The Centre on May 8 informed the Supreme Court that Enforcement Directorate (ED) chief Sanjay Kumar Mishra’s tenure will not continue in office beyond November 2023.
Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice B.R. Gavai, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Mr. Mishra was given his third extension keeping in view the ongoing evaluation by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The Supreme Court reserved the petitions challenging the “piecemeal” extensions granted to Mr. Mishra for judgment. Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for a petitioner, submitted that such short tenures affect institutional integrity. Advocate Prashant Bhushan argued that “95% political personalities arrested in money laundering cases are from the Opposition”
In the last hearing, the court had asked whether Mr. Mishra was so “indispensable” to the ED and whether the government could find no other officer to replace him.
“This officer [Mr. Mishra] cannot continue after November 2023. But right now the peer review of FATF is going on. It was supposed to happen in 2019, but could not due to COVID… Nobody is indispensable. No organisation becomes ineffective in the absence of one particular individual, but the presence of an officer who has been hearing the institution for the past three years makes a difference,” Mr. Mehta submitted.
In 2021, the Supreme Court had categorically directed the government to not give any further extension to Mr. Mishra. However, the government, within two months of the judgment, made amendments to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act by way of promulgation of an ordinance in November 2021. These amendments paved the way for the government to stretch Mr. Mishra’s tenure by a year till November 2022. On the strength of these changes, the government had again given the 1984-batch Indian Revenue Service officer his third extension in November 2022. He is expected to continue till November 18, 2023.
“If you knew that FATF was originally scheduled for 2019, did you bring that to the notice of this court before the judgment in 2021? At that time you had only argued that some very serious investigations were going on and his continuity in office was necessary… Based on that submission, the court had allowed him to continue till November 2022… So, is this FATF argument presented before us now an afterthought?” Justice Gavai quizzed the government.
Mr. Mehta argued that the ED Director was not a promotional post, so nobody was losing a career opportunity due to the extension of Mr. Mishra’s tenure.
On May 3, the court had shot a barrage of questions about the government’s decision to go with Mr. Mishra despite a Supreme Court judgment.
“Is there no other person in the organisation who can do his job? Is there no one else in ED who is competent? What will happen post 2023, when he does retire,” the court had asked.
The court is hearing petitions filed by Congress party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, social activist and General Secretary of Madhya Pradesh Congress Mahila Committee Jaya Thakur.
They have argued that the “piecemeal” extensions affect “institutional independence”.