Do not create ‘an atmosphere of fear’, Supreme Court tells ED

Chhattisgarh tells SC that over 50 excise department officials complained in writing about mental and physical torture, threats to family members by ED; claims ‘illegal’ probe is targeted attack on State government

Updated - January 04, 2024 02:33 am IST

Published - May 16, 2023 09:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

The Supreme Court on Tuesday cautioned the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against creating an “atmosphere of fear”, after the Chhattisgarh government alleged that the central agency was “running amok” in the State to “implicate” Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in a money laundering case linked to a ₹2000-crore liquor scam.

A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said that even a “bona fide cause” would seem suspect if a law enforcement agency conducted itself in a way that created an atmosphere of fear.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Chhattisgarh, submitted in court that over 50 excise department officials in the State have complained about threats and “mental and physical torture” from the ED during the course of investigation.

‘Mental, physical torture’

“It is a shocking state of affairs. The ED is running amok. They are threatening Excise officers,” he said. Mr. Sibal contended that the State’s Assembly election was slated for 2023 “and that is why it is happening”.

Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju said that the ED was just doing its duty and investigating a scam in the State.

The State, in an application, said, “52 officers of the Department of Excise have given complaint in writing alleging mental and physical torture by the officers of the Enforcement Directorate during the course of investigation”. Chhattisgarh said that it found itself in a “peculiar situation where any action by the State investigative agency against the Central agencies would lead to a Centre-State conflict”.

The State noted that several officers have made serious allegations that even their family members were not spared. They too were “physically abused and threatened to sign blank pages or pre-typed documents”. It added that one of the petitioners in the liquor scam case has put it on record before the Special Judge, PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act), that “he is being beaten up to name the Chief Minister of the State”.

‘Illegal investigation’

The State, in a 140-page application, said that there was a “law and order situation” in Chhattisgarh. There is an “administrative standstill due to the actions of the ED,” the State said in its application. “These actions of the ED are a part of a well-orchestrated and targeted attempt of de-establishing the State government. The State of Chhattisgarh has no option but to approach the Supreme Court,” the application urged.

The State alleged that the investigation carried out by the ED was wholly without jurisdiction and illegal in as much as there was no underlying predicate offence. “The illegal investigation conducted by Enforcement Directorate in the present case is contrary to the principle of federalism which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution,” it said.

Chhattisgarh had recently filed an original suit invoking Article 131 of the Constitution challenging the legality of certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The State had alleged that these provisions were prone to misuse by Central agencies who flex them to “intimidate, harass and disturb” the normal functioning of the non-BJP State government.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by two Chhattisgarh-based persons, one of whom has been arrested by the ED in connection with the case, challenging the proceedings initiated by the anti-money laundering agency. The State filed its application seeking impleadment in the petition.

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