In a setback to Special CBI Director Rakesh Asthana, the Delhi High Court on Friday refused to quash an FIR against him in a case involving bribery allegations filed by the agency.
Justice Najmi Waziri directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to conclude investigation involving Asthana, who had a running battle with ousted Director Alok Verma, within 10 weeks.
The court said law treats everyone equal and Asthana being a agency official, cannot claim privilege or immunity.
The court observed that the grievance of the Asthana is that he is a senior officer and his integrity cannot be doubted.
But the court said: "The law does not entertain personalities. It treats all equally."
The court also observed that no sanction to prosecute Asthana is required in the case and cancelled its interim order that has granted interim protection from arrest to Asthana and suspended Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Devender Kumar.
"...When act of public servant is criminal, such sanction is not necessary," the court said.
Asthana has told the court that as per Section 17A, which was newly inserted after the 2018 amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act, prior sanction is necessary for investigation involving a serving officer.
He has also told the court that no sanction has been issued by the competent authority, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
"The purpose of Section 17A can be read to be only to provide protection to officers/public servants who discharge their official functions and/or duties with diligence, fairly, in an unbiased manner and to the best of their ability and judgment, without any motive for their personal advantage or favour," the court said.
"A public servant cannot be possibly left to be under the constant apprehension that bonafide decisions taken by him/her would be open to enquiry or inquiry or investigation, on the whimsical complaint of a stranger."
The court said: "...it is equally important principle that the law presumes a person to be innocent till proven guilty. All persons against whom investigations are initiated would be presumed to be innocent till such time that they are proven guilty."
The court, while rejecting the pleas of Asthana, Kumar and alleged middleman Manoj Prasad seeking quashing of FIRs against them, said that allegation against them are serious in nature.
Asthana has said the cases were registered against them in an illegal manner with a mala fide intention.
The court said that allegation of "mala fide" has not been made out against the probe agency.
The counsel for ousted CBI Director Alok Verma has justified the agency's action against Asthana, saying the registration of FIR was in compliance with all existing laws, regulations and after following due procedure.
"For the sake of public servant and indeed for all concerned, it is best that the investigations are conducted expeditiously and the integrity of the public servant which comes under a cloud because of the investigation is either restored or determined as per law," the court said.
However, it allowed Asthana to file appeal against the order in the higher court.
According to the CBI, Kumar fabricated the statement of Sathish Sana Babu, a witness in the businessman Moin Qureshi case, showing he recorded the statement on September 26, 2018, in Delhi.
However, the investigation revealed that Sana was not in Delhi that day. He was in Hyderabad and joined the investigation only on October 1, 2018.
The CBI has registered an FIR against Asthana, Kumar and two others, alleging that they took bribes at least five times between December 2017 and October 2018.
Asthana, a 1984-batch IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre, is accused of accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a businessman who was being probed in the Qureshi case to "wreck" the investigation. The case was being examined by a special investigation team headed by Asthana.
As the battle between Asthana and Verma escalated, Verma was on October 23-24 night divested of his charge and Joint Director M. Nageshwar Rao was made the interim Director. Asthana was also divested of all his supervisory responsibilities.
The government took the decision after Verma and Asthana accused each other of taking bribes.
Verma was finally removed as CBI chief on Thursday by a high-level committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by a 2-1 majority.
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