Moving to appoint a new Law Secretary, the government, besides shortlisting three senior officers of the Indian Legal Service, has interviewed three others from outside the ILS cadre, including a former Delhi Principal Secretary (Law) who had locked horns with the Delhi government and cleared the sanction to prosecute JNU students in an alleged sedition case.
The Department of Legal Affairs, under the Union Law Ministry, which advises ministries on legal matters including interpretation of the Constitution and the laws, has been functioning without a full-time Law Secretary for more than six months now.
Currently, Justice Secretary and senior IAS officer Dr Alok Srivastava is holding additional charge of Law Secretary. He was entrusted the charge after Law Secretary Suresh Chandra, an ILS officer, retired last December. Over 60 applicants applied for the post after the government advertised, calling for nominations with April 12 as the deadline for receiving applications.
Sources said this the second time that the Centre has invited applications for the post of Law Secretary. In 2016, when Law Secretary P K Malhotra retired, the government had called for applications. But eventually an ILS officer, Suresh Chandra, was appointed Law Secretary. Prior to Malhotra, Law Secretaries D R Meena and Dr T K Viswanathan were also ILS officers.
Allowing non-ILS officers to apply for the post of Law Secretary, the government said that a “person of ability and having special knowledge of law and professional experience of not less than 25 years in the areas of law, legal affairs, or any other field which in the opinion of central government would be useful for the post” is the “essential qualification” for an applicant.
It is learnt that a committee headed by the Union Cabinet Secretary had shortlisted at least eight applicants who were interviewed on June 26. One of them, sources said, was former Delhi Principal Secretary (Law) A K Mendiratta who belongs to the Delhi Higher Judicial Service. He is currently District & Sessions Judge (North-East), Karkardooma Courts.
Mendiratta had earlier been repatriated to his parent judicial service cadre by the Delhi government. The transfer had come in the backdrop of Mendiratta informing Delhi Law Minister Kailash Gahlot that only the Lieutenant Governor was the competent authority to undertake an independent assessment of the alleged sedition case to grant prosecution sanction — this was the case in which former JNU students Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were named in a chargesheet by Delhi Police.
Also in the shortlist, sources said, was retired Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS) officer Dr Anil Kumar Gulati. Currently in-charge of the Central Agency Section in the Law Ministry, which is responsible for conducting litigation before the Supreme Court on behalf of all ministries of the central government, Gulati had previously served as Joint Secretary in the Department of Justice.
Sources said a serving IAS officer, in the rank of Additional Secretary, was also interviewed for the post. The three ILS officers in the shortlist are Sudhi Ranjan Mishra, Additional Secretary, Department of Legal Affairs; Dr Reeta Vasishta and K Biswal, both Additional Secretary, Legislative Department.