Thursday, August 18, 2022

ED’s unbridled power

It seems the Enforcement Directorate under the union finance ministry has been on overdrive to target economic offenders and by chance of design and coincidentally, most of who happen to be from the opposition parties or critics of the BJP government . On record, there are a little over 5000 registered cases since 2002 but only 25 convictions. These central agencies, included CBI, ED and Income Tax Department- which swing into action with summons on targeted individuals. In many instances, the summons are issued in old cases while new FIRs are also registered based on inputs. These are followed by raids and searches and arrests. But as time passes, nothing concrete comes of the investigations. The ED is the only Central agency in the country that does not require permission from the government to summon or prosecute politicians or government functionaries for committing economic offences like money laundering. The ED is armed with the Prevention of Money Laundering Act(PMLA) enacted in 2002 by the A.B. Vajpayee government, but its rules were framed in 2005 by the Manmohan Singh government. It is the first law in independent India to allow the confiscation of financial proceeds from economic crimes. The Modi government gave new teeth to the law in 2019 by taking the money bill route to pass amendments. PMLA suffers from inherent problems such as giving the ED broad powers to arrest the accused. Recently, the ED has come under scanner since the first week of this month over summons and subsequent interrogations on Rahul Gandhi and later Sonia Gandhi over the National Herald case. In the National Herald case,the Congress argued that there was no money involved and therefore there was no economic offence. Since 2014, Central agencies have targeted a whopping 570 of the government’s political rivals and critics and in some cases, their family members as well. This massive sweep includes opposition politicians, non-NDA politicians, their relatives and aides, activists, lawyers, independent media houses or journalists and members of the film fraternity. Even government officials who questioned the ruling government were targeted. This happened to former election commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa who had dissented with the other colleagues against giving clean chit to prime minister Modi and home minister Amit Shah during the 2019 elections. Tax cases were slapped against the relatives of Ashok Lavasa. The role of the ED has come under scanner not only because of alleged ‘witch hunt’ against opposition politicians or government critics but because it has served political interests in making many opposition leaders join the ruling party to escape harassment and detention. Otherwise why have all those who joined the ruling party been given clean chits or even led to probes greatly slowed down? It is in this particular aspect that people expect the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice on the clean chits or slowed investigations given by the ED whenever opposition leaders join the ruling party. The Chief Justice of India N.V.Ramana has been making remarks about kangaroo courts on TV channels and urging print media to remain steadfast for justice. It would be a tribute to Ramana if the apex court brings the ED under scanner for slowed investigations or clean chits to defectors and also making it accountable.

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