At the outset of the hearing, marked by sharp exchanges between the bench and solicitor general Tushar Mehta, on a batch of more than 200 petitions, the senior lawyer told Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M Trivedi that a three-judge bench had passed the judgment after debating and discussing each provision of PMLA and “abuse and misuse” of the process of law and asked how a bench of the same strength could decide it. He contended that by that yardstick, petitioners seeking legal sanction for same-sex marriage may seek reconsideration of the verdict passed on Tuesday.
The bench, however, said it was aware that the judgment was passed by a three-judge bench and made it clear that the scope of hearing before it was limited. It said if the bench found no merit in the petitions, it would dismiss them but if it came to the conclusion that the issue needed to be re-considered, it would refer the pleas to a larger bench.
No bar on us looking into it: SC judge on PMLA provisions
We are certainly entitled to look into it… Prima facie my view is that if it is worth it, the three-judge bench can revisit. The court will show circumspection in deciding whether to look into it. But there cannot be a bar, Justice Kaul said, adding that opening the case does not mean allowing the case.
Unpersuaded by the reasoning, the SG pressed on pointing out that the Financial Action Task Force, an international body where India has been active, is scheduled to evaluate the effectiveness of the country’s anti-money laundering mechanism as well as PMLA in November and pleaded for the adjournment of the hearing in the national interest as any questioning of the present law could adversely hamper the evaluation. But the bench rejected his plea.
Opposing the pleas of petitioners who are facing probe by the Enforcement Directorate, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “We have to be alert and alarmed”. Justice Kaul, however, replied, “We are alert but we won’t be alarmed by any party.”
The one-hour hearing witnessed tempers flaring in the courtroom with the SG vociferously objecting to the proceedings and had a heated exchange of words with senior advocate Kapil Sibal who was appearing for the petitioners. Asking both the lawyers to maintain decorum and not indulge in a verbal duel, Justice Kaul said he had never seen Mehta so agitated. The court thereafter ordered for framing the contours of hearing in the case which would be concluded in a day and posted the hearing to November 22. The bench urged both sides to argue peacefully and maintain civility on the next date.
The bench in its order recorded the questions to be examined in the case, including validity of retrospective application of PMLA, stringent bail conditions and not providing Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), the equivalent of FIR, in PMLA cases.
A three-judge bench of the SC of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar (Khanwilkar has since retired) had on July 27 last year upheld the stringent regime prescribed for money laundering offences and vast powers enjoyed by ED. It had said the ED could arrest people and conduct search and seizure even when no complaint had been filed; making statements made before the agency admissible in court; and putting the burden on the accused to prove his/her innocence, among others.
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