SC seeks response of Centre, CVC on pleas challenging extension of ED head’s tenure

NEW DELHI, Aug 2 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response of the Centre and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in 10 days on a batch of petitions challenging the extension of tenure of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) director and the amended law allowing such extensions up to five years.

A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli issued notices to the respondents, including the Centre, CVC and the present ED Director, based on as many as eight petitions, including the ones filed by Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and Jaya Thakur and TMC’s Saket Gokhale.

Lawyer M L Sharma claimed to have filed the first petition on the issue.

“Issue notice to the central law agency. List after 10 days,” the bench said.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Surjewala, referred to the apex court judgements and said the fixed tenures 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 judgements 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, he said.

During the hearing, the bench was informed about the appointment process of the ED Director under the CVC and the FEMA laws.

Singhvi said unlike the CBI, the committee, which appoints ED Director, comprised only the executive.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan, appearing for one the petitioners, said the present ED Director would be completing four years in the post this year, and an ordinance was promulgated a few days before his retirement on November 18 last year extending his tenure by a year more.

Advocates Shashank Ratnoo and Varun appeared for Jaya Thakur, a Madhya Pradesh Congress leader who has filed a separate PIL in the matter.

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.

A total of eight petitions have been filed on the issue, mostly challenging the Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Act, 2021 which provides for extension of the term of ED’s 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 in its September 8 judgement on a petition of NGO ‘Common Cause’ had 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 that 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.