"The interim order to continue till the next date of hearing, that is, November 14," said Justice Najmi Waziri before whom the CBI opposed Asthana's plea seeking quashing of the FIR, stating that there was incriminating material against the special director in the case, the investigation of which was at the nascent stage.
In reply to the petitions by Asthana and Deputy SP Devender Kumar who was on Wednesday granted bail by a trial court, the CBI said it was "handicapped" in its probe against them as the case files and documents have been sent to the CVC for scrutiny following the Supreme Court's order directing the vigilance body to complete an inquiry against CBI Director Alok Kumar Verma by November 12.
Kumar, earlier the investigating officer in a case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi, was arrested on the allegations of forgery in recording the statement of businessman Sathish Babu Sana who had alleged to have paid bribe to get relief in the case.
The CBI, Asthana, Kumar and the Centre opposed in the high court the plea of Additional Superintendent of Police S S Gurm to be heard in the matter. Gurm has been transferred from Delhi to Jabalpur in the wake of a feud between Verma and Asthana.
The court was hearing separate pleas of Asthana and Kumar seeking quashing of CBI's FIR against them in the bribery case.
The proceedings also witnessed a controversy when there was a verbal spat between two advocates as to who will represent the Central Bureau of Investigation in the matter.
Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, who came for the first time since the matter came up for hearing in the high court on October 23, said he has been instructed to appear for the CBI.
Advocate K Raghavacharyulu, who has been appearing for the CBI, opposed the appearance of Banerjee, contending that he has been appointed by the agency to represent it from the beginning when the petition was filed by Asthana.
"I have been appointed as the special public prosecutor in the case," Raghavacharyulu submitted before the court which did not comment on the issue.
Later, Banerjee said he will seek instructions from the competent authority and make it clear for the high court as to who among the two will appear on behalf of the probe agency.
When the judge, after some time, took up the similar quashing petition of middleman Manoj Prasad, the ASG was not present in the hearing which invited the attention of the court.
When the court asked where was the ASG, Raghavacharyulu said his instruction was that he has to represent the agency.
The court interjected and said, "He (ASG) is also the counsel. If he has instructions to appear in this court, he will appear. Anyway, if he is not here, you (Raghavacharyulu) proceed."
During the hearing, the SPP said they have complied with the court's order and filed responses to the pleas of Asthana and Kumar.
Advocate Sunil Fernandes, appearing for Gurm, said he was the officer who lodged the FIR and there were certain material facts which he wanted to bring on record as they were concealed by Asthana.
His application to be impleaded as a party in the matter was opposed by the counsel of CBI, Centre, Asthana and Kumar who said Gurm has no locus standi to be heard here.
ASG Banerjee urged the court not to pass any order on it at this stage and he would seek instruction on it.
Senior advocate Amrendra Sharan, appearing for Asthana, requested the court not to issue formal notice on Gurm's plea and it should first hear them.
To this, Fernandes said there was unanimity on both sides so there was all the more reason for the court to hear his plea.
The court said it would hear on November 14, the pleas of Asthana, Kumar and Prasad and also the application of Gurm.
On Prasad's plea, the court said it was not persuaded to issue notice at this stage and made it clear that there was no stay on anything, including ongoing investigation.
The high court on October 23 had ordered the CBI to maintain status quo on proceedings against Asthana which was further extended on October 29 till today.
The October 23 order had made it clear that the agency would not take any coercive step against Asthana.
In the reply, the CBI said, "This court categorically held that when an FIR is challenged by way of a writ petition, more particularly, in Prevention of Corruption Cases, allegations in the FIR are to be seen whether they disclose the cognisable offence or not and the roving enquiry at this stage is impermissible."
"It is submitted that the FIR and the complaint clearly discloses the cognisable offences and accordingly the CBI has registered the FIR and proceeded with the investigation."
The agency told the high court that there cannot be a roving enquiry now as the probe was at the nascent stage and several incriminating documents and role of other persons was under investigation.
"It is submitted that the investigation is at nascent stage. Being at this threshold, it may not be in the interest of the investigation to disclose various aspects or revelations or unearthed events," it said.