NEW DELHI : Keeping in mind the “larger public interest” in view of the ongoing review of India by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Sanjay Kumar Mishra to continue as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) director until September 15.
A special bench of Justices B R Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, which took up an application filed by the Centre seeking extension of Mishra’s tenure, said that “under ordinary circumstances, we would not have entertained such an application”.
The Centre, in its plea to the Supreme Court, said that it may be permitted to extend the tenure of ED Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra in view of the ongoing FATF Review, which is at a critical stage where submissions on effectiveness have been made on July 21, 2023, and an on-site visit is scheduled to be conducted in November 2023.
“At such a critical juncture, it is essential to have an individual who is well-acquainted with the overall status of money laundering investigations and proceedings across the country and also the intricacies of the procedures, operations, and activities of the investigating agency, at the helm of affairs at the Directorate of Enforcement. This is necessary to ensure that the assessment team can be promptly and ably assisted with necessary reports, information, statistics, etc.,” the centre said in the plea. The court — which earlier held a second and a third extension as “illegal” — relented marginally today after the Centre argued about “unusual circumstances” and underscored a need for continuity.
The Centre also argued that some neighboring countries want India to fall into FATF’s ‘grey list’ and so continuity is necessary in the post of the Enforcement Directorate chief. Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the circumstances of Mr Mishra are unusual in view of the coming review by the global terror financing watchdog FATF (Financial Action Task Force). The onsite review of India’s regulations and supervision by the inter-governmental organisation, which also combats combat money laundering, is due in November. The team is likely to reach on November 3.
“Are you saying all other officers are incompetent? Only one officer can do?” shot back the bench of Justices BR Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol. “No officer is indispensable. There is a leadership is every organization but there has to be a continuity,” the Centre responded.
The court pointed out that even after holding his extensions since 2021 illegal, the Centre has been given time till July 31. When the Centre persisted with its arguments, Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, who represented the petitioners, said the FATF review is a process involving 40 parameters.”
Money laundering is one such parameter. Also, the FATF review is an ongoing process till 2024. So, will they then seek extension till 2024?” he said.”Out of 140 crore people, are we depending on only one officer? The conduct of Centre seeking extension is deplorable,” he added.
The Centre has cited the peer review every time it extended Mr Mishra’s term. The officer was given charge of the Enforcement Directorate in November 2018 and was to retire in two years when turned 60. But in November 2020, he got one extension, and it was followed by two more. In May, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that he would retire in November and that the petition challenging his extension was meant to appease “political masters”. Senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala, who has filed one of the petitions, has claimed that the government is misusing central agencies to target the opposition leaders and destabilise elected governments in non-BJP-ruled states.