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New Delhi: The Supreme Court upholding certain powers of the Enforcement Directorate Wednesday evoked contrasting responses from the BJP and the Congress, with the ruling party hailing it as a “landmark judgement” and its rival expressing concern that it would increase the possibility of the probe agency’s “political misuse”.
The Supreme Court upheld the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) powers relating to arrest, attach property, search and seize under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) that were challenged by multiple petitioners including Congress leader Karti Chidambaram.
Welcoming the verdict, the BJP described it as a “landmark” and said it should put an end to opposition leaders’ “propaganda” and political arguments against the law.
Soon after the verdict, BJP president J P Nadda said the law of the land must be respected.
He told reporters, “The Supreme Court has passed a judgment on the powers and jurisdiction of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Enforcement Directorate. The Supreme Court has upheld the PMLA and has also validated the jurisdiction of the ED. We honour and respect our Supreme Court and also our Constitution and our law.”
BJP spokespersons Gaurav Bhatia and Nalin Kohli, both of whom are also Supreme Court lawyers, lauded the judgement and slammed opposition parties for their attack on its provisions.
Bhatia said it was a “landmark judgement” which has upheld the ED’s powers to arrest accused, search their premises and seize their assets that the probe agency believes have been acquired through proceeds of crime and money laundering.
“This is a befitting reply to the parties in the opposition, especially the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the AAP which have been casting aspersions on the functioning of the ED and calling it names. They should introspect because the law’s credibility has been reaffirmed by the the SC while on the other hand the credibility of the opposition is at its lowest,” he said.
Noting that the court’s judgement upholding the law has come while it was hearing a clutch of over 200 petitions filed by individuals and other entities challenging various provisions of the PMLA, Kohli said the verdict should end the propaganda and political arguments against the law.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot voiced disappointment and said the apex court’s ruling will increase the possibility of “political misuse” of the ED by the Centre.
“The pronouncement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on the rights of PML Act and ED is disappointing and worrying,” the chief minister tweeted.
He further said, “A dictatorial atmosphere has prevailed in the country for the last few years and after this decision, the possibility of political misuse of ED by the Centre will increase further.”
In a statement, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the judgment pronounced by the Supreme Court on the powers of the Enforcement Directorate today will have far-reaching implications for “our democracy, especially when governments are anchored in political vendetta”.
“However, there is one specific aspect of the judgement I would like to address immediately; I had moved the Supreme Court on the blatant misuse of the Money Bill route by the Modi Government, on the amendments made to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The Supreme Court had issued notice on my petition on July 2nd, 2019. This question remains unresolved in today’s judgment,” Ramesh said.
He, however, noted that the court has agreed that they “are conscious of the fact that if that ground of challenge is to be accepted, it may go to the root of the matter and amendments effected vide Finance Act would become unconstitutional or ineffective”.
The court has left these matters to be decided by a larger bench, Ramesh said, adding that this is a matter of some gratification.
Top opposition politicians including Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi along with P Chidambaram and his son and MP Karti, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, also a TMC MP, and Delhi minister Satyendar Jain are among those under the ED’s lens for alleged money laundering.
Observing that it is a common experience world over that money laundering can be a “threat” to the good functioning of a financial system, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar upheld the validity of certain provisions of the PMLA, underlining it is not an “ordinary offence”.
The court was hearing a clutch of over 200 petitions filed by individuals and other entities questioning various provisions of the PMLA, a law which the opposition has often claimed has been weaponised by the government to harass its political adversaries.