The Punjab and Haryana high court has extended the stay on the transfer of key Enforcement Directorate (ED) officer Niranjan Singh from Jalandhar to Kolkata, even as the premier investigating agency argued that he was transferred keeping in view “his excellent track record” for an “important assignment”.
Niranjan, an assistant director with the ED’s Jalandhar office, was transferred by the directorate on January 16. He was leading the ED team that was probing money laundering allegations in the Rs 6,000-crore drug racket and had quizzed Akali cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, among others, in the case.
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 politicians of Punjab’s ruling alliance are facing allegations.
On Monday, the ED asked the court to vacate the stay on the transfer. However, the court questioned as to whether this particular officer was the only remedy left with the ED. “There are good officers here and there. Transfer somebody else there or promote some junior officer...” the court observed, while extending the stay on the transfer till February 26, the next date of hearing.
The ED submitted that D Kar, assistant director posted at Kolkata, retired on November 30, 2014, following which the special director (eastern region) requested the head office on December 24, 2014, for posting some “experienced and competent investigating officer” at Bhubaneswar (Orissa) for handling the large volume of sensitive cases.
The directorate has argued that Niranjan was an officer with an “excellent track record” of handling complex and sensitive cases and was among the very few assistant directors of the ED to be awarded with a commendation certificate by the agency.
“After a discussion between the director, enforcement, and special director (eastern region), it was decided that the directorate would need an experienced officer at the Kolkata zonal office to handle the sensitive and complex cases of Kolkata as well as of Bhubaneswar,” the ED has reasoned, stating that keeping in view the “suitability for the task”, Niranjan was selected for the “important assignment”.
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 and summoned the record pertaining to Niranjan’s transfer from the ED.
The directorate has also argued that the investigating agency was facing a shortage of manpower and as against the sanctioned posts of 2,064 officials, only 685 were available. It has further stated that with an ED assistant director, 250 posts of other officials are sanctioned, but there are only 130 persons working at the moment with each AD.
State government files affidavit
The state government filed an affidavit in response to former director general of police (DGP) Shashi Kant’s allegations that action was being taken only against ‘small-time drug peddlers’ by the state police and his argument that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) due to the ‘slow pace’ of investigations by the state police. The government has submitted that in the past six months, nearly 170kg heroin was recovered and on 32 occasions, seizures of more than 5kg heroin were made. It has argued that a number of high-profile persons were also arrested by the state police. It has submitted that the police have taken the initiative to neutralise cross-border drug transit lines and targeting both street drugs and pharmaceuticals drugs. It also submitted that so far, five reports had been submitted to the court -- in January, March, May and July, 2014 -- and one on January 16, 2015, and on several occasions, the HC had also shown satisfaction with the probe by state agencies.
During the hearing on Monday, the Lawyers for Human Rights International submitted before the court that the CBI be directed to give details on the extradition of those involved in the drug case and also a report on the Border Security Force (BSF) move to seal the borders to neutralise drug transit.
December 26, 2014: ED quizzes Majithia at its Jalandhar office
January 16, 2015: ED assistant director Niranjan Singh transferred from Jalandhar to Kolkata
January 21: HC stays transfer order following an application filed by a lawyers’ group