The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) sets aside the 12-year-long suspension of a controversial Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer facing CBI cases and ordered his reinstatement ignoring the approval given by a former finance minister to the recommendation of a high-level committee to ‘continue’ his suspension.
The CAT set aside orders, one by a Review Committee of the Revenue Department and another by the competent authority, ex-Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, directing that Ashok Kumar Aggarwal’s suspension should continue.
The tribunal presided by Justice S.C. Sharma said the 1985 batch officer, who is facing cases of disproportionate assets, cannot be kept on suspension ‘endlessly’. The CAT said the Ministry has not complied with its December 16, 2011, order to convene a review committee to decide whether Aggarwal’s suspension should be revoked or not.
“We are of the opinion that the order of suspension of Aggarwal should not continue endlessly. We are of the opinion that directions of the CAT issued to the Ministry of Finance and Central Board of Direct Taxes on December 16, 2011 have not been complied with in letter and spirit while passing the impugned orders of January 12 and February 3.
“The continuance of applicant’s suspension is not tenable. In the result, both the orders are quashed and set aside with direction to the respondents to revoke his suspension and to reinstate him in service,” the bench said.
Ex-Finance Minister Mukherjee, as the competent authority, had observed in his February 3, order that ‘this case is to be dealt with care.”’Merit of the case should be reviewed during the next review meeting. CBI’s response in respect of CAT order should also be obtained.”
The government counsel had said that only after approval of continuance of suspension, the observation by Mukherjee was made.
“It would be appropriate for us at this juncture to note that by implication and inference, the order of the competent authority can be construed to have been accorded the sanction for continuance of suspension of the applicant but has also simultaneously made the observation which gives an impression that observations and directions of the Tribunal issued in its order December 16, 2011 have not been adequately addressed.”
“The observation extracted above manifests inadequate consideration of the case on merits and on the factors flagged by the Tribunal in its order of December 16, 2011.”
“Thus, we feel that there is inadequate application of mind while passing the impugned order of February 3, 2012,” the tribunal said.
The government had also contended that former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in 2007, had questioned how Aggarwal was having access to various files which he shouldn’t as a officer who has been suspended and to ensure that the same does not happen again.
It had said that in view of the observations of Chidambaram, if Aggarwal were reinstated he would be having access to the documents and would also influence the witnesses in the two criminal cases against him.
The government while opposing Aggarwal’s reinstatement had also contended that he was a ‘resourceful accused’ who was consistently trying to use his clout for undue benefits and had also filed close to 27 petitions against the CBI and its officers in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.
The government had also argued that Aggarwal had not allowed any meaningful progress to take place in the trials of both the criminal cases which are pending in the trial court against him and for that reason he should not be reinstated.
The Tribunal, while rejecting the contentions of the government against Aggarwal’s reinstatement, pointed out that the criminal proceedings against the IRS officer had been stayed by the apex court.
The bench also said, “at the present stage the criminal and departmental proceedings are pending and there is no indication of the completion of those cases in near future.”
“On the other hand, if the applicant proves his innocence in both departmental and criminal proceedings, it would be injustice for such an officer to continue under suspension for a long period of time.”
Observing that the criminal case against Aggarwal is of a serious nature, the tribunal has directed that he be posted in a ‘non-sensitive post’ where he would not have access to the relevant records or the opportunity to influence witnesses.