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PMLA: SC to hear review plea against July 27 verdict today

On July 27, a bench had upheld the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Act that gave ED its extraordinary powers and made bail difficult
Supreme Court
Supreme Court
File photo

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 25.08.22, 03:34 AM

The Supreme Court will on Thursday take up in open court a plea to review its July 27 judgment that upheld the Enforcement Directorate’s extraordinary powers of “search, seizure, summoning and arrest” and the stringent bail conditions under the money laundering law.

The apex court’s decision on the review petition, moved by Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, came on a day the CBI raided senior RJD politicians in Bihar, strengthening the accusations of the misuse of central agencies to target Opposition parties and governments.

Review petitions are usually heard in judges’ chambers without access to lawyers or the media. But considering the seriousness of the matter, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana has decided on an open court hearing, thus allowing arguments and media coverage of proceedings.

The open court’s decision has led to speculation that the July 27 judgment may be re¬ferred to a constitution bench, especially since a bench headed by Justice Ramana had while dealing with another case on Tuesday expressed doubts over certain aspects of that judgment. On July 27, a three-judge bench had upheld the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, that gave the ED its extraordinary powers and made bail difficult.

It said such clauses were necessary to curb offences like terrorism and drug trafficking. The judgment has drawn wide criticism, especially in the context of the frequent ED and CBI raids on Opposition politicians and people close to them. Both Karti and his father P. Chidambaram, a former Union minister, have tasted the PMLA’s whiplash, having been arrested by the ED for alleged money laundering and spent weeks in jail before receiving bail.

Review petitions are normally dealt with by the bench that had delivered the original verdict. But Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, who authored the July 27 judgment and headed the bench that delivered it, retired on July 29. Karti’s review petition has now come up before a bench headed by Justice Ramana.

“The application for oral hearing is allowed. List the matter in the court on 25.08.2022,” the bench of Justices Ramana, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravi Kumar said in an order on Wednesday. Justices Maheshwari and Ravi Kumar were part of the earlier bench headed by Justice Khanwilkar.

On Tuesday, another three-judge bench headed by Justice Ramana had, while striking down certain provisions of the Benami Prohibition Act, raised questions over parts of the PMLA judgment. Justice Ramana, who authored Tuesday’s judgment, said the July 27 verdict justifying the confiscation of property in exceptional cases required reconsideration as it might lead to “arbitrary application”.

“This court dealt with confiscation proceedings under Section 8 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and limited the application of Section 8(4) of PMLA concerning interim possession by authority before conclusion of final trial to exceptional cases,” Justice Ramana said.

“…We are of the opinion that the aforesaid ratio requires further expounding in an appropriate case, without which much scope is left for arbitrary application.” The other judges on the bench were Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli. Since the PMLA and Benami Act judgments were delivered by separate three-judge benches, the one headed by Justice Ramana cannot, technically, overrule the July 27 judgment. The matter may therefore be referred to a larger bench of five or seven judges.

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