Supreme Court pulls up Tamil Nadu District Collectors for not appearing before ED

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Court has given a last opportunity to the Collectors to appear before the ED after the elections in Tamil Nadu, observing that such a cavalier approach may land the collectors in a difficult situation

Supreme Court today pulled up the Tamil Nadu District Collectors for not appearing before the Enforcement Directorate post receiving fresh summons in a illegal sand mining case.

A bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal deprecated the cavalier approach of the officers saying that they showed no respect for the Court of law.

On March 1, ED had issued fresh summons to the District Collectors, who instead of appearing, sent replies seeking postponement, on the grounds that they were engaged with election-related duties in connection with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu, further told the bench that the Collectors needed time to collect the data asked for by ED.

In response, the bench told Sibal that the Collectors were bound to personally appear before the ED and obey the Supreme Court's order. 

ED also pointed out that the Collectors had stated in their replies that they were seeking a review of the Supreme Court's order asking them to obey the summons which signified "egregious conduct" on their part.

On February 27, the Supreme Court had observed that the Tamil Nadu government's writ petition before the Madras High Court challenging the summons issued to district collectors in the state by the Enforcement Directorate(ED) was thoroughly misconceived. "The ones who have been issued summons have to respect them and respond to them..", top court has added.

Court had accordingly stayed the order of the high court which had stayed operation of the summons.

While hearing the Enforcement Directorate's plea against Tamil Nadu government's opposition to summons issued by it to five of the state's District Collectors, Court had remarked that the state's machinery should help ED in its investigation.

Court had further observed that state government has to comply with the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act which is a central legislation.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had questioned Tamil Nadu government's writ petition filed before the Madras High Court against summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate to five of the state's District Collectors.

It further observed that the officials were duty bound to respond to the summons. ED approached the Supreme Court by was of an SLP against a November 2023 order of the Madras High Court whereby an interim stay on the operation of summons issued by the ED.

Top Court had issued notice in the SLP by ED while it also mulled over revoking the stay imposed by the impugned order.

High Court in the impugned order noted that the summons appeared to be part of a "fishing expedition", and prima facie, there was no jurisdiction to issue the summons to any of the State's district collectors.

It is just an attempt to investigate the possibility of identifying any proceeds of crime as a result of any criminal activity, which is not so far registered by the State agencies, the high court had opined while stating that the ED's summons resembled a "fishing enquiry".

Case Title: Enforcement Directorate vs. State of Tamil Nadu