Delhi Excise policy case | ED arrests Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal

March 21, 2024 10:09 pm | Updated 10:09 pm IST

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on Thursday night in an Excise policy-linked money laundering case, officials said.

The arrest, the first of a sitting Chief Minister, came hours after the Delhi High Court refused to grant protection to the AAP national convenor from any coercive action by the agency.

The 55-year-old leader’s arrest, amid campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, drew angry reactions from his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Soon after the High Court order, an ED team reached his residence and carried out searches. Subsequently, he was arrested, officials said.

Officials said the ED would produce the Chief Minister before a court in New Delhi on Friday and seek his custody for interrogation.

As the ED officials carried out their action inside, additional Delhi Police personnel and Rapid Action Force and CRPF teams were deployed around the Chief Minister’s residence.

The additional deployment was made as the ED sought extra security measures in anticipation of protests by AAP supporters, sources said.

A large number of AAP workers and leaders gathered near the Chief Minister’s residence and shouted slogans against the ED action.

During the day, Kejriwal moved the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order denying him any relief in the matter.

The ED’s action is virtually a replay of what transpired during the arrest last week of Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader K. Kavitha, who is now in ED custody in the same case.

The case pertains to alleged corruption and money-laundering in formulating and executing the Delhi government’s Excise policy for 2021-22, which was later scrapped.

AAP leaders Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh are in judicial custody in the case.

Kejriwal’s name has been mentioned multiple times in the charge sheets filed by the ED. The agency has alleged that the accused were in touch with Kejriwal for formulating the excise policy that resulted in undue benefits to them in return for which they paid kickbacks to the AAP.

Supreme Court stays IT Ministry’s notification establishing fact check unit under PIB to identify fake news

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed a government notification of March 20 establishing the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Checking Unit (PIB FCU) to act as a “deterrent” against the creation and dissemination of fake news or misinformation regarding the “business” of the Centre.

The order was passed by a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on petitions filed by the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra.

The Bench said the implementation of the March 20, 2024 notification would remain stayed until a third judge of the Bombay High Court took a final call on the validity of provisions of the Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. It is under this provision that the March 20 notification was issued.

The case had gone to the third judge of the High Court following a split verdict by a Division Bench. The notification was issued by the Centre after the third judge found no reason to stay Rule 3 on March 11.

The Supreme Court did not comment on the merits or legality of Rule 3(1)(b)(v), saying the impact of the provision on the fundamental rights to free speech and expression would be analysed by the High Court.

Appearing for Kamra, senior advocate Darius Khambata said the establishment of the FCU would result in “every social media intermediary pulling down content for fear of consequences”.

“This will set a deep chilling effect on free speech,” he submitted. Khambata said the Centre setting up an FCU to protect the “business” of the Centre was like “Ceasar judging Caesar”.

“Why not an independent unit? Why does only the business of the Central government need protection from misinformation and fake content,” Khambata asked.

He said individuals needed more protection from fake content than the State.

Khambata informed the Bench that the Centre had assured the High Court on April 27 last year that it would not implement Rule 3 till a final decision was taken by the court. He pointed to the timing of the issuance of the March 20 notification barely days before the Lok Sabha polls were due to start.

Advocate Shadan Farasat, for the EGI, said the implementation of the FCU run by the government would ensure that only the Centre would have monopoly over the truth.

“There will be a singularity of truth,” he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta referred to several instances in the past when fake news had proliferated on social media, causing harm and even violence. He said the statutory mechanism was found inadequate to combat the viral dissemination of false content.

He said, except for a few petitioners, the social media intermediaries had not challenged the Rule. Kamra, in his petition, argued that the sweep of the Rule operated to “muzzle speech against the Central government”.

“By threatening intermediaries with the loss of their statutory safe harbour should they fail to take down content that the Central government’s FCU identifies as fake, false or misleading, the Rule coerces intermediaries to execute a regime of self-interested censorship of online content relating to the business of the Central government,” the petition argued.

It said the intermediaries, who were profit making commercial enterprises, would choose to bend rather than risk civil or criminal liability for third-party content on their online platforms.

Supreme Court raps Tamil Nadu Governor for refusing to swear-in Ponmudy as Minister

The Supreme Court on Thursday, has given Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi overnight to take a call on reinstating DMK leader K. Ponmudy as a Minister. The apex court said it would pass a judgment on Friday on his conduct in the matter.

The Bench said Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi is “defying the Supreme Court of India” by claiming that appointing DMK leader K. Ponmudy as Higher Education Minister is against “constitutional morality”, despite a Supreme Court order suspending his conviction and sentence in a disproportionate assets case.

In a letter to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Ravi had said it was pertinent to note that the Supreme Court had suspended the conviction by way of interim relief to Ponmudy. It only meant that the conviction, though existent, had been made non-operative and not set aside, sources in the Raj Bhavan told The Hindu on March 17.

The Supreme Court had paved way for Ponmudy, who was convicted by Madras High Court in a corruption case, to return as a legislator by suspending the sentence and staying the conviction. Following this, the DMK government sought the Governor to swear-in Ponmudy as Higher Education Minister, a portfolio he was looking after prior to the conviction.

The State government argued that the Governor had stepped out of bounds to opine that Ponmudy was “tainted by corruption” and that his appointment would be against “constitutional morality”.

Its application contended that when the Supreme Court has suspended the conviction, a legal fiction is created that the earlier finding of guilt by a lower court against Ponmudy never existed in the eyes of law.

“The Governor is attempting to run a parallel government or dyarchy. The Governor is attempting to choose a Minister as per his subjective assessment of suitability, which is impermissible… The letter (of the Governor) has to be stayed and a direction issued to the Governor to appoint Mr. Ponmudy as a Minister of the Government of Tamil Nadu and to allot him the portfolios as per the letter of the Chief Minister on March 13 to prevent grave and irreparable harm and hardships,” the State’s application sought.

Tamil Nadu took the court back to a run-in between the Governor and the State over the pendency of 10 crucial Bills in 2023. The State had blamed the Governor for sitting on the Bills which had been cleared by the Legislative Assembly. Though the State had resent the Bills to the Governor for approval on November 18 last year, they were reserved by the latter for the consideration of the President.

EC publishes electoral bond details, including alpha-numeric bond numbers

The Election Commission on March 21 made public a fresh data set of electoral bonds, including their alpha-numeric numbers that can help match their purchasers with the political parties that received the funds.

Two separate lists of the donors and the recipients were published by the poll panel on its website after the details were submitted to it by the State Bank of India earlier in the day as per a Supreme Court order.

The State Bank of India was the only bank authorised to sell and redeem the bonds, which were first issued in March 2018 and were being sold until the scheme was declared null and void by the top court last month. The Election Commission said it has uploaded the data on electoral bonds on its website as received from SBI on “as is where is basis”.

Supreme Court dismisses applications to stay appointments of ECs Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, Gyanesh Kumar

The Supreme Court on March 21 dismissed applications seeking to stay the appointment of Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar as Election Commissioners (ECs) in accordance with a new law giving the dominant role to the Central government in the selection process.

The applications filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms and others had urged the court to stay the implementation of the Chief Election Commission and other Election Commissions (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Act, 2023. Section 7 of the Act had countermanded the Supreme Court judgment by replacing the Chief Justice of India on the high-level selection committee with a Union Minister of the Centre’s choice.

The applicants had asked for fresh appointments to the posts of the two ECs on the basis of the Supreme Court judgment. “We cannot stay the legislation… There will be a lot of chaos,” a Bench of Justices Sanjeev Khanna and Dipankar Datta said, pointing to the Lok Sabha elections already waiting at the doorstep, ready to commence from April 19.

Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl D’Souza, for the NGO, argued that the selection of ECs could not be left in the hands of the Central government.

“This is against free and fair elections,” Bhushan argued.

But Justice Khanna said there were no allegations against Sandhu or Kumar. The judgment was a stop-gap arrangement until the Parliament brought in a law on the appointments of ECs.

“For 70 years, from 1950 to 2023, the appointments were made by the government and we had people like Mr. T.N. Seshan…” Justice Khanna said. However, the Bench was critical about the manner in which the details of candidates were given to Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the single largest party in the Opposition and a member of the high-level selection committee, merely hours before the Selection Committee was to meet.

“You could have been transparent. Just two hours to read 200 bio profiles? You should have been fair. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done,” Justice Datta addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre. The two ECs were appointed on March 14 and took charge on March 15. The election schedule was announced on March 16.

Sonia Gandhi says systematic effort under way by PM Modi to ‘cripple Congress financially’

In a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over Income Tax (I-T) Department’s action on the Congress, former party chief Sonia Gandhi accused PM Modi of carrying out “a systematic effort to financially cripple the party”.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that such action points to the absence of a level playing ground. On questioning why constitutional authorities have not intervened so far, former party president Rahul Gandhi said the assertion that India is a democracy is a “lie”.

In a press conference also addressed by the Congress president, Gandhi and other senior leaders, the party stressed that all its accounts were frozen. Chairperson of the Parliamentary Party Ms. Gandhi said, “The issue we are talking today is extremely serious as the Congress president has mentioned. It doesn’t impact just the Congress party alone, but the Indian democracy itself.”

“Systematic efforts are underway to cripple congress financially. Money is being forcibly taken from us. Despite all this, we are doing our very best to effectively campaign. This is unprecedented and undemocratic,” she said.

Kharge said, “The elections to 18th Lok Sabha has started and every citizen is eager to participate. In a democracy, impartial elections and a level playing ground is essential. The ruling party shouldn’t have a monopoly over resources. It should not be the case that the media is controlled by the ruling party. The central agencies have been completely controlled by them.”

“The electoral bond data revealed after the Supreme Court order is shameful and worrisome. Now, there is a question mark over impartial elections. The Supreme Court called the bond scheme illegal and unconstitutional. But the ruling party has accumulated thousands of crores through this scheme while the bank account of the principal Opposition party’s have been frozen. This will have far reaching consequences,” Kharge noted.

“You have seen how a recent election in a foreign country has seen someone gather 99% votes. You can’t call an election, that attempts to make political party helpless and then have a election, to be free and fair,” the Congress president added.

“The BJP has cornered 56% of the electoral bonds. Look at their expenses. Their advertisements are all over the place, TV channel and newspapers. Look at the five star offices of the BJP. I don’t want to say how the BJP has gathered money. I appeal to the Constitutional authorities to ensure free and fair elections,” Kharge said, adding “Our accounts should be allowed to function normally. We are looking toward the courts to settle the tax disputes. The government and the ruling party doesn’t want us to contest elections freely.”

54th IFFI: Centre denied screening of four films set in Bhutan, Gaza, Turkey, and Hungary in 2023

The Union government denied film festival screening permissions to four films set in the Gaza Strip, Turkey, Hungary and Bhutan last year, according to records from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The four films are — A Gaza Weekend, a satire directed by Basil Khalil set in a post-epidemic Israel where the Gaza strip becomes the safest place in the Levant; Explanation for Everything, a Hungarian drama directed by Gábor Reisz that won the Orizzonti award for best film at the 80th Venice Film Festival; The Monk And The Gun, directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, another satire featuring mock elections in Bhutan; and Dormitory, directed by Nehir Tuna, a drama about a teenager sent to a residential Islamic seminary by his father.

These films were denied permission by the I&B Ministry to be screened at the 54th International Film Festival of India held last November in Goa. Film festivals usually feature a range of international cinema, and considering the smaller overall size of the audiences, the government waives the requirement for a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

While the certification board is not involved, the I&B Ministry still requires government clearance for films to be played in festivals in India. For this exemption from a CBFC certificate, organisers must form a “preview committee,” “compris[ing] persons who are related to the film industry or are critics/writers connected with film,” the guidelines framed in 2006 for this purpose state.

The denial from the Ministry doesn’t appear to be consistent for at least one of the films concerned — The Monk and the Gun was Bhutan’s official entry to the Oscars, and even though it was denied a screening in November at IFFI, it was shown at the Jio MAMI Film Festival in Mumbai the previous month, and even won an award. The film is set to be released theatrically in India at some point — a trailer by Impact Films has been shown in Indian cinemas, approval for which was granted in February by the CBFC.

In Brief

U.S. recognises Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory: official

The United States recognises Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory and strongly opposes any unilateral attempts by China to advance its territorial claims across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a senior Biden administration official has said, days after the Chinese military reiterated its claim over the State following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit there. Earlier this week, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Zhang Xiaogang said that the southern part of Xizang (the Chinese name for Tibet) is an inherent part of China’s territory, and Beijing “never acknowledges and firmly opposes” the “so-called Arunachal Pradesh illegally established by India”.

ED files prosecution complaint against Karti Chidambaram

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a prosecution complaint (charge sheet) against Congress leader Karti P. Chidambaram, Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited and others, in connection with an alleged money laundering case. Among those arraigned under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) provisions are Chidambaram’s alleged aide S. Bhaskararaman, and Talwandi Sabo Power Limited. A special Delhi court took cognisance of the prosecution complaint on March 19, 2024.

Evening Wrap will return tomorrow.

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