New Delhi, August 25: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Delhi High Court to decide within two weeks the plea pending before it challenging the appointment of senior IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as Delhi Police Commissioner.
The 1984-batch IPS officer was shifted to the Union cadre from Gujarat cadre and appointed Commissioner on July 27 -- four days before his superannuation on July 31 – for a tenure of one year.
A bench comprising Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant permitted the NGO 'Centre for Public Interest Litigation' (CPIL) to move the Delhi High Court to intervene in the pending plea against Asthana's appointment.
"We request the Delhi High Court to consider the matter as early as possible in two weeks for us to have the benefit of the high court's judgement. The petitioner (CPIL) is at liberty to file intervention application (before Delhi HC)," it said in the order.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, opposed the PIL saying the matter pertained to the appointment of police chief of a state and the high court concerned should deal with it.
He said the high court may be granted some more time instead of two weeks as so far no notice has been issued to the Centre which will have to file its response.
The petition, moved by advocate Prashant Bhushan, urged the court to set aside the Centre's order to appoint Asthana after extending his service period.
At the outset, the CJI expressed his inability to hear the PIL saying, “I had expressed my views during the selection of CBI Director”.
The CJI, in an earlier meeting of the high-powered selection panel, which also comprised the Prime Minister and the leader of opposition, had put forth the legal position which reportedly led to non-consideration of Asthana for being appointed as the CBI Director.
"There are two issues. One is about my participation... I had expressed views about the selection of this gentleman in the CBI Director selection. Second thing...as somebody has filed a petition in the High Court, rightly or wrongly. We understand that time is of the essence of the matter. So, we will fix a time limit of two weeks for the high court to decide the case and we will have the benefit of the high court judgment also,” CJI Ramana said.
Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, alleged foul play, saying sometimes “ambush petitions” simply resorting to “cut-paste” are filed in collusion with the government.
The bench gave Bhushan the liberty to intervene in the pending petition or file a fresh one before the high court.
Mehta said a similar plea was pending in the high court and the NGO be asked to move there and asked which fundamental right of Bhushan has been violated leading him to file the petition in the apex court.
Bhushan retorted that on his petition the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner was annulled in the past, and Asthana's appointment has been done by "egregious violations of rules" resulting into violation of fundamental rights of citizens.
The government has displayed “brazen violation of rule of law” and gave extension of service by appointing Asthana few days before his retirement, he said.
The conditions have been laid down by the apex court in the Prakash Singh’s case that recommendation has to come through the UPSC and the officer should have a minimum six months of service left at the time of appointment, Bhushan said.
"So far as ambush petitions are concerned, less said is better. We have professional PIL litigants, who file surrogate pleas at behest of people who lost out in the race," Mehta said towards the end of hearing.
The NGO urged the apex court to direct the central government to produce its July 27 order approving the inter-cadre deputation of Asthana from Gujarat cadre to AGMUT cadre.
It termed the extension of his tenure as well as appointment as “illegal” as he did not have a residual tenure of mandatory six months of service at the time of his appointment as Commissioner of Police since he was to retire within four days.
It also claimed that the order violated the “Fundamental Rule 56(d)” which stipulates that that ‘no government servant shall be granted extension in service beyond the age of retirement of sixty years.’
“The central government did not have the power under ‘Rule 3 of All India Services (Conditions of Service- Residuary Matters) Rules’, to relax Rule 16(1) of the All India Services (Death-Cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, in order to give extension of service to Rakesh Asthana,” the PIL claimed.
CPIL further claimed that the Centre’s order violated the policy regarding inter-cadre deputation of All India Service Officers.
“The impugned orders are in clear and blatant breach of the directions passed by this court in the Prakash Singh case as Asthana did not have a minimum residual tenure of six months, no UPSC panel was formed for appointment of Delhi Police Commissioner, and the criteria of having a minimum tenure of two years has been ignored,” it said.
“The appointment of Asthana to the post of Commissioner of Police, Delhi must be set aside on the same principle,” it said.
On July 3, 2018, the top court had issued a slew of directions on police reforms in the country and ordered all states and Union Territories not to appoint any police officer as acting Director General of Police (DGP).
It had also directed all states to send the names of senior police officers to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for being considered as probable candidates to be appointed as DGPs or Police Commissioners as the case may be.
The UPSC, in turn, will prepare a list of three most suitable officers and the states will be free to appoint one of them as police chief, it had said.
Besides, it said that endeavour should be made that a person appointed as DGP has reasonable period of service left.