SC pulls up ED for sealing properties, asks probe agency to take remedial measures


PTI, Apr 1, 2022, 6:07 PM IST

The Supreme Court Friday pulled up the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for proceeding to seal some properties and taking its “symbolic possession” despite the matter being listed for hearing today and asked the probe agency to take corrective action to “undo that mischief”.

The top court noted that pursuant to its March 28 order, the petitioners had served the copy of petition on the central agency on March 30 and it was clearly mentioned in the order that the matter would be heard on April 1.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and A S Oka was informed by the counsel appearing for the petitioners that they had served the copy of petition to the central agency and on March 31, the ED went across the properties and tried to seal them and they have also taken the “notional possession”.

“That order (of March 28) clearly records that the matter will be taken on April 1, 2022. Despite that, the officials of the respondent (ED) proceeded to seal the properties in question and take symbolic possession on March 31,” the bench observed.

The top court, which was hearing a petition against a March order passed by the Bombay High Court, noted that the basic question involved in the matter is whether the provisional attachment order of June 3, 2021 ceases to be in force on expiry of 180 days.

It said if that issue is answered in favour of the petitioners, then no action could be taken by the authority on the basis of such order.

“We call upon the respondent to explain the position and take remedial measures, as may be advised, before the next date and submit response before the next date on April 8,” the bench said.

At the outset, the counsel appearing for the ED requested the bench that the matter be heard next week.

The counsel representing the petitioners said when the matter was heard on March 28, they had sought protection and the top court, while listing the matter for hearing on April 1, had observed that nothing is going to happen. “After we served the notice on March 30, yesterday they (ED) went across all the properties and they have tried to seal, they have taken the notional possession and this was not expected of the agency when we are before the Supreme Court,” the counsel said.

When the bench asked the ED’s counsel about it, he said he don’t have instruction in this regard.

“You will not get instructions because the authorities are bent upon doing it,” the bench observed.

The apex court said the argument made before it was that provisional attachment order in the matter was on June 3, 2021 and the statutory period of 180 days has already lapsed.

“How did you attach it? Now, we will take action against the officers then,” the bench said.

The counsel appearing for the ED said on the last date of hearing, they were not there in the court and were not aware about what the court had indicated. The counsel said he would communicate it to the concerned authority.

“Take corrective action otherwise we are proceeding against you for contempt. Even if the order was not informed to you, since the petition was served, after service of petition you have done it. So, we will proceed for contempt against the officers,” the bench said.

“Undo that mischief before you come and report about it and then we will hear this matter further,” the court said.

The top court was hearing a plea filed by two Maharashtra-based petitioners against an order of the Bombay High Court which had said that attachment levied by the ED in respect of 11 properties will continue until further orders of the court or of the appellate authority.

It had asked the petitioners not to create any third-party rights, encumbrances or part with possession of the properties in question.

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