SC questions 6-month extension to Delhi chief secretary
While chief secretary Kumar is scheduled to retire on November 30, the Delhi government has approached the top court opposing any further extension to Kumar.
The Union government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it has decided to give a six-month extension to Delhi’s chief secretary Naresh Kumar, prompting the court to ask if there was no other officer eligible or competent enough to take the reins from the incumbent.
While Kumar is scheduled to retire on November 30, the Delhi government has approached the top court opposing any further extension to Kumar and demanding a consultative exercise for the appointment of the next chief secretary of the national capital territory (NCT) government.
“Are you stuck with one name? Whoever you want to appoint, appoint. But is there no other IAS officer you can appoint as the chief secretary?” a bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Centre.
The poser from the bench, which also included justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, came after the SG informed the bench that the Centre has decided to give Kumar an extension for the time being, and that it could have a consultative process with the Delhi government, as suggested by the court last week, as and when the next chief secretary is to be appointed.
On November 24, the bench had suggested the central government propose names of five officials for the post of the chief secretary, from which the Delhi government could pick anyone. Mehta had on the day said that he would revert with appropriate instructions.
When the hearing commenced on Tuesday, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, said that he has not received any name from Mehta so far.
To this, the SG said informed the bench that the Centre has decided to extend the tenure of the present chief secretary to ensure continuity of administration before the next one could be appointed at a later time.
While Singhvi complained that a further extension to Kumar was in derision of the power of an elected government as he cited unrelenting friction between the Delhi ministers and the current chief secretary, Mehta maintained that the two sides require to learn how to work in tandem.
The SG further asserted that the 2023 Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) Act makes it clear that “chief secretary” means the chief Secretary by the central government.
Responding, the bench acknowledged that the Centre indeed has the power to appoint the chief secretary since the new law, though under challenge before the apex court, has not been stayed so far.
“So, why don’t you exercise your power under the Act and appoint a new chief secretary? You appoint any officer of your choice from the entire country? Why are you stuck with one person? Don’t you have any other IAS officer to appoint as the chief secretary of Delhi?” the bench asked Mehta, underlining that Kumar’s appointment was not done under the 2023 Act.
“We won’t hold you down to our suggestion (of a panel of names). You get any other person and appoint him. You exercise your power under the new law. You nominate any IAS officer in the country and appoint him. They are also saying you can appoint any new person,” said the bench, asking the S-G to get suitable instructions.
Mehta, however, remained firm that the Act does not only grant the Centre the power to appoint a new chief secretary but also the authority to extend the tenure of an officer.
At this point, the bench adjourned the hearing to Wednesday, telling Mehta: “In that case, you show us tomorrow where is your power to grant extension and also indicate the grounds of extension being given to this officer.”
The Arvind Kejriwal-government and Kumar have been locked in a long-running battle over matters relating to the administration of the NCT. Earlier this month Kejriwal wrote to Lieutenant Governor (LG) VK Saxena recommending immediate removal of Kumar in an alleged corruption case involving land pocket acquisition for Dwarka expressway. While Kumar denied the charges, the LG refused to act on the CM’s letter saying no evidence of Kumar’s complicity was brought to fore.
The Delhi government’s petition in the top court has challenged the “unilateral decision-making process” adopted by the Centre to appoint Delhi’s next chief secretary, a process which the Centre said is midway, even as it said that there must be a “degree of confidence in the elected arm of the state”.
The Delhi government in its plea cited Rule 7(2) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954 which stipulates all appointments to cadre posts in a state cadre to be made by the state government. Relying on the Constitution bench decisions of the apex court which held that services will rest with the Delhi government, the petition said that the 2023 GNCTD (Amendment) Act violates the decision of the top court in May this year rendering the Delhi government to be a “mere observer” in appointing the chief secretary, the most crucial member of the permanent executive.