The Supreme Court on Tuesday told the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to not create an atmosphere of fear, following allegations by the Chhattisgarh government that the agency was attempting to implicate the chief minister in a money laundering case linked to the alleged Rs 2,000 crore liquor scam in the state.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the Chhattisgarh government, submitted before a bench comprising justices S.K. Kaul and A Amanullah that the ED is running amok and they are threatening excise officers, and stressed that it is a shocking state of affairs. Sibal pressed that this is happening because elections are coming.
Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, representing ED, opposed Sibal's submissions and submitted that the ED is probing a scam in the state.
The bench orally told the probe agency "Don't create an atmosphere of fear" and observed that even a bonafide cause becomes suspect when the agency behaves like this.
The state government has alleged that several state excise department officials have complained, the ED is threatening them and their family members with arrest and the agency is trying to implicate Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.
The top court made these observations while hearing a plea filed by two Chhattisgarh-based persons challenging the proceedings initiated by the agency.
The state government has filed an impleadment application in the petition, contending that officers of the excise department have complained alleging mental and physical torture by ED officers during the probe and there is an administrative standstill due to the ED's actions. It emphasised that there is a law and order situation in the state.
The state government, in its application, contended that its officers are being threatened by the agency officials with their arrest or arrest of their family members and also being implicated in cases if they do not make and sign the statement as desired by them and to implicate the chief minister and other senior officers.
The state government has claimed that ED is acting at the behest of political masters and the investigation is completely biased. The apex court has asked ED to file its reply on the state government's application.
In April, Chhattisgarh government moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), saying that the central investigation agencies are being misused by those in power in order to intimidate, harass and disturb the normal functioning of an opposition government in Chhattisgarh.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and advocate Sumeer Sodhi, representing the Chhattisgarh government, submitted before the apex court that the issue is of constitutional importance and urged the court to grant urgent hearing in the matter.
Chhattisgarh has filed the original suit challenging the law under Article 131 of the Constitution which empowers a state to move the apex court directly in matters of dispute with the central government or any other state.
The state government, which is first to challenge PMLA and its provisions, said that several complaints are being received by it on behalf of its officials as well as the residents of the state to the effect that ED is "torturing, abusing, and manhandling" them in the garb of conducting a probe.
"The present case is a perfect example of how the central investigation agencies are being misused by those in power in order to intimidate, harass and disturb the normal functioning of an opposition government in the state of Chhattisgarh," it said.
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