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Govt defends Asthana as Delhi police commissioner

Both Asthana’s transfer to AGMUT, and his appointment with only four days to go for his retirement, have been challenged in court.
Delhi Police commissioner Rakesh Asthana’s appointment had been challenged in the court. (PTI)
Updated on Sep 17, 2021 05:16 AM IST
By Richa Banka, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Justifying the appointment of Rakesh Asthana as Delhi Police commissioner, the Union government on Thursday told the Delhi high court that most officers at the appropriate level from AGMUT (the cadre of IPS officers for Union territories) did not have sufficient experience of policing in a vast and sensitive state or elsewhere for appointment as the top cop of the city.

It also told the court that the Prakash Singh case, which mandated that anyone being appointed police chief of a state needs to have six months of service left, does not apply to Union territories.

Both Asthana’s transfer to AGMUT, and his appointment with only four days to go for his retirement, have been challenged in court.

In an affidavit filed before a bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh, the Union ministry of home affairs said that an experienced officer was required for Delhi, the capital of the country. Local law and order incidents have an impact not just on the rest of the country but also globally, the last in terms of the image of the country, it added.

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“…in the present case during the process of appointment of the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, the /Cadre Controlling Authority (CCA) was faced with precarious situation where it found that the most of the appropriate level officers of AGMUT cadre were not having sufficient balanced experience of policing in a vast law and order sensitive State/Central Investigating Agency/ National Security/Paramilitary force for appointment of Commissioner of Police Delhi…….”

“Hence, considering the complexities and the sensitivities involved and also considering that no officer of appropriate seniority with balanced experience, as stated above, was available in the AGMUT Cadre, it was felt that an officer belonging to a large state cadre, who had the exposure of complexities of governance and who had the knowledge of nuances of broad canvas policing is given charge of Commissioner of Police Delhi,” the Centre said.

In Prakash Singh’s case, the top court made it mandatory for the state governments to appoint police chiefs from a panel of three most senior police officers forwarded to them by the Union Public Service Commission. The selected officer must have six months of service left, and be given a tenure of two years, it said.

“The said judgment has no application for appointment of commissioners/police heads of Union territories falling under the AGMUT cadre. While passing the judgment in Prakash Singh’s case, the Hon’be Supreme Court itself made it clear that in so far as its direction related to appointment of DGPs was concerned, the same was only in relation to the states and not in relation to UTs,” the affidavit said, adding that UPSC too has not raised any objection on non-empanelment of officers -- which means the commission understood that the judgment applied only to states.

The Union government said that keeping the objective of “public interest” in mind, Asthana’s service tenure was extended. It said that Delhi has been witnessing diverse and extremely challenging situations of law and order which not only had national security implications but also international/cross border implications.

The Centre asserted that there was a compelling need to appoint a person as a head of the police force of Delhi, who had diverse and vast experience of heading a large police force in a large state having diverse political as well as public order problem/experience of working and supervising Central Investigating Agency(s) as well as paramilitary forces.

“…In view thereof, it is respectfully submitted that any statutory provision or any other regime deserves to be read in such a way that a leeway is given to the Central Government in appointment of Delhi Police Commissioner. Any straight-jacket or paediatric approach would not be in national interest,” it added.

The affidavit was filed in response to a petition by Sadre Alam and an intervening application by Prashant Bhushan challenging Asthana’s appointment and seeking quashing of a July 27 order issued by the ministry of home affairs appointing him the Delhi Police commissioner and also the order granting inter-cadre deputation and extension of service to him.

The plea has sought initiation of steps for appointing Delhi Police commissioner strictly in accordance with the direction issued by the Supreme Court earlier.

It has claimed the high-powered committee comprising the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition, in its meeting held on May 24, 2021, rejected the central government’s attempt to appoint Asthana as the CBI director citing the Prakash Singh case.

The matter was listed for hearing on Thursday, but the concerned bench was not available and now it will be heard on September 20.

Seeking dismissal of the petitions, the affidavit filed by the secretary, ministry of home affairs (MHA) said that it is an “abuse of process of law and manifestly an outcome of some personal vendetta” of the petitioners. It also said that a PIL in service matter is not maintainable.

“The petitioner and the intervener are mere busy bodies. Both the petitioner and more particularly the intervener who claims to be espousing a public cause, never considered challenging appointment of eight (8) erstwhile Police Commissioners though they were appointed in the same manner as is done in the case of Respondent No.2 (Asthana).

“Such a selective exhibition of ‘’public interest’’ speaks volume about the motive behind filing this petition/intervention application/writ petition in the Supreme Court respectively by the petitioner /intervener only in case of the Respondent No 2,” the affidavit said.

The Union government has said that it has the powers of inter-cadre transfers.

The petition with similar prayers which has been filed by CPIL before the Supreme Court has urged the central government to produce the July 27 order it issued, approving the inter-cadre deputation of Asthana from Gujarat cadre to AGMUT cadre.

The petition has also urged the apex court to set aside the Centre’’s order to extend Asthana’s service period.

On August 25, the Supreme Court asked the high court to decide within two weeks the plea pending before it against the appointment of the senior IPS officer as Delhi Police commissioner.

Asthana, in his response in an affidavit, said that the petitions are entertaining a personal vengeance against him and are not in bonafide public interest litigations. He said that the please are nothing but are a flagrant abuse of august forum of the court for some hidden personal vendetta of either of them or of someone on whose behest several attempts are being made against me to derail his career.

He said that NGOs Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) are spearheading a malicious campaign against him and consistently filing petitions against him in courts.

“I state and submit that as a part of this selective campaign against me, proceedings are being consistently filed against me by these two organisations, while outside court the people having control of the said organisation spearhead a malicious campaign against me. This has been regularly happening since I was appointed as Special Director in Central Bureau of Investigation,” he said in an affidavit.

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