The Government of India has appointed seven individuals, including former Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana, to serve as “special monitors” for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). These appointments were made official on November 22, 2023, through an order issued by Under-Secretary Barjesh Kumania.
The order states that the seven individuals will assume their roles as special monitors with immediate effect and will continue in their positions until September 22, 2025. Each special monitor will oversee a specific thematic area related to human rights.
Rakesh Asthana will handle thematic areas pertaining to terrorism, counter-insurgency, communal riots, and Left-wing extremism. Muktesh Chandra, a retired IPS officer from the AGMUT cadre, will oversee cybercrime and artificial intelligence. Amitabh Agnihotri will focus on environmental issues, climate change, and human rights. Sanjay Agarwal will address elementary education and literacy, while R K Sama will manage water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Manohar Agani will take charge of public health, healthcare, hospitals (including mental health, HIV/AIDS, spurious drugs, diagnostics, and labs), and Jyotsna Sitling will oversee livelihood, skilling, and employment.
In 2021, just four days before his anticipated retirement, the Central Government appointed Asthana, an IPS officer from the 1984 Gujarat cadre, as the new Delhi Police Commissioner, a position he held until July 31, 2022. Asthana had previously served as the chief of the Border Security Force (BSF) and held additional charge of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Before Asthana’s appointment, Balaji Srivastava, an IPS officer from the 1988 AGMUT batch, was given additional charge as Delhi Police Commissioner, but he served only 27 days in that role.
Asthana’s career has been characterized by diverse experiences, having served in both state governments and at the Central Government level. He has twice served in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). During his first stint at the CBI, he played a crucial role in investigating the fodder scam, which ultimately led to the conviction of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav.
As a Special Director in the CBI, Asthana became embroiled in a public feud with then-CBI Director Alok Verma. At the height of this internal conflict, Verma filed an FIR against Asthana on October 15, 2018, alleging that a suspect in the Moin Qureshi case had been forced to pay Asthana Rs 2.95 crore through two middlemen to weaken the case against him. Asthana was eventually cleared of all charges, and the CBI admitted in the high court that there was no evidence to support the accusations against him.
The intense conflict between Asthana and Verma reached a boiling point, prompting the government to intervene at midnight on October 21, 2018. Both Asthana and Verma were placed on leave, and Nageswara Rao was temporarily appointed to oversee the CBI.