The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday softened its stand on the transfer of key Enforcement Directorate (ED) officer Niranjan Singh, who is probing the Rs 6,000-crore Jagdish Bhola drug racket, from Jalandhar to Kolkata.
The high court asked the ED if Niranjan's transfer had to be made, an officer from among the best in the directorate should be transferred to Jalandhar to oversee the probe.
"We are not passing an order on this. You look into this aspect as well... why don't you put one of these (commendation certificate holder) officers here?" the bench of justice Satish Kumar Mittal and justice Deepak Sibal said in the open court hearing.
On February 2, the HC had refused to vacate the stay on the transfer, questioning whether this particular officer was the only remedy left with the ED for an "important assignment" at the Kolkata office. The ED had argued that Niranjan was an officer with an "excellent track record" of handling complex and sensitive cases and that was why he was transferred.
Assistant solicitor general Chetan Mittal, appearing on behalf of the ED, informed the court on Thursday that the drug probe was a continuing investigation. "We have filed the first complaint in 2014 and the second in the case is to be filed before the trial court on March 2," he said, defending the ED's move and further arguing that the transfer would in no way hamper the drug probe. Mittal also informed the court that a special director for the northern region had also been appointed on February 2. However, the HC asked Mittal to seek instructions from the ED again.
Niranjan, an assistant director with the ED's Jalandhar office, was transferred by the directorate to Kolkata on January 16. He was leading the ED team that was probing money laundering allegations in the drug racket and had quizzed Akali cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, among others. The officer's transfer had triggered a political storm as it was being seen as a ploy to keep him away from the drug probe in which some top politicians of Punjab are facing allegations.
A lawyers' group, the Lawyers for Human Rights International, which is a party in the drug case, had filed an application, questioning the timing of the government move (transfer order), following which the HC had stayed the order on January 21. The stay on Niranjan's transfer would continue till further orders.