The Supreme Court held on Tuesday that the third extension of service to Sanjay Kumar Mishra, the Director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), was invalid. The court, however, has allowed him to continue in his post till July 31.
The Centre had given another one-year extension to Mishra in November last year, a day before he was set to retire. This was the third extension in the tenure of Mishra, who was to be in office till November 18, 2023, with a total tenure as ED chief lasting five years.
Mishra was first appointed as the ED Director on November 19, 2018, for a fixed period of two years. Days before his tenure was to end, the President on November 13, 2020, modified the previous order retrospectively and changed Mishra’s tenure to three years.
On September 8, 2021, a Bench of Justices B R Gavai and L Nageswara Rao upheld the Centre’s order extending the tenure of Mishra beyond two years. However, the Bench said that “extension of tenure…to officers who have attained the age of superannuation should be done only in rare and exceptional cases”, and that such extensions “should be for a short period”.
Critics say that the successive extensions granted to Mishra point towards his “centrality to the government’s playbook”.
Under Mishra’s tenure, the ED had come to be touted as the “new CBI”, indicating the ferociousness with which the Central agency is carrying out its operations.
Opposition parties, many of whose leaders including Congress leaders P Chidambaram and D K Shivakumar, NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Anil Deshmukh, and AAP leaders Satyender Jain and Manish Sisodia.have been at the receiving end of the ED’s stick, cry foul over the agency allegedly being a tool in the hands of the government. They point to its role as a “catalyst” in how political alliances are made and broken.
Born in a middle class family in Lucknow, Mishra has a Master’s degree in Biochemistry from Lucknow University. He then joined the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) as a senior research fellow and is said to have authored several papers on immunology.
It was on his family’s persuasion that Mishra appeared for the civil services exams, clearing it in his first attempt. After joining the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) in 1984, his first posting was in Gorakhpur, UP, as Assistant Director in the Income Tax department.
Within four years, he had his first stint with the ED when he joined it as an Assistant Director with charges of Agra and Jaipur. Those were the days when the ED only probed cases of foreign exchange violations under the now repealed Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.
Sources say it was this stint that helped Mishra learn the ways of the agency. “He was meticulous and a stickler for details. More importantly, he was a keen learner. He also had the ability to be empathetic without bending rules,” remembers one of Mishra’s colleagues from his early years.
According to the officer, around this time, Mishra carried out a raid in Jaipur on receiving information about a hawala transaction of Rs 20 lakh. During the raids, however, it was revealed that the suspect was a businessman from Sindh province of Pakistan and had to leave the country because of religious persecution. The hawala transaction money was all of his wealth.
“Mishra felt very sorry for the businessman. Since a raid had been conducted, he did file a case, but some adjustments were made to ensure that the suspect was not judged very harshly,” the colleague said.
In 1994, Mishra came back to his cadre of Income Tax and was posted in Ahmedabad for a nine-year stint. He then moved to Kolhapur in Maharashtra and was back in Delhi in 2006, where he handled international taxation and transfer pricing.
With all this experience, when Mishra joined the ED in 2018, he was “hands-on”, say his colleagues. “You tell him 10 per cent of a case and he will figure out the rest. He has an elephantine memory and can remember papers he saw six months ago. This forces us to keep everything ready as he can demand anything, any time. He is also a multi-tasker and can discuss multiple cases at the same time. Thanks to a very sound legal mind, our cases seldom falter in the courts,” said one of his junior officers in the ED.
Another official said Mishra’s unassuming personality can be rather misleading. “He is a tough task master,” the official said.
Initially, the government, too, didn’t seem to notice Mishra. When the NDA came to power in 2014, Mishra, then a year into his tenure as a joint secretary in the all-important Ministry of Home Affairs, was among the 50-odd senior bureaucrats who were transferred out from key ministries in the first few months of the Modi government.
As Mishra went back to the Income Tax, he built two cases that caught the attention of the government — one against media house NDTV and the other against Young India, a Gandhi family-run organisation that owns the National Herald newspaper. Both cases were then in the realm of tax assessment; Mishra turned them into prosecutable offences.
By November 2018, Mishra was appointed the new chief of the ED.