New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said it can pass an order to Kolkata Police to provide all assistance to the ED officials in Kolkata in questioning ruling Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee, after the agency’s counsel expressed apprehension regarding treatment of central agencies in Kolkata.
A bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit queried Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, representing the ED, why the agency cannot question Banerjee in Kolkata instead of Delhi, as the politician till now seems to be just a witness and not a potential accused.
To this, Raju submitted that Banerjee is an influential politician. “My lords know how central agencies were treated in Kolkata…CBI officers were gheraoed….I should not be saying this,” he said.
The bench, also comprising Justices Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said it can pass an order to the Kolkata Police to provide all assistance and will hold the West Bengal government accountable.
It orally observed: “We will say the moment you make a requisition 72 hours in advance, the Kolkata Police will co-operate.”
“We’ll hold the State of West Bengal accountable.”
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, contended that as per Section 160 of the CrPC, the police should question witnesses at their place of residence. “I am not saying no to investigation. I am saying come to Kolkata… they want me to come to Delhi”, said Sibal.
The ED’s counsel argued that Section 160 CrPC was only applicable to police investigation and not to ED investigation, which is governed by Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
As the bench also pointed out that the ED is not saying if the summonses were issued to Banerjee and his wife as an accused, the ASG said he will get information on this aspect and sought adjournment.
The bench scheduled the matter for further hearing on Tuesday and orally said that no coercive action be taken against the petitioners in the meantime.
The top court was hearing the special leave petition filed by Banerjees challenging Delhi High Court’s order, which dismissed their challenge to the ED’s summons issued in connection with a money laundering case linked to the alleged West Bengal coal scam.
Banerjee and his wife’s plea, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, said: “The party to which the Petitioner No.1 (Abhishek) belonged, comprehensively trounced the political party at power in the Centre, thereby giving justifiable cause to ‘target’ and ‘fix’ the Petitioner No.1, by misusing the Central Investigation Agencies”.
“The petitioners’ contention of political victimisation is further fortified by the inscrutable and inexplicable insistence of the ED to interrogate the petitioners at their New Delhi office instead of their full-fledged office in Kolkata. The ED seems more interested in causing prejudice to the petitioners herein rather than sincerely and expeditiously investigate the alleged offence.”