PMLA case: SC adjourns hearing on pleas for reconsideration of 2022 verdict, new bench to hear

PMLA case: SC adjourns hearing on pleas for reconsideration of 2022 verdict, new bench to hear

New Delhi, Nov 23 (PTI) In a twist after two days of arguments, the Supreme Court Thursday adjourned by eight weeks the hearing on pleas seeking reconsideration of the July 27, 2022 verdict that had upheld the Enforcement Directorate's (ED) powers to arrest and attach property under the PMLA, after the Centre sought time to respond to the issues raised.

'I am doing it with a heavy heart and I have not done this in my tenure,' Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was heading a three-judge bench, said while pronouncing the order.

The top court deferred the hearing, which continued since Wednesday, after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, sought time to address the arguments raised by the petitioners in detail.

The bench, also comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M Trivedi, allowed the amendment application moved by the petitioner's side, which the Centre said has raised various 'new aspects' and needed detailed reply.

The apex court, which was faced with the conundrum of whether the 2022 verdict was required to be reconsidered by a larger bench, asked the Centre to file its reply to the amendment application within four weeks.

It said the rejoinder to the Centre's reply be filed within four weeks thereafter.

'The deferment will leave really no time for this court to pen down the order,' the bench said, adding, 'the Chief Justice of India will have to reconstitute the bench, in view of one of us (Justice Kaul) demitting the office'.

The bench said necessary orders be obtained from the CJI in this regard.

Justice Kaul is set to demit office on December 25.

After senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi concluded their arguments on behalf of the petitioners, Mehta sought time to advance his submissions, saying the court will have to take a comprehensive view of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the petitioner have done 'selective reading' in 'bits and pieces'.

Mehta, who had repeatedly objected to the 'wide canvas' raised by the petitioners in the arguments, again flagged the issue at the outset, saying the opposite side had filed an amended petition which virtually seeks to challenge the entire PMLA, whose validity has been upheld by a bench of same strength in 2022.

The bench, however, continued hearing arguments of Sibal and Singhvi, which concluded around 3pm.

As soon as the bench asked Mehta to commence his argument, he sought time to respond saying earlier the petitioners had raised issues on only two sections of the PMLA but in their amended petition, they have questioned the validity of the whole set of provisions.

'They have raised a whole set of issues in bits and pieces by selective reading of the provisions. I need some time to file a reply to the arguments advanced by the other side,' Mehta told the bench.

Justice Kaul cited paucity of time for this bench to hear the matter on another day.

Joining the deliberation between the bench and the Solicitor General, Sibal said the issue does not require a detailed consideration because the limited question was whether the matter was needed to be referred to a larger bench.

Justice Kaul told Sibal that one of the questions before it was whether the court can refer the matter to a larger bench without expressing any view.

Justice Trivedi said the court has to express some views while referring the matter to a larger bench for effective adjudication.

'My impression is, there is a judgement on this aspect that views should be expressed by a referring bench. I will be giving my views, though it may not be binding,' she said.

Mehta referred to some judgements and said the court, while referring a matter to a larger bench, has to record some reasons for differing with the earlier ruling.

Justice Trivedi, 'Yes. I had an impression that there was a judgement. Otherwise, it will be very easy to refer every verdict to the larger bench. Reasons must be there.' Justice Kaul, who for a while was in discussion with the other two judges, told Sibal that since the court was adjourning the hearing, it will be better if amendment application was not withdrawn.

Mehta said the court has seen the efforts of the Centre in getting the 2022 verdict after months long hearing.

Justice Kaul said, 'Mr Solicitor, we understand everything. Sometimes, things must be left unsaid. On this side, we see many things, we hear many things but we don't say many things. On a lighter note, I will have that privilege from January 1'.

While hearing the arguments on Wednesday, the top court had said its 'limited ambit' was whether the 2022 verdict was required to be reconsidered by a larger bench of five judges.

While the Centre had told the apex court that the PMLA was an 'important legislation' for the nation, the petitioners' side claimed the ED has become an 'unruly horse' and can go anywhere it wanted.

The bench was hearing the pleas seeking reconsideration of the July 27, 2022 verdict by a three-judge bench on certain parameters.

In August last year, the top court had agreed to hear a plea seeking a review of its July 2022 verdict and observed that two aspects-- not providing an Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) and reversal of the presumption of innocence -- 'prima facie' required reconsideration.

The apex court had in its 2022 verdict said ECIR filed by ED cannot be equated with an FIR, and providing a copy of it to the person concerned in every case was not mandatory. PTI MNL ABA ZMN

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