Modi govt faces ignominy if Rakesh Asthana’s appointment as Delhi Police Commissioner is struck down by court

Former IPS officers also decried practice of making officers hold additional charge as chiefs of key central organisations for months. ‘It is another example of bad governance,’ one of them said

CJI NV Ramana, Rakesh Asthana (Right)
CJI NV Ramana, Rakesh Asthana (Right)

Rahul Gul

The Supreme Court’s directive to Delhi High Court on Wednesday to take up and decide the plea to quash the appointment of 1984 batch Gujarat cadre officer Rakesh Asthana as Commissioner, Delhi Police within two weeks is a highly significant development. The Chief Justice of India NV Ramana made it clear that the SC would have itself adjudicated on the issue but he was refraining from doing so since he was earlier part of the committee which had rejected the Central government's proposal to appoint Asthana as the CBI Director.

The CJI had then reportedly taken a stand against his appointment as it was violative of SC’s judgement in ‘Prakash Singh vs Union of India’ which mandated that IPS officers must have a minimum residual service of six months, a criteria that Asthana did not fulfil.

The PIL filed in SC by Centre for Public Interest Litigation on August 7, which challenged the Ministry of Home Affairs order granting Asthana deputation, extension of service and appointing him as Delhi’s Commissioner of Police just four days before he was slated to retire, pointed out that this provision was equally applicable to his appointment as Commissioner, Delhi Police.

It stated that the order of the Central government is completely illegal as it also violated the Prakash Singh order in that no UPSC panel was formed for his appointment and the criteria of a minimum tenure of two years was ignored. The petition added that even though the directions in Prakash Singh case were regarding the post of DGP of a state, they are applicable to the current issue since the post of Commissioner of Police, Delhi is akin to the post of a DGP.

Some retired IPS officers expressed the opinion that the tone and tenor of the proceedings in SC in the matter on Wednesday seem to indicate that a judicial intervention to quash Asthana’s appointment seems likely, which would be a huge embarrassment for the Modi government. However, they requested anonymity as the matter was sub judice.

Dr Meeran Chadha Borwankar, a 1981 batch Maharashtra cadre IPS officer who served as Commissioner of Police, Pune and Director General, NCRB before retiring as Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development, said, “I won’t like to comment but we’d wait for court decision”.

When National Herald reached out to Prakash Singh, who served as Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh as well as Assam, he said it won’t be appropriate for him to comment on the issue as he was out of town and not fully conversant with the proceedings in SC on Wednesday.

Appointment of Rakesh Asthana as Delhi Police Commissioner

National Herald had carried a report on July 29, after Asthana was appointed, pointing out that the Supreme Court could well strike down Asthana’s appointment on the grounds laid down in the CPIL’s petition before the court that was heard today.

Several senior former IPS officers had also expressed their surprise at the Centre’s sudden move appointing him as chief of Delhi Police in apparent violation of the SC’s directives in Prakash Singh case.

Prakash Singh had expressed surprise at Asthana’s appointment, pointing out that a non-AGMUT cadre officer had been appointed as Delhi Police chief. “Only in the case of Ajai Raj Sharma, a 1966 batch officer from the UP cadre, was a non-AGMUT cadre officer appointed as CP, Delhi,” he had said.

On the question of SC’s directives, issued after he had moved the court for police reforms, he had said, “The SC needs to interpret the requirement of a minimum six months residual tenure since Delhi is a UT and technically speaking, the directive was meant for DGP of states.”

“The appointment goes against the Supreme Court mandated police reforms. I expect it to be challenged,” Dr Borwankar had said.

This is exactly what has happened.

‘Additional charge’ culture in IPS-headed organisations

Incidentally, Asthana was serving as Director General (DG) of Border Security Force (BSF) before he was appointed as Delhi Police chief, while also holding additional charge of DG, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) which he assumed on July 31, 2019. At that time, he was serving as chief of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. NCB has not had a regular full time DG for more than two years.

After Asthana moved to Delhi Police, the MHA had given additional charge of the post of DG, BSF to SS Deswal, also a 1984 batch officer from the Haryana cadre, serving as DG, Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Deswal is slated to superannuate at the end of this month.

Another two key organisations without a regular full time chief are Central Industrial Police Force (CISF) and National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Kuldiep Singh, a 1986 batch West Bengal cadre IPS officer who is serving as DG, CRPF has been holding additional charge of DG, NIA after YC Modi, an IPS officer of 1984 batch, Assam-Meghalaya cadre superannuated in May, 2021.

CISF was being headed by Subodh Jaiswal (1985 batch, Maharashtra cadre) till he was appointed as Director, CBI on May 27 this year. At that time, additional charge of CBI Director was being held by Additional Director Praveen Sinha (1988 batch, Gujarat cadre).

Following this, Sudhir Kumar Saxena (1987 batch, MP cadre), serving as special DG, CISF was given additional charge as DG, CISF. On August 12, Saxena was also appointed as Secretary (Security) in the Cabinet Secretariat.

Earlier, SSB DG Kumar Rajesh Chandra (1985 batch, Bihar cadre) held additional charge of DG, CISF when the incumbent Rajesh Ranjan (1984 batch, Bihar cadre) superannuated on November 30, 2020. He held the charge till Subodh Jaiswal took over in January, 2021.

Even in the case of National Security Guard (NSG), when Anup Kumar Singh (1985, Gujarat) superannuated on September 30, 2020, ITBP DG SS Deswal held additional charge of the post till M.A. Ganpathy (1986, Uttarakhand) was appointed as full time DG on March 18, 2021.

Reached for her comments, Dr Borwankar said: “Any Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) remaining ‘headless’ is extremely unprofessional. Date of retirements are well known so it gives ample time to the appointing authority to follow due procedure and declare the next chief. It ensures continuity and good governance. The tendency not to take out formal appointment order but to make an officer ‘hold the charge’ is another example of bad governance and an indirect way of ‘controlling’ the officer. Giving two or three substantial charges to favourite officers is nepotism.”

“Political parties are guilty of trying to control police and investigating agencies. It is a show of power for politicians but very bad for the morale of officers and complete indifference to the interest of citizens,” she added.

Speaking to National Herald, Prakash Singh had earlier said that the system of ‘additional charges’ in apex police organisations was 'avoidable'. “This should happen only if there's a grave emergency, for example if an incumbent DG is incapacitated by a heart attack or is involved in an accident or passes away. But when everything can be foreseen, then it should be planned. This additional charge business is certainly not a healthy thing," he had said.

Reached for comments on Wednesday, Singh said that he expected the vacant posts to be filled up soon.

A former Punjab DGP said on condition of anonymity, “The reason for such top posts lying headless for months on end is a reflection of policy paralysis in the government – which ironically the ruling party used to accuse the UPA govt of – as well as centralisation of power in the PMO. It is all very unfortunate. Sardar Patel had referred to civil servants as the steel frame of India, but this is no longer the case. One can only hope that the situation improves.”

(The writer works as Senior Editor with National Herald. Views are personal)

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    Published: 25 Aug 2021, 9:15 PM