Supreme Court stays dismissal of Ishrat Jahan encounter probe officer for a week

Former IPS officer, Satish Chandra Verma, alleges victimisation on the part of the Union Government because of his role in court-monitored investigations that declared the 2004 killing of Ishrat Jahan in Gujarat a fake encounter.

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THE Supreme Court, earlier today, stayed for a week the order passed by the Union Government dismissing Gujarat cadre Indian Police Service officer Satish Chandra Verma, who was once part of the special investigation team that probed the Ishrat Jahan encounter case.

A division bench comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy granted liberty to Verma to amend his petition pending at the Delhi High Court, challenging the dismissal order. The bench added that it would be for the high court to take a call on whether the stay of the dismissal order should continue after a week.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by Verma against the Delhi High Court’s order passed on September 9 allowing the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (‘MHA’) to implement the dismissal order passed by the government on August 30, imposing a penalty of dismissal from service with immediate effect. Verma was to retire from service on September 30.

The bench opined that the interests of justice would require holding back the dismissal order for a week to enable Verma to challenge the same before the high court. It also contemplated whether Verma would have to challenge the dismissal order before the Central Administrative Tribunal (‘CAT’) since the dismissal was a fresh cause of action. Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union Government, submitted that the petitioner could challenge the dismissal order either by filing a petition in the CAT or by amending the pending petition at the high court. He, however, opposed any stay of the dismissal order.

Senior advocate, Kapil Sibal, for the petitioner, questioned the tearing hurry in implementing the dismissal order. He pointed out how the government evaded filing a response at the Delhi high court to a petition challenging the framing of charges. Sibal claimed that the MHA had challenged the high court order dated September 22, 2021, directing no precipitative steps be taken against the petitioner, but the Supreme Court did not stay it. He added that every time the government would submit in the high court that it had challenged the order at the Supreme Court, but would not file its reply in the high court.

Sibal also pointed out that the superannuation of the petitioner could not cause any legitimate prejudice to the government because the statutory rules in respect of All India Services envisage appropriate penalties even after retirement on conclusion of the departmental enquiries initiated earlier.

Verma was facing disciplinary proceedings for interacting with the news media in March 2016 when he was Chief Vigilance Officer, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited, a central public sector enterprise in Shillong, without any authorization of the competent authority. He made statements to the media about his role in the Ishrat Jahan probe. However, the charge memo against him for this media interview was issued in August 2018, almost after two and a half years after the publication of that interview.

Verma had challenged the framing of charges against him at the Delhi high court. On September 22, 2021, the high court directed that the MHA could proceed with disciplinary proceedings against Verma; however, it was not to take any precipitative steps, in the meantime. This order was periodically extended till August 30 this year, when the direction was modified on the statement made by the senior counsel for the MHA that the disciplinary proceedings had been concluded and the competent authority was to pass a final order. The MHA was permitted to pass a final order; however, it was directed that till the next date of hearing, the final order, if prejudicial to the petitioner, shall not be implemented without the leave of the court.

Eventually, on September 7, the high court permitted the MHA to implement the dismissal order, observing that without prejudice to the challenge to the charge-sheet in the subject proceedings, respondents are permitted to implement the order. However, it is directed that the order shall not be implemented till 19.09.2022, to enable the petitioner to avail of his remedies in accordance with law against the order of dismissal”.

Click here to read the order.