While Subramanian Swamy tweeted about the Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das for his links with former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Das was a “disciplined” officer, rebutting Swamy. The tussle between Swamy and this powerful bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry goes back a long way.
Swamy started attacking Das for his role in Aircel Maxis case to protect Chidambaram. Those days Das was Revenue Secretary. Enforcement Directorate (ED) comes under Revenue Secretary. In January 2014, the then Finance Minister moved out Rajeshwar Singh, Enforcement Directorate’s Deputy Director and Investigation Officer of 2G and Aircel-Maxis cases. As Investigating Officer Singh was directly reporting to Supreme Court’s 2G Bench, which was monitoring these high profile cases. Chidambaram was waiting for the retirement of Justice G S Singhvi in December 2013. As Singhvi was a tough judge, Chidambaram was well aware of the repercussions of changing an Investigating Officer.
Several times from 1990, many courts have given strong directions to Government for not changing the Investigating Officers in sensitive cases till the end of the trial. Within days of Justice Singhvi’s exit, Chidambaram removed the non-pliant officer Rajeshwar Singh from ED, who was recommended by UPSC for the absorption. This was an unprecedented action from the part of the Finance Ministry. The officer joined the ED from Uttar Pradesh Police service on deputation and UPSC recommended for his permanent absorption in ED.
Swamy challenged Finance Ministry’s move. Though Supreme Court ordered Rajeshwar Singh’s re-instatement in the ED in April 2014, the order was not implemented. When the new Government came, Swamy again approached the Supreme Court in October 2014 about the inaction on part of the Finance Ministry in re-instating Rajeshwar Singh. Was Chidambaram controlling the Finance Ministry through pliant officers? That time CBI and ED’s Advocate was K K Venugopal in 2G related matters. Venugopal strongly objected to Finance Ministry’s dubious moves against Supreme Court appointed Investigating Officers.
A day before the arguments were to commence, Revenue Secretary Shaktikanta Das changed K K Venugopal and fielded Nageswara Rao as ED’s Advocate. Nageswara Rao was then Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) appointed by the UPA and is currently a judge in the Supreme Court.
Nageswara Rao under the instructions of Revenue Department told the Supreme Court in September 2014 that all the probe in Aircel Maxis case by ED is over and that there was no need for maintaining the Investigating Officer Rajeshwar Singh. Swamy blasted Rao in the Court. K K Venugopal also took Finance Ministry to task for its distortions in the Court. The Supreme Court passed a stern direction to Ministry to absorb Rajeshwar Singh in three working days slamming the Finance Ministry.
Even after Supreme Court’s direction, Revenue Department went ahead with a service case against Rajeshwar Singh’s absorption by UPSC. In all legal forums Finance Ministry lost the case including Central Administrative Tribunal and the Delhi High Court. Was this punishment to Rajeshwar Singh for raiding Chidambaram’s son Karti and his companies in Aircel Maxis case? Even today, Finance Ministry’s appeal is pending before Supreme Court in Service Case for Delhi High Court ratifying CAT’s order to permanently absorb the officer in ED. Was Das delaying due promotions to Rajeshwar Singh by conducting a service case?
So when the Finance Minister gives a certificate to Shaktikanta Das as a “disciplined officer”, it opens it up for interpretation of what constitutes being “disciplined”.
During the period when Das was Revenue Secretary, the ED under him in mid-2015 even tried to block the probe in the National Herald case. After the trial court found prima-facie evidence, Swamy filed petition to the ED for registering cases for money laundering in National Herald deals. In those days ED’s chief was Rajan Katoch, a UPA appointee and cousin of Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. Both Das and Katoch tried to scuttle the case. After Swamy’s complaint to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Katoch was shunted out from ED and Shaktikanta Das was shifted out from the powerful Revenue Department which controls ED, Income Tax, Customs and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
Some thoughts to ponder:
- Is Dr. Swamy justified in his observations of Shaktikanta Das?
- Why is Mr. Jaitley being so sensitive to a tweet by Dr. Swamy?
- Is the NDA government finding it difficult to get things moving thanks to such “disciplined” officers?
 Permanent absorption of Rajeshwar Singh as ED Dy Dir: SC – Sep 8, 2014, RSTV
 Supreme Court Appoints Venugopal as Amicus Curiae for 2G Matters – Sep 09, 2015, NDTV
 SC orders permanent absorption of Rajeshwar Singh as ED Deputy Director – Dec 24, 2013, Indianexpress
 An unfair attack on a disciplined civil servant Arun-Jaitley backs Shaktikanta Das – Jun 23, 2016, Narada News