Similarly, in high-profile BNR Hotel Case, just one day before the searches to be carried out at premises of Fodder Scam convicted Lalu Prasad and his family members, Verma instructed Asthana to call off the search operation and consequently the air ticket of Joint Director – who was leading the operation, was cancelled.
There are many more things like how was the infamous Rs 30 crore-deal made with Y S Jaganmohan Reddy and who shared the spoils of the loot, transfer of Rajiv Singh from EOW Ranchi to AC-I New Delhi Headquarters despite his involvement in transfer of a bank fraud case, the less-publicised gold-smuggling case at IGI Airport – in which accused Saurav Sharma – anticipating safe passage from the top cops – was caught red-handed with 3,990 grams of gold and recommending a 91-batch officer R P Upadhyay for CBI. As Upadhyay was found using Nepal sim cards with Rajeshwar Singh and Vikas Mehta, to hoodwink the CBI telephone surveillance unit, his induction to the CBI was rejected by the special unit of CBI due to his doubtful integrity. It may be noted that Rajeshwar Singh was a Dy SP-rank officer in UP Police and after his deputation in Enforcement Directorate, he was permanently inducted there.
Now, come to the 'counter' FIR against Asthana! It was all set to stop Asthana to become the next CBI chief – by any hook or crook. On the basis of the statement of the same Satish Sana – who is an accused in Asthana's complaints with the Cabinet Secretary – an FIR against Asthana was lodged. There was neither any demand for a bribe, nor was there any proof of accepting the bribe, nor was there any motive found of taking a bribe against Rakesh Asthana relating to the Sana case. No evidence was produced - neither in the court nor in the FIR - that any amount is received or even if Asthana has spoken to the accused. The whole purpose of the FIR and attempt of arresting him was to prevent Asthana from becoming the next CBI Director, for which he is completely eligible.
To change the perspective of the probe against Alok Verma and to prove him 'one among equals', allegations were designed in the funniest ways like he used to ask for free chill-chicken or he had links Dinesh Chandhok. The allegations against Asthana that his name featured in the Sterling Biotech case was also explained to the CVC long back. It was the Sandesara Group that took Asthana's house on rent for which he received cheque payment and disclosed to the government long back. The other entries of some monetary transactions were explained by Sterling Biotech and this was not related to their regular business and financial transactions with another business entity.
One must not forget that the real issue before the Court today is the serious allegation of corruption against Alok Verma, which is more serious in nature, and the primary CVC investigation has also not given a clean chit to him. Not to forget, the Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph had also categorised CVC's report into four parts as "complimentary, very complimentary, not so complimentary and very uncomplimentary" for the CBI director.
The involvement of the Joint Director (Policy) A K Sharma's family – which is learnt to be operating shell companies like Niveshan Ventures, Evolve Project and Management Consultancy Private Ltd, Whitecube Brine Science Private Ltd, Meta World Ecotech Private Ltd, Brevity Enterprises and ItwingsInfosyastem Private Ltd, in partnership with dubious individuals, who are on the CBI list of undesirable contact men and where crores of money was deposited, also requires a more thorough investigation.
Similarly, whether it is giving a safe passage to Vijay Mallya to flee the country or meeting Rs 600 Crore IDBI bank loan accused Shivashankaran in a hotel room, or to save the various land frauds in Gurgaon, many bigger challenges are ahead for the Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, whatever stance Supreme Court takes in these matters will certainly be in accordance with the law and against the law-breakers. But, one thing is pretty certain: A whistleblower should never be compared with the offenders. After all, this is not a country, which follows 'Ulta chor kotwal ko daante'.
(The author is a senior journalist.The views expressed are strictly personal)