26 Sep 2023 9:09 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Enforcement Directorate to not summon Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader K Kavitha for questioning in connection with the Delhi excise policy case till the former Lok Sabha M plea challenging the central agency's summons is heard first. The ED is currently investigating her role in influencing the now-scrapped liquor policy in the national capital...
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Enforcement Directorate to not summon Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader K Kavitha for questioning in connection with the Delhi excise policy case till the former Lok Sabha M plea challenging the central agency's summons is heard first. The ED is currently investigating her role in influencing the now-scrapped liquor policy in the national capital and related bribery allegations.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia was hearing a plea filed by the legislator against the summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) earlier this year requiring her to appear in Delhi for questioning in connection with the money laundering investigation. In March, this writ petition was tagged with a 2018 plea filed by Nalini Chidambaram, senior advocate, and wife of former finance minister P Chidambaram, who approached the apex court after the Madras High Court refused to quash the ED summons against her in the Saradha chit fund scam case.
On the last occasion, Senior Advocate Vikram Chaudhary, appearing for Kavitha, requested the court to protect the legislator from coercive action, in the same way it had protected Nalini Chidambaram. In support of this contention, the senior counsel also pointed to the various statutory relaxations made in criminal law to benefit women, particularly under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. While arguing that summons could not be deferred sine die, Additional Solicitor General SV Raju assured that the probe agency was willing to defer it for ten days till the next date of hearing. This pledge was made by the law officer on the same day that the BRS leader was summoned by the ED for questioning.
During today's hearing, Chaudhary reiterated his concerns, in response to which, Justice Kaul told the ED's counse, "We will have to hear the matter. In the meantime, don't call her for questioning."
Notably, the judge also observed -
"You cannot say that a woman cannot be called for questioning at all, as a witness or in whatever capacity. There has to be some safeguards...There are cases of abuse of law, and there are cases of a different kind. So, there is no one common thread."
Like last time, the court did not record ASG Raju's statement, saying that there was no reason to doubt the law officer’s oral assurance made at the Bar. The hearing concluded with a brief order directing a postponement till November 20.
The origin of the controversy is the excise policy framed by the Government of the National Capital of Delhi to boost revenue and reform liquor trade in 2021, which was later withdrawn after allegations of irregularities in implementation were made and Lieutenant-Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the policy. This policy – which sought to completely privatise liquor trade in the national capital – was used to grant undue advantage to private entities at the cost of the public exchequer and smacked of corruption, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation have claimed. The investigations are currently underway and led to the arrest of, among others, Manish Sisodia – the former deputy chief minister of Delhi and a prominent leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In this case, the anti-money laundering agency has also issued summons to K Kavitha, a leader of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi and the daughter of Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, as a part of its wider probe into the alleged financial irregularities surrounding the now-scrapped liquor policy and the role of a purported ‘south liquor lobby’. In March, the Enforcement Directorate summoned her to appear in person in Delhi for questioning in connection with the Delhi excise policy case.
In the same month, the central agency’s summons were challenged by the BRS leader. Kavitha, presently an MLA from the Nizamabad local bodies constituency, argued that she has not been named in the first information report (FIR) and that the summons were in the teeth of Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which protected women from being summoned as a witness to any place other than where they reside.
Kalvakuntla Kavitha v. Directorate of Enforcement | Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 103 of 2023