Rakesh Asthana, a former officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), was appointed Delhi Police Commissioner on Tuesday, just three days before his retirement. A Union Home Ministry order on Tuesday evening said Mr Asthana, currently the Director General of the Border Security Force, would head the Delhi Police with a year's extension in service granted "in public interest".
Two months ago, Mr Asthana was ruled out of the race for the post of CBI Director because he was about to retire. When a panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in May to select a new chief investigator, Chief Justice NV Ramana reportedly raised a Supreme Court decision that officers with less than six months left in service should not be considered for police chief posts.
That ruled out at least two names on the government's shortlist, including Mr Asthana, who was to retire on July 31.
His appointment as Delhi Police chief was enabled by an extension granted "as a special case", according to an order from the Appointments Committee of Cabinet comprising PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
The order said Mr Asthana was getting an "inter cadre deputation" from the Gujarat cadre to AGMUT (from where Delhi Police chiefs are picked) and his service was being extended "initially for a period of one year beyond the date of his superannuation... as a special case in public interest".
Mr Asthana's appointment has come as a surprise to many who see him as an outsider. After SS Jog and Ajayraj Sharma, he is the third officer from other cadres to be given the top police post.
The outgoing police chief, Balaji Srivastava, was given additional charge barely a month ago after SN Shrivastava retired.
A 1984-batch IPS officer, Mr Asthana was moved out of Gujarat to the CBI as Special Director after the BJP-led government came to power in 2014.
Then CBI chief Alok Verma had opposed the appointment of Mr Asthana, who was described by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as "the PM's blue-eyed boy".
The CBI's top two officers had a bitter public feud that peaked when Mr Asthana faced a long investigation into bribery allegations.
Mr Verma was removed from the post of CBI director by the government after he ordered an FIR against Mr Asthana on corruption charges.
In 2018, both officers -- Mr Verma and Mr Asthana -- were allegedly put on a list of possible targets for surveillance using the Israeli spyware Pegasus, which is sold only to governments.
News portal "The Wire" reported last week that Mr Verma was put on the list just hours after he was sacked and Mr Asthana a few hours later. Mr Verma was also a Delhi Police Commissioner before being appointed a Director of the CBI.
Mr Asthana was removed from the CBI in 2018 and made the Director General of Civil Aviation Security in January 2019.
He got a clean chit from the CBI in February 2020 in connection with allegations of accepting bribes from fraud-accused pharma company Sterling Biotech.
In March 2019, he was cleared by the CBI in another bribery case, linked to meat exporter Moin Qureshi.