Sand mining case: ED can summon ‘any person’ for ‘any information’, Supreme Court tells Tamil Nadu

Supreme Court orders four District Collectors to appear in person before ED on April 25. Strongly deprecates them for not being present in response to ED summons. Says they have no respect for the court, the law or the Constitution

Updated - April 02, 2024 03:22 pm IST

Published - April 02, 2024 01:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Enforcement Directorate had sought information from the four Tamil Nadu Collectors about sand mining sites in their respective districts. File

The Enforcement Directorate had sought information from the four Tamil Nadu Collectors about sand mining sites in their respective districts. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on April 2 endorsed the sweeping powers of the Directorate of Enforcement (ED), saying the Central agency could call “anybody for any information” even as it castigated four Tamil Nadu District Collectors for failing to appear in person in response to a summons issued to them by the anti-money laundering body.

The Tamil Nadu government and the Collectors informed a Bench headed by Justice Bela M. Trivedi that they had written to the ED expressing their inability to appear in person owing to the fact that the General Elections in Tamil Nadu was due on April 19 and they needed more time to collect the information sought by the Central agency about sand mining sites in their respective districts.

The Collectors had explained that the information sought was not in their offices, but had to be collected from other branches of the district administration, verified and compiled to be presented before the ED. They had sought time till the end of April.

On April 2, the court refused to accept the Collectors’ explanation. Justice Trivedi said their conduct showed scant respect for the Supreme Court’s order on February 27 to appear in person before the ED on whatever date it summoned them.

“Such a cavalier approach may land them [District Collectors] in a difficult situation. This court had passed an order on February 27… Their conduct shows that these officers have no respect for this court, the law and much less to the Constitution. Such an approach is strongly deprecated,” Justice Trivedi addressed senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Amit Anand Tiwari, for Tamil Nadu, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the four District Collectors of Vellore, Ariyalur, Karur and Tiruchi.

‘Gathering data for ED’

Mr. Sibal submitted that the officials were still gathering the data for the ED from the various offices. They were also, as District Magistrates, saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order and fulfillment of social welfare and social security programmes in their respective jurisdictions.

But Justice Trivedi said the Collectors should have respected the top court order of February 27 and appeared before the ED and “said whatever they wanted to say”.

Mr. Sibal asked what would have been the point of appearing before the ED without the necessary data. He said the Collectors did not also want to disturb the election process.

‘Neither witnesses nor accused’

“They [Collectors] are neither witnesses nor accused… Can the ED call anybody like this,” Mr. Sibal asked the Bench.

“Yes, they can,” Justice Trivedi replied categorically. Mr. Sibal said that was not the law “as we understand it”. He said Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) allowed for “authorised agents” to be sent in response to ED summons.

Justice Trivedi said 50(2) of the PMLA empowered the ED to summon “any person” whose attendance was considered necessary for giving evidence or production of records in the course of “any investigation or proceeding” under the statute. Section 50(3) mandated that the individual summoned was “bound to attend in person or through authorised agents” and would be required to make truthful statements and produce the required documents.

The court ordered the four Collectors to be present in person before the ED on April 25. It listed the case for hearing on May 6.

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