The entire Opposition, except for parties friendly to the Bharatiya Janata Party, on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to review its recent order upholding the provisions of the amended Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and wide-ranging powers given to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under this special law.
Expressing ‘deep apprehensions’ about the long-term implications of the order, the Opposition said the judgment will strengthen the hands of a government that ‘indulges in political vendetta’ to target its opponents in a ‘mischievous and malicious manner’ and and expressed hope that this ‘dangerous verdict is short-lived’.
In its order, the court had announced it was referring to a larger Bench the issue of whether PMLA amendments should be treated as money Bills.
Referring to this, Opposition leaders said: “We are compelled to point out that the judgment should have awaited the verdict of a larger Bench for examining the constitutionality of the Finance Act route to carry out amendments.”
The statement said if on Thursday the SC holds that the challenged amendments through the Finance Act are bad in law, the entire exercise would become futile and lose judicial time.
The PMLA amendments were challenged by around 250 petitioners, including former Union minister P Chidambaram, his son and Member of Parliament Karti P Chidambaram, and former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. All of them are facing ED proceedings for alleged money laundering. The charges have also been made against half a dozen leaders from the Opposition, including former Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee charged under the law.
A three-judge Bench, comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and C T Ravikumar, ruled that supplying the enforcement case information report copy of the complaint to the accused is not necessary. The court clarified that it is enough to inform the accused about the grounds on which he/she is being arrested. The court also upheld other draconian aspects of the law, judged by the Opposition as part of vendetta and malice that the government will likely use against those opposed to it.
Now that the court has passed its order, the expectation is that several high-profile cases that have been stalled at various stages of investigation will pick up pace.
The judgment has actually given more powers to the ED in a sense that every statement made before the agency can now be used against the accused. Although that was the case in the past as well, now with the SC affirming it, the officials will be more rigorous in getting statements in line with their requirement from those facing investigation.
The legislative amendment of 2018, following the Nikesh Tarachand Shah judgment (which struck down the requirement of the twin conditions of bail that the public prosecutor has the right to oppose the application and where the public prosecutor has opposed such application, the court may grant bail only when it is reasonably satisfied that the accused has not committed the crime in question and will not commit any other crime while out on bail), has been upheld as valid.
ED is expected to step up pace after Parliament ends its monsoon session later in August.