The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed TMC MLA Manik Bhattacharya's plea against his arrest by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with alleged irregularities in the recruitment of primary school teachers in West Bengal, observing the ED's action was not illegal.
The top court refused to accept Manik Bhattacharya's argument that his arrest was illegal because of an interim order granting him protection in the CBI case, registered in the same matter.
A bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Vikram Nath noted the ED's submission about the seizure of various incriminating documents during the search at the lawmaker's premises.
"We cannot hold the arrest of the petitioner by the Enforcement Directorate illegal as the issue of money laundering or there being proceeds of crime had not surfaced before the Single Judge or the Division Bench of the High Court. "Before us, however, it had been brought to our notice in the course of hearing on the question of the interim order passed in the instant special leave petitions that the petitioner had been cooperating with the investigation by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI," the bench said.
The top court said a general protective order, directing any other investigating agency to insulate the petitioner from any coercive action, cannot be passed in another proceeding started by a different agency.
"Under The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, money laundering is an independent offence and in the event there is any allegation of the Enforcement Directorate having acted beyond jurisdiction or their act of arrest is not authorised by law, the petitioner would be entitled to apply before the appropriate court of law independently. "But that question could not be examined in a Special Leave Petition arising from the proceedings in which the question of money laundering was not involved," the bench said.
The top court said it was not inclined to go into the legality of the question of invoking the provisions of the 2002 Act in arresting the petitioner. "We are also satisfied that the order restraining coercive action being taken against the petitioner passed by us on September 27, 2022, which we have still directed to continue, did not operate to prevent the Enforcement Directorate from carrying on with their investigation into the allegations under the 2002 Act.
The court said it was not inclined to add the Enforcement Directorate as a party in the present petition and the grievance of the petitioner against the ED will have to be ventilated independently before an appropriate forum. "We do not accept the argument of the petitioner that his arrest was illegal because of the interim order passed by us. We make it clear that we have not delved into the question of legality of the petitioner's arrest or initiation of proceeding against him under the 2002 Act," it added.
The ED had arrested Bhattacharya on October 11 after night-long questioning. Bhattacharya, a former chairman of the West Bengal Board of Primary Education, was arrested for allegedly not cooperating with the investigation.
He is the state's ruling TMC MLA from Palashipara seat in Nadia district.
The top court had on October 18 allowed the CBI to proceed with its investigation of the alleged irregularities in appointment of primary teachers through the Teachers Eligibility Test in 2014 in West Bengal government-sponsored and aided schools.
It had agreed with the submission of Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing on behalf of the CBI, that the agency is in the process of uncovering a recruitment scam of extraordinary dimension and the investigation at this stage prima facie reveals exchange of monetary considerations for giving appointments.
"In our opinion, under normal circumstances, it would not be appropriate to straightaway direct CBI investigation in a recruitment-related controversy unless the allegations are so outrageous and the perpetrators of the alleged offences are so powerful that investigation by the state police would be ineffectual.
"But considering the submission of counsel for the CBI and the fact that investigation by the said agency has substantially progressed, we do not want to stall such investigation at this stage and wait to see if the state police can carry on the same investigation impartially," it had said.
The top court had also stayed the order of the Calcutta High Court directing annulment of appointment of 269 candidates as teachers.
It directed each of these 269 individuals to file affidavits to defend their appointment to the said posts and asked the appointing authority to examine the legality of their appointments.
A division bench of the Calcutta High Court had on September 2 upheld an order of its single bench that directed the CBI to investigate the alleged irregularities.
The petitioners before the single bench alleged that although they appeared for the Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) -2014, no list containing the marks of candidates and indicating their respective merit positions was ever published and that an additional panel of 273 candidates was prepared "illegally", who were granted one additional mark out of over 20 lakh candidates who appeared for the test.
It was claimed that by dint of this one additional mark, 269 candidates got qualified for the job of teachers and were subsequently appointed.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)