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Bombay High Court reserves verdict on PIL regarding appointment of Maharashtra DGP

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The Bombay High Court has reserved its verdict on a petition related to the appointment of Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP).

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice MS Karnik was hearing a public interest litigation seeking directions to the Maharashtra government to fill up the vacant post of the state DGP, in accordance with the 2006 Supreme Court judgement on police reforms in the Prakash Singh case.

On Tuesday, the bench heard the arguments from IPS officer and current acting DGP Sanjay Pandey.

Pandey told the court that the UPSC selection committee ignored his outstanding Annual Confidential Record (ACR) and left his name out of the empanelment for the Maharashtra DGP’s post.

Senior Counsel Navroz Seervai, appearing for Pandey, urged the High Court to make the IPS officer a party to the PIL, since he was the seniormost police officer in the state and a man of integrity.

To this, the chief justice said, “But this does not give you a right to cling to the post. He must have a right before getting affected.

The Bench replied, “The state government has not been able to satisfy us, we don’t think the acting DGP is on a better pedestal than the state.

The PIL filed by lawyer Datta Mane through Advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, stated that as per the Supreme Court judgement, the top state police officer’s post could not be an acting one and that an officer with the minimum tenure requirements as per the 2006 ruling must be appointed by the Maharashtra government at the earliest.

Pandey had been appointed as the acting DGP last year, after the then DGP Subodh Jaiswal vacated the post midterm following his deputation to the Centre as director of CBI.

Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that on November 8 last year, the then state Chief Secretary (CS) Sitaram Kunte had written to the UPSC, seeking that its selection committee reconsider Pandey’s name for empanelment for the DGP’s post.

The high court, however, had noted that state had proposed on November 1, 2021, the names of three officers, Hemant Nagrale, K Venkatesham, and Rajnish Seth to the post of DGP. However, Kunte had written to the UPSC a week later as an afterthought, to reconsider Pandey’s name. This after having signed off on the three names. Such conduct was not proper and not based on any legal principles, the high court said.

The bench further concurred with Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who was representing the Union, that there did not exist a legal provision under which the state government could have asked the UPSC to reconsider its decision after the selection committee had signed on the names already given. Besides, the three names had been selected out of a list of 21 officers that was based on the Maharashtra government’s own proposal, Singh told the court.

Kumbhakoni, however, tried to impress upon the high court that Kunte did point out that Pandey’s name was being left out erroneously but the same was not considered. “The chief secretary said so orally because he did not recall the Rules. He came back to Mumbai from Delhi after the November 1 meeting, checked the empanelment Rules and realised his grievance was valid. So he wrote to the UPSC as an officer of the state government,” Kumbhakoni said.

He further added that high court must also look at the case from the point of view of the incumbent officer (Pandey). After having served almost all his tenure, he shouldn’t have been left out due to incorrect interpretation of Rules, he said.

The bench, however, refused to accept this argument and said that Kumbhakoni’s arguments only ended up showing Kunte in a poorer light.

“The more you argue, the poorer you make the chief secretary (Kunte) look. If he didn’t remember the rules, he should have asked the other members to keep the decision in abeyance, checked the rule book,” the bench said. “Is this what is expected of the CS? Why didn’t he raise a grievance then and there. And if he did and his grievance was not being recorded, then why did he sign it?” asked the bench.

Chandrachud argued that the state could not have asked for a reconsideration since the spirit of the Prakash Singh judgement was to keep police postings free of political interference.

The bench asked all the parties, including Seervai, to file written arguments if they wished to by Thursday and reserved the order.

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