TAMIL NADU

Bhaskaran trying to protract proceedings: HC

CHENNAI DEC. 4. The Madras High Court has ordered expeditious hearing of a case of alleged FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act) violations committed by N. Sasikalaa's husband M. Natarajan and a relative V. Bhaskaran, while importing a Toyota Lexus car from London.

Justice P.D. Dinakaran said Mr. Bhaskaran's petition challenging an Enforcement Directorate notice, ``is dismissed with a direction to the magistrate concerned to proceed with the matter expeditiously, as the petitioner had already delayed the criminal action for a considerable time''.

The ED sought to initiate the case against Mr. Bhaskaran and Mr. Natarajan in connection with the purchase of the foreign car from S. Balakrishnan of London, allegedly in contravention of Section 8(1) and 9(1a) read with Section 64(2) of the FERA. The matter is pending before the Economic Offences Court, Egmore.

When the accused were given an opportunity to inspect, either by themselves or by their lawyers, the documents relied upon by the ED, they failed to avail themselves of the opportunity. (Proviso to Section 61(2)(ii) of the FERA contemplates an opportunity to the person facing criminal action, to show whether he obtained any special or general permission from the Reserve Bank).

On being served with an `opportunity notice' on May 21, 2002, Mr. Bhaskaran challenged it, saying he had been deprived of a reasonable opportunity to submit his effective reply. He had not been furnished with the copies of the documents relied upon by the ED, and that the five-day period was too short to prepare a reply, he said. The petition was admitted by the High Court on August 13, 2002 and since then it had been adjourned four times for want of a representation from Mr. Bhaskaran.

Pointing to the adjournments, Mr. Justice Dinakaran observed: ``Inspite of the lapse of three months, Mr. Bhaskaran had not chosen to submit his reply whether he had obtained any special or general permission from the RBI before purchasing the car.

``Also, Section 61 of the FERA does not make furnishing of a copy of the documents relied upon by the ED mandatory... The question of furnishing the documents at this stage is totally premature.

He is entitled to a copy only at the stage of framing of charges, not at the inception stage. Therefore, the grievance of the petitioner that the impugned notice suffers for non-furnishing of documents is not only misconceived, but also untenable in the law... It is clear that the petitioner is only attempting to protract the proceedings to which this court cannot be a party'', observed Mr. Justice Dinakaran.

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