SC slams Tamil Nadu district collectors for not appearing before ED | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

SC slams Tamil Nadu district collectors for not appearing before ED

Apr 03, 2024 04:55 AM IST

Supreme Court sets April 25 deadline for Tamil Nadu district collectors to join ED probe on illegal sand mining, warns of strict action for non-compliance.

A fresh battle is unfolding between the Tamil Nadu government and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) with the Supreme Court having to intervene yet again. On Tuesday, the top court reproached some of the district collectors in Tamil Nadu for failing to appear before ED to join a probe in relation to alleged illegal sand mining in the state, noting that their “cavalier attitude” will land them in trouble.

The Supreme Court has asked the district collectors to appear before ED on April 25. (HT Archive)
The Supreme Court has asked the district collectors to appear before ED on April 25. (HT Archive)

Setting an April 25 date for the collectors to show up before the ED investigators, the top court made it clear that the officers’ failure to join the probe will cost them dear, compelling the court to take strict action against them.

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A bench of justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal was irked by the fact that despite the court’s unequivocal order in February that the persons summoned under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) must appear before ED to cooperate with an ongoing investigation, five district collectors in the southern state chose not to appear before the agency.

In the previous order, the bench dismissed the Tamil Nadu government’s attempt to stop the agency from questioning its district collectors in connection with the alleged illegal sand mining and suspended a Madras high court order in this regard.

“Such cavalier attitude in our view cannot be typically tolerated when court had already passed orders restoring the summons. They were expected to comply. This shows that the officers don’t have the respect for the court, or the law, much less the Constitution of India,” the bench recorded in its order, turning down the state’s submissions that the matter could perhaps wait till the review petition filed by the state government against the February order is decided.

The proceedings on Tuesday echoes previous confrontations between the MK Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and the federal agency, including legal and administrative skirmishes between the two over the arrest of ED officer Ankit Tiwari in a bribery case and Tamil Nadu minister Senthil Balaji in a money laundering case.

Representing the state government, senior counsel Kapil Sibal and state’s additional advocate general Amit Anand Tiwari on Tuesday contended that making district collectors appear in the midst of the general elections may have its own ramifications of the law-and-order situation in the state.

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But the bench remained unimpressed. “We are not happy with the conduct of your officers. They have not complied (with the previous order)...they have not appeared. This kind of situation will land you in trouble...They should have appeared in person and helped the agency. This is not done. They should have respected the court’s orders, appeared in person and then responded,” it told the senior lawyers representing Tamil Nadu.

On being informed by Sibal that the Lok Sabha election is set to be held in the state on April 19, the bench said that they will have to appear on a date after the polling is over.

In its order, the bench said: “The collectors have not complied or appeared. Heard learned counsel who submitted that they have to implement social security schemes on eve of parliamentary elections. They have also filed review of order...The same is strongly deprecated but having regard to the fact that the general elections are approaching, learned senior counsel Kapil Sibal states that they are collecting the necessary data... Collectors shall remain present in person pursuant to ED summons on April 25. List on May 6 for compliance, failing which strict view is to be taken.”

The order on Tuesday came while hearing an appeal filed by ED against the Madras high court order passed in November 2023, staying the summons issued to five district collectors of the state in connection with alleged illegal sand mining. The high court passed the stay order on a state government’s petition, complaining against ED’s summonses to its officers.

The bench in its February order called the state government’s petition before the high court “thoroughly misconceived” because it sought a relief that the bench said would indirectly derail ED’s investigation into the case.

ED registered a complaint in September last year based on four FIRs filed in the state in connection with the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

Citing a study conducted by ED using an expert team, the agency claimed that the value of sand mining carried out in Tamil Nadu was to the tune of 4,730 crore as against the state records’ declared revenue of 36.45 crore. Subsequently, the ED conducted raids at 34 locations throughout the state to discover the connection between local mafia and state authorities. As a result, cash, incriminating documents, and digital devices were allegedly seized, relying on which, summons were issued to five district collectors on November 17 asking for their presence before the ED investigators along with certain records.

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Aggrieved, the state government moved the Madras high court, contending that such enquiry by the ED without consent of state or by the direction of any constitutional court was unlawful because it violates the basic structure of the Constitution envisaging federalism and separation of powers.

The high court, in its interim order, stayed the summons while noting that the issuance of summons was not within the jurisdiction of the ED. “It is just an attempt to investigate the possibility of identifying any proceeds of crime as a result of any criminal activity, which is not so far registered by the state agencies,” the high court said in its November 28 order.

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