SC seeks Centre, Delhi police reply on petition challenging Asthana appointment
The Supreme Court on Friday sought replies from the Union government and Delhi Police commissioner Rakesh Asthana on petitions challenging the latter’s appointment as head of the police force for the national capital.
A bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and AS Bopanna issued notices to the Centre and the 1984-batch IPS officer on the petitions filed by an NGO, CPIL, which has alleged several irregularities and violation of the Supreme Court’s directives in appointing Asthana as the city police commissioner on July 27.
As soon as the matter was taken up, the bench told advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for CPIL, that it was issuing notice. Solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the Centre and Asthana respectively. The case is likely to be listed in the second week of December.
The bench was considering two petitions by CPIL. The first was a writ petition against the Union home ministry’s July 27 order appointing Asthana and granting inter-cadre deputation and extension of service to him. The second petition is an appeal against the Delhi high court’s October 12 judgment affirming Asthana’s appointment.
On August 25, the top court asked the Delhi high court to decide within two weeks the petition filed before it by a lawyer, Sadre Alam, challenging Asthana’s appointment as Delhi Police commissioner, observing that “time is of the essence”.
That direction came when CPIL’s writ petition came up for a hearing for the first time before a bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, and the bench asked Bhushan to first argue his case before the high court so that the top court could have the benefit of a judgment.
CJI Ramana also expressed his reservations in hearing the petition, pointing out he had conveyed his views about Asthana when the officer was being considered for the post of chief of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In May, CJI Ramana, while participating in the high-powered committee for the selection of the CBI director (the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha were the other members), flagged a landmark 2006 Supreme Court ruling in Prakash Singh case that required a police chief to have a minimum residual tenure of six months, resulting in the disqualification of Asthana from being considered for the post of CBI director.
The petition by advocate Alam and CPIL’s intervention application before the high court demanded quashing of MHA’s July 27 order appointing Asthana the Delhi Police commissioner and also the order granting inter-cadre deputation from Gujarat cadre to AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territory) cadre, and extension of service to him. They also argued that Asthana’s appointment was in flagrant violation of the apex court’s direction in Prakash Singh case.
Rejecting the pleas on October 12, the Delhi high court upheld Asthana’s appointment holding that the Union government has a free hand in deciding who is best for the job of the top cop in the national capital, especially when the officer concerned does not have a blemish in his entire service career.
The high court further noted that the requirement of a minimum six months of service left (as articulated in the Prakash Singh order) is confined only to the selection of the DGPs of the state and is not applicable in Delhi.
“The executive, which is responsible for the law-and-order situation in the national capital, must have a reasonable discretion to select an officer it finds more suitable, based upon the career graph of such an officer, unless there is anything adverse in the service career of such an officer,” said the high court.
It added there was no violation of the statutory rules and that the central government had the powers to give extension as well as of inter-cadre transfer to Asthana for appointing him to deal with the complexities and sensitivities in the city.
The bench, while dismissing the PIL as well as the intervention application, also said that no officer with appropriate seniority and requisite experience was available in the AGMUT Cadre.
“It ought to be kept in mind that Delhi, being the capital of India, has a unique, special and specific requirement. It has witnessed several untoward incidences and extremely challenging law and order situations/riots/crimes, which have an international implication, which in the wisdom of the Central Government necessitated appointment of an experienced officer possessing diverse and multifarious experience of heading a large para-military security force apart from other factors,” the bench said.
Affirming the appointment, the high court also accepted the Centre’s submission that most of the appropriate level of officers of AGMUT (cadre of IPS officers for Union territories) did not have the sufficient balance of experience and policing for appointment as a top cop of the city. It also agreed to the submissions that following the same procedure, eight commissioners have thus far been appointed for the national capital.