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New Delhi: Observing that a reasonable period of extension can be granted to facilitate completion of ongoing investigations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, September 8, dismissed a plea challenging retrospective change in the 2018 appointment order of Sanjay Kumar Mishra as director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
Upholding the Centre’s decision, a bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao and also comprising Justice B R. Gavai, made it clear however that extension of tenure of officers who have attained the age of superannuation should be done in rare and exceptional cases.
“Any extension of tenure granted to persons holding the post of director of ED after attaining age of superannuation should be for a short period. We do not wish to interfere with the post of second respondent in the instant case as the tenure is coming to end in November 2021.”
The court also made it clear that no further extension can be given to Mishra.
“We make it clear that no further extension shall be granted to the second respondent,” said the bench.
The NGO, Common Cause, had filed a plea challenging the retrospective change in the 2018 appointment order of Mishra as director of the ED. The apex court had asked for responses from the Union government and the Central Vigilance Commission.
Mishra, an Indian Revenue Service officer was appointed as the ED Director for two years by an order of November 19, 2018. Later, by an order of November 13, 2020, the appointment letter was modified retrospectively by the Union government and his two-year term was made for three years.
In November 2020, The Wire had reported on how Mishra, who is overseeing multiple cases of alleged money laundering against opposition leaders, received a one-year extension, days before of the end of his two-year fixed tenure.
The report had highlighted how Mishra’s extension comes under scrutiny over concerns of Central investigation agencies like the CBI, NIA and ED being increasingly used to quell opposition.
Among cases Mishra was overseeing was the alleged Rs 2,500 crore loan fraud in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank, along with money laundering, financial irregularity cases against the likes of former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda, senior Congress leader Motilal Vora, BSP leader Mayawati’s brother Anand Kumar, former UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shivkumar and Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra.
The ED is also probing the INX Media case in which Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram and his son are accused.
The ED, under Mishra, has also had several run-ins with international non-governmental organisations like Amnesty International.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had said Mishra could not have been given any extension since he reached the age of 60 years in May 2020 and such an illegal extension may have an impact of “destroying” the independence of the office of the Director.
The NGO also sought a direction to the Union Finance Ministry to appoint a director to the Enforcement Directorate in a transparent manner and strictly in accordance with the mandate of Section 25 of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003.
The top court said that a reasonable period of extension can be granted to facilitate the completion of cases of ongoing investigations only after recording the reasons by the committee constituted under Section 25 of the Central Vigilance Commission Act.
(With PTI inputs)