New Delhi: Calling them “pressure tactics”, the government on Monday questioned in the Supreme Court the bonafide of the PILs filed by political leaders challenging the extension of tenure of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) chief and the amended law allowing such extensions up to five years.
The top court, which fixed as many as eight PILs, including those filed by politicians Randeep Singh Surjewala and Mahua Moitra, for final disposal on September 19, also appointed senior advocate KV Viswanathan as amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assist it in dealing with the pleas.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat took note of the submission of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, that the reply of the government was ready and will be filed.
I have to raise one specific issue…that is except one or two, all the petitions have been filed by political leaders belonging to parties whose eminent leaders are being investigated by the agency (ED), and these PILs are not bonafide PILs but it’s is a pressure tactics, the government’s law officer said.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Surjewala, referred to the apex court judgements and said fixed tenures of officers like the ED director are the hallmark of independence and the fact that an incumbent may get an extension will demolish the independence of the office.
Surjewala’s plea has challenged the amendment made by the central government to the fundamental concept decided by the apex court in two judgments in the Vineet Narayan and the Common Cause cases which were on fixed tenure.
“…this amendment basically puts the incumbent on a fiduciary kind of pattern where one year, two year and three year extension at the discretion of the executive can be achieved. The amendments provide that you can get extensions piecemeal, he said.
The fact that an officer can get the extension in itself demolishes the independence of the office, he contended.
The top court had issued notices on the PILs filed by Surjewala and Jaya Thakur, both Congress leaders, TMC MP Moitra, Saket Gokhale, Krishan Chander Singh, Vineet Narain and Manohar Lal Sharma on August 2.
Advocate M L Sharma, who has filed the plea in his personal capacity, said the impugned ordinance was passed in violation of the constitutional scheme.
The PILs have mostly challenged the Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Act, 2021 which provides for extension of the term of the ED director up to five years.
The Centre had on November 17, 2021 extended the tenure of ED chief Sanjay Mishra by a year till November 18, 2022, days after the Centre brought ordinances to allow the ED and CBI directors to occupy the office up to five years.
Mishra is a 1984-batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer of the Income Tax (IT) cadre.
The apex court had, in its September 8 judgement on a petition of NGO Common Cause, said a reasonable period of extension can be granted to facilitate the completion of ongoing investigations only after reasons are recorded by the Committee constituted under Section 25 (a) of the CVC Act.
It had also made it clear that no further extension can be granted to Mishra.
The court had also stated an extension of tenure of the director should be for a short period.
“We do not intend to interfere with the extension of tenure of the second respondent (Mishra) in the instant case for the reason that his tenure is coming to an end in November, 2021…
“We make it clear that no further extension shall be granted to the second respondent,” the bench had said.