The Supreme Court today said it would hear on March 21 the pleas challenging the amended law allowing an extension of up to five years for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) director.

A bench of Justice B R Gavai and Justice Aravind Kumar deferred the matter after noting that it needs a detailed hearing. "List on March 21," the bench said.

As the hearing commenced, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that an affidavit has been filed by the Centre stating that the petitions in the matter have been filed on behalf of such leaders against whom cases of money laundering are pending. "All political people facing serious money laundering cases have come before this court," he submitted.

To this, the apex court remarked, "We are not concerned with that." Senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, who has been appointed as amicus curiae in the case, said extensions may only be granted in exceptional cases.

The apex court on December 12 had sought the response from the Centre and others to a plea challenging the third extension granted to Enforcement Directorate (ED) chief Sanjay Kumar Mishra. It had issued notices to the Union of India, Central Vigilance Commission and the ED director on a plea filed by Congress leader Jaya Thakur.

The plea accused the central government of destroying the "basic structure" of democracy by misusing the enforcement agencies against its political opponents.

The Congress leader said the apex court had passed a specific order that no further extension shall be granted to Mishra but the Centre gave him a second extension from November 17, 2021 to November 17, 2022 after which she filed a petition on which a notice was issued.

"During the pendency of above writ petition, respondent no.1 again gave third extension from November 18, 2022 to November 18, 2023 to the respondent no.2, which shows that respondent no.1 has no respect towards the rule of Law," the plea has said.

On November 18, Justice S K Kaul had recused himself from hearing the pleas challenging the amended law allowing extension of up to five years for the ED director, a day after Mishra was given a fresh one-year extension as the chief of the anti-money laundering agency.

A batch of petitions, including those filed by Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and Thakur, and TMC's Mahua Moitra and Saket Gokhale, had come up for hearing before the bench. According to an official order, the Union government gave a fresh one-year extension to Mishra, the third for the Indian Revenue Service officer, in the position. The notification issued by the government said the 1984 batch IRS officer will be in office till November 18, 2023.

Mishra, 62, was first appointed the director of the ED for two years on November 19, 2018. Later, by an order dated November 13, 2020, the central government modified the appointment letter retrospectively and his two-year term was changed to three years. The government promulgated an ordinance last year under which the tenure of the ED and CBI chiefs could be extended by up to three years after the mandated term of two years.

On September 5, the Centre had contested in the apex court the bona fide of the pleas filed by some political leaders challenging the extension granted to the ED chief and the amended law allowing such extensions up to five years, calling it "pressure tactics". The apex court had then appointed Vishwanathan as amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assist it in dealing with the pleas.

Congress leader Surjewala's plea challenged the amendment made by the central government to the fundamental concept decided by the apex court in two judgements in the Vineet Narayan and the Common Cause cases on fixed tenure for such officials.

With PTI Inputs