Supreme Court Dismisses Plea by 14 political parties alleging misuse of CBI, ED against Political Rivals

The opposition argued that the Investigating agencies such as the CBI and ED are being increasingly deployed in a selective and targeted manner with a view to completely crush political dissent.

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The Supreme Court Wednesday refused to entertain a plea by fourteen political parties alleging that the Central government led by Bharatiya Janata Party was misusing central agencies like Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) against leaders of opposition parties.

A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala said that political leaders do not enjoy an immunity higher than common citizens as reported by Bar &Bench.
 
“You are trying to extrapolate the statistics into solid legal guidelines. So now these statistics only relates to the politicians,” CJI Chandrachud said.

“How can we start laying down guidelines in abstract context. Laying down general guidelines de hors the facts of the case cannot be done. If an individual comes to us, then the law can be laid down as highest court of the country.. it is in context facts of the case and also a general law. (But) we need to have facts in a case or group of cases,” the Court said.

Sorry we cannot entertain this, the bench added.

The petition was filed by Indian National Congress (INC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Bharat Rasthra Samithi (BRS), All Indian Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena (UBT), JMM, JD(U), Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI, Samajwadi Party, J&K National Conference.

The petitioners contended that has been an alarming rise in the use of coercive criminal processes against opposition political leaders and other citizens exercising their fundamental right to dissent and disagree with the union government.

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Investigating agencies such as the CBI and ED are being increasingly deployed in a selective and targeted manner with a view to completely crush political dissent and upend the fundamental premises of a representative democracy, it was submitted.

The petitioner also shed light on the following statistics to buttress their claims.

– The action rate on raids in terms of complaints filed following raids reduced from 93 per cent in 2005-2014, to 29 per cent in 2014-2022;

– Only 23 convictions have been secured as of now under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) despite a rise in the number of cases registered by the ED from 209 in 2013-14 to 981 in 2020-21, and 1180 in 2021-22;

– Between 2004 and 14, of the 72 political leaders investigated by the CBI, 43 (under 60 percent) were from the opposition of the time. Now, this figure is over 95 percent.

In ED investigations, proportion of opposition leaders from total number of politicians investigated rose from 54 percent before 2014 to 95 percent after 2014.

The petitioners, therefore, sought guidelines to fulfil 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.

– For arrest and remand

The petitioners prayed for the triple test to be used by police officers, ED officials and courts alike for the arrest of persons in any cognisable offences except those involving serious bodily violence.

Where these conditions are not satisfied, alternatives like interrogation at fixed hours or at the most house arrest be used to meet the demands of investigation.

– For bail

The petitioner prayed the principle of ‘bail as rule, jail as exception’ be followed by all courts especially in cases of non-violent offences.

They also prayed that bail be denied only where the triple-test is not met.

In cases where special laws such as PMLA with stringent bail conditions are concerned, the petitioners sought directions to harmonise such bail with Article 21 of the Constitution.

Where it appears that trial is unlikely to complete within 6 months, the accused be released on bail even under special laws unless the conditions under the triple-test are not fulfilled.
During today’s hearing, Senior Advocate AM Singhvi appearing for the petitioners, stated that there was clearly a skewed used of the CBI in jurisdictions of opposition ruled States which led to a skewed democratic playing field.

“Thus opposition is only fighting these cases… democracy has been held as a basic structure of the constitution”, he argued.

It was further contended that the petitioner-parties represent 42 per cent of the electorate and if they are affected, the people are affected.

“These are parties all across the spectrum.. thus, level playing field has to be maintained.”
The senior counsel asked,

“What is democracy when the leaders are just fighting these cases?”

Further, he underscored that the process itself was the punishment the triple test could not be satisfied in almost 95 per cent cases. Thus, he argued that when there is a conscious weaponisation of an entire branch of law, then focusing on individual cases was not the answer.

However, the Court declined to allow the plea.

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June 2024
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