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Delhi High Court reserves verdict on plea challenging appointment of Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana

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The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved judgment on a petition challenging the appointment of Gujarat-cadre IPS Officer Rakesh Asthana as the Police Commissioner of Delhi.

The development came after the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh heard the Counsels for all parties at length. 

Advocate B.S. Bagga, representing the petitioner, contended that Asthana’s appointment is in contravention of Rule 56(d) of the Fundamental Rules issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, wherein it is specified that no officer can be granted an extension of service beyond the age of retirement of 60 years. He further contended that Asthana’s appointment has been made in violation of directions issued by the Apex Court in the case of “Prakash Singh v. Union of India”.

Arguing that Asthana’s appointment is in violation of the Prakash Singh judgment, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the intervenor NGO- ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation’ that had claimed that the petition before the High Court is a ‘copy paste’ of the NGO’s petition before the Apex Court, submitted that no UPSC panel was formed for selection of the Delhi Police Commissioner.

“First, the UPSC must prepare a list of Officers who are empanelled on the basis of their length of service, very good record and range of experience, for heading the Police force…. The Government can select one out of those three, but the three names must come from the UPSC. This is another violation that has happened in this case…UPSC was not even consulted in this matter by the Union,” he stated.

Mr. Bhushan pointed out that the criteria of having a minimum residual tenure of six months at the time of such appointments, as also the criteria of having a minimum tenure of two years, as laid down in Prakash Singh case, have also been ignored.

irrespective of the date of superannuation is  also ignored, as the appointment is made for a period of one year. 

He added that he may be called a Police Commissioner rather than a Director General of Police, but he is the State Police Chief of Delhi, and thereby the directions issued in Prakash Singh applies in the instant case. 

Furthermore, he submitted that such an appointment should be made from the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre, and that the government’s stand for inter-cadre deputation of Asthana from Gujarat cadre to AGMUT cadre, on the ground that no officer is found competent enough for such position from the AGMUT cadre, will have a demoralizing effect.. 

He stated thus:

“Throughout the country, he is the only officer they (Centre) could find who is fit to be appointed as the Commissioner of Police of Delhi.… This was a decision that had to be made by the UPSC according to Prakash Singh. I could have understood if UPSC had said that there is no officer in the AGMUT cadre who is fit enough to be appointed as the Commissioner of Police,” he alleged.

“Where is the question of Government of India on its own deciding that there is nobody fit… That fitness has to be judged by the UPSC.”

“Four days before retirement, you first grant him inter-cadre transfer, then extend his service by one year. Then appoint him as the Police Chief, all on the same day, by the same order, in violation of everything”, he added while arguing that the appointment is totally and grossly illegal, and therefore, deserves to be quashed.

Per contra, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the instant petition is a purported projected public interest litigation and manifestly an outcome of some personal vendetta against Asthana. He drew the attention of the Bench to the fact that eight other appointments have been made after Prakash Singh case in the similar manner as Asthana, which were not challenged by ‘public-spirited citizens’.

“Petitioner and the intervenor are mere busybodies. The intervenor keeps on selectively filing petition and such selection of selective public interest are for the reasons which are beyond comprehension,” he contended while stating that PILs is not a forum for settling scores, even if there is some personal vendetta against the newly appointed Commissioner of Police. 

He further submitted that this is a PIL in a service matter, which cannot be maintained in light of various decisions passed by the Top Court. 

In addition, he contended that the directions issued in Prakash Singh case applies only on the Director General of Police (DGPs) of States and not to Union Territories. Furthermore, he submitted that Delhi enjoys a special status, which is why Union Territories are categorically kept out of the purview of Prakash Singh judgment. 

He informed the Bench that the appointment of Delhi Police Commissioner has been made after following all the rules governing such appointments. He added that a suitable Officer from AGMUT cadre, having multifarious and diverse experience of policing, could not be find, and that after thorough examination, it was decided that it would be in the interest of ‘public justice’ to entrust such a delicate position of the Commissioner of Police of the national capital to Asthana.   

While responding to allegations of inter-cadre deputation, he submitted that neither there is lack of competence in the Centre Government to grant inter-cadre deputation, nor there is any procedural irregularity in granting inter-cadre deputation to Asthana for the purposes of heading the Delhi Police force.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who represented Rakesh Asthana, alleged that the instant petition is not a genuine PIL and is a proxy for somebody who does not want to come in the front. He submitted that there is no public harm in appointment of Asthana, who has an experience of over 40  years.  

He contended that two organisations namely, ‘Common Cause’ and ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation’, have filed a cloak of litigation against Asthana for perusing some personal vendetta.

He pointed out that a campaign against Asthana has been started at the behest of these organisations by way of posting malicious tweets. 

“Neither the the petitioner nor the interventionist are entitledto be heard by this Court because of their malafide and motivated conduct.. No person can be allowed to carry on a campaign on the social media, at the same time prosecute a legal case. That is something to be shunned,” he added.

Supporting the contentions made by the Solicitor General in respect of non-applicability of Prakash Singh decision in the instant case, he submitted that Delhi is not a full-fledged State, while the Prakash Singh case relates to appointment of DGPs of States. 

The Bench had earlier allowed the intervention application moved by CPIL, that has filed a petition on the same issue before the Apex Court, and sought response from the Centre and Mr. Asthana in the matter.

In light of the aforesaid, a reply was filed by the Centre as well as by Mr. Asthana. The Central Government, in its response, stated that the appointment of Mr. Asthana has been made in ‘public interest’ so as to supervise the Delhi Police force and provide ‘effective policing’ on the recent law and order situation, which arose in the national capital after the North East Delhi riots. 

In a similar development, IPS Officer Rakesh Asthana claimed that the some ‘personal vendetta’ or a ‘proxy war’ has been projected against him under the cloak of public interest litigations. He has contended that two organisations namely, ‘Common Cause’ and ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation’, have started a barrage of selective actions against him either out of some vendetta or at the behest of some undisclosed individual or rival or interest, either by way of consistently filing proceedings against him, or by spearheading a malicious campaign against him by way of tweets or articles. 

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