The Telangana’s ruling BRS and the DMK from Tamil Nadu were among the 14 political parties that have approached the Supreme Court against the Centre’s alleged misuse of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to target Opposition leaders.
The parties sought guidelines governing the arrest, remand, and bail of persons in offences not involving bodily harm.
The bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, also comprising Justice PS Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala, posted the petition for hearing on 5 April, after senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that 95 percent of the politicians the two agencies investigated since 2014 were from the Opposition parties.
The Congress, CPI(M), CPI, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Janata Dal (U), Samajwadi Party, and J&K National Conference were the other petitioner parties.
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Demands and arguments
The joint petition, filed on Friday, 24 March, said that the guidelines should fulfill and realise the guarantee of personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution for all citizens, including those targeted for exercising their right to political dissent and for performing their duties as the political Opposition.
Under the present Central Government, a situation of undeclared emergency is prevailing within the country, with incidents of wanton arrest of both Opposition political figures and ordinary citizens recording an alarming rise: 14 Opposition Parties in a joint petition to SC pic.twitter.com/7EsCoAJg3G
— Arvind Gunasekar (@arvindgunasekar) March 24, 2023
“Between 2004-14, of the 72 political leaders investigated by the CBI, 43 (under 60 percent) were from the Opposition. Now, the figure has risen to over 95 percent,” the joint petition said.
“The same pattern is reflected in ED’s investigations as well, with the proportion of Opposition leaders from the total number of politicians investigated rising from 54 percent (before 2014) to 95 percent (after 2014),” it added.
The Narendra Modi-led government has been ruling the country since 2014.
The petitioner parties said that ED raids were being used as “a tool of harassment” against political opponents. They also pointed out that cases were filed only in 23 percent of all raids on Opposition party politicians.
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Spike in raids
In contrast, the petition says that between 2005 to 2014 of all the raids by the ED involving politicians, 93 percent resulted in the filing of complaints. An obvious inference is that most of the raids between 2014 and till date were to intimidate and target politicians belonging to the Opposition parties.
The petition pointed out that the number of cases registered by ED under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has risen exponentially: From 209 in 2013-14 to 981 in 2020-21, and 1,180 in 2021-22. But only 23 cases resulted in convictions.
Incidentally, the CBI arrested AAP leader and former deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia on 26 February, and the ED on 9 March.
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Guidelines on arrests and bail
Giving their grassroots-level presence, the petition said that these 14 political parties together polled 45.19 percent of the votes cast in the last State/UT Assembly Elections, and 42.5 percent of the votes in the 2019 General Elections, and are holding power in 11 states/UTs (Union Territories).
On arrest and sending an accused to remand, the petitioner parties said that it should be incumbent on the CBI, ED, and the court as well that the triple test — whether the accused is a flight risk, could tamper with evidence, and could influence/intimidate the witnesses — has to be satisfied.
If not satisfied, alternatives like an interrogation at fixed hours or at the most house arrest be ordered to meet the demands of the investigation.
As far as bail is concerned, the petitioner parties said that the principle of “bail as a rule, jail as exception” be followed by all courts throughout, especially in cases where non-violent offences are alleged, and that bail be denied only when the accused fails the triple test.