ED copy-paste howler in court
The Supreme Court was on Friday stunned to see the Enforcement Directorate describe Karnataka Congress lawmaker D.K. Shivakumar as former “finance minister and home minister of the country” as the agency sought cancellation of the bail Delhi High Court has granted him in a money-laundering case.
Justices R.F. Nariman and Ravindra Bhat, sitting on the bench, were quick to catch on to the reason for the howler: the ED had merely cut and pasted portions of an earlier petition arguing against bail for another Congress leader, P. Chidambaram.
“This petition seems to be a case of cut, copy and paste from the petition against P. Chidambaram. Here Shivakumar is referred to as the former finance minister and former home minister,” Justice Nariman chided solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the ED.
“This is not the way to treat a citizen,” Justice Nariman observed while dismissing the ED’s appeal.
Arguing against bail for Shivakumar, who has held ministry berths in Karnataka, the agency had said: “The nature of the offence, the brazenness and impunity with which the high office of the finance minister of the country was abused by the accused for personal gains again disentitles him from seeking bail….”
At another place, alleging Shivakumar could flee if granted bail, it had added: “The respondent has held high office of finance minister and home minister of the country. From his means, position and standing there is every likelihood that he would employ every means to frustrate the investigations against him. Furthermore, his mere presence at large would intimidate the witnesses.”
These were the same arguments the agency had offered to plead against bail for Chidambaram in another money-laundering case in connection with the INX Media corruption case. Chidambaram remains in jail.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Mukul Rohatgi, two veteran counsel representing Shivakumar, had pointed out the cut-and-paste job, prompting the court rap.
Justice Nariman also excoriated the agency for another blunder: its petition had resurrected the stringent Section 45(1) of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, which the apex court had struck down in 2017 as unconstitutional. The section imposes stringent conditions against bail.
“Our judgments are not to be played with. Tell your government that our judgments stand,” Justice Nariman said.
Nariman added: “Please read our dissenting judgment in Sabarimala.”
Justices Nariman and D.Y. Chandrachud had in their minority judgment on Thursday said: “The Constitution places a non-negotiable obligation on all authorities to enforce the judgments of this court. The duty to do so arises because it is necessary to preserve the rule of law.
“If those whose duty it is to comply were to have a discretion on whether or not to abide by a decision of the court, the rule of law would be set at naught.… Compliance is not a matter of option. If it were to be so, the authority of the court could be diluted at the option of those who are bound to comply with its verdicts.”
They were stressing that last year’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple still stood, and must be enforced by the authorities, after the day’s majority judgment had referred the matter to a seven-judge bench.