The court stayed the summons for three weeks.
In a shot in the arm for the Tamil Nadu government, the Madras High Court today stayed the summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to five District Collectors in the state in connection with alleged money laundering probe with proceeds of illegal sand mining.
The court stayed the summons for three weeks, but did not stay the ED investigation as requested by the DMK . The collectors and the state government ought to respond to ED's queries in three weeks.
A two-judge Madras High Court bench comprising Justices SS Sundar and Sundar Mohan yesterday deferred their decision until today on a petition filed by the state Public Department Secretary K Nanthakumar on behalf of the Collectors of Ariyalur, Vellore, Thanjavur, Karur, and Tiruchirapalli districts.
The petition sought to invalidate probe agency ED's summons, which mandated the Collectors' personal presence on various dates to furnish details about sand mining operations within their respective jurisdictions.
The probe agency issued the summons under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
In his petition, Mr Nanthakumar argued that the ED, under the guise of conducting an investigation, has embarked on an extensive and arbitrary practice of issuing summons to district collectors.
Tamil Nadu Government's Response
The state government had argued that the ED doesn't have such unbriddled powers and its summons to collectors are against the spirit of federalism.
Claiming it has filed FIRs in illegal sand mining cases and that it is willing to provide details, it argued the central agency ought to seek details only through the state government and any investigation ought to be with its consent.
Citing a survey by an expert from the IIT, the ED had claimed illegal sand mining worth Rs 4,500 crore had taken place across Tamil Nadu and it alleged the proceeds were laundered with. It claimed it has powers to summon collectors.
Yesterday, the judges, however, had observed that the agency has limited powers.
The ruling DMK has accused the BJP of misusing central agencies including the Enforcement Directorate to target political opponents in opposition ruled states and that the conviction rate in ED cases is so negligible. When those targeted decided to join the BJP it claims they become "whitewashed saints overnight", an allegation the BJP denies.
Though, this is an interim order this is being seen as a big political win for the opposition and the issue is bound to turn into a long drawn legal battle with the ED likely to legally challenge.