NEW DELHI: The West Bengal government Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that it cannot give an assurance that no precipitative action would be taken against the officers of the Enforcement Directorate pursuant to an FIR lodged by TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee and opposed the grant of interim relief.
The senior counsel appearing for West Bengal stated before Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar that while he had initially taken a stand that nothing would happen in the matter, the investigation in the FIR is now at a crucial stage and the repeated non-appearance of the officers before the state police indicated that they were "avoiding the investigation".
The statement was made before the judge who was hearing a plea by the central probe agency to quash notices issued to its officers in the FIR.
The judge said he would list the case for further hearing in January and asked if the counsel for West Bengal would make a statement that "till the next date of hearing, nothing will happen."
"Earlier, I had said no summons, etc (would be initiated). We will file a short synopsis. There is substantial material in the evidence file. The issue is now how certain officials conducted themselves. If I could have made that statement, I would have. The court may pass an order," said senior counsel Sidharth Luthra, appearing for West Bengal.
The state government contended that since the subject matter of the FIR was a "doctored" clip that was played by a news channel at the time of assembly elections, no interim order should be passed in favour of the ED officials.
"Can they conspire and doctored a video and put it out in the midst of an election? It (the case) goes into whether the election was fair or not. There is no question of an interim order," said another advocate appearing for the West Bengal government.
In April, on a complaint by the TMC MP, an FIR was lodged by local police in West Bengal under the Indian Penal Code for alleged commission of offences of forgery of records and forgery for purpose of harming reputation and defamation.
Subsequently, notices were issued to certain ED officers, which the agency has claimed, amounted to an abuse of process of law.
Banerjee, represented by his lawyer, told the court that despite him being the complainant, he was not made a party to the petition by ED.
The court asked him to move an application for impleadment and said it would pass an appropriate order.
Lawyer Amit Mahajan, appearing for the ED, argued that the complainant was not a necessary party to the present proceedings and while there were no objections against the continuation of investigation in the case, its officers should not be harassed.
He contended that the FIR was filed only to derail the ongoing investigation in the alleged coal scam case against the complainant and "change its outcome".
"You can't register whatever you want to at the behest of a person being investigated. Do you want us to stop us from doing our duties? Can you harass and browbeat officers? They are not going to run away," contended the lawyer who claimed that there is no allegation against the ED officials in the "four-line" FIR which is vague.
Mahajan also argued that the West Bengal police lacked the power to issue notices to persons outside its jurisdiction and informed that fresh notices were received in October as well.
In its petition, the ED has said that to pressurise its officers probing the money laundering case against him, Banerjee, who is the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee and "enjoys clout" in the state government, lodged the FIR.
ED has alleged that the West Bengal Police is acting at the behest of Banerjee and the notices issued on July 22 and August 21 are patently illegal, malafide, and a "counterblast" to the investigation in the coal pilferage case.
"In order to pressurise the petitioners/ IOs investigating the case related to illegal coal mining, Abhishek Banerjee lodged an FIR on April 5, 2021, against a news channel and in furtherance of the same, notices have been issued to the IOs investigating the case of illegal coal mining by the West Bengal Police. The said FIR has been registered with a malafide intention to derail the investigation under PMLA being conducted by the Directorate of Enforcement," it added.
It alleged that the issuance of notices against ED officers is "malafide and with the oblique motive and intent at stifling the fair and impartial investigation being undertaken by Enforcement Directorate for unearthing large financial scams/frauds taking place in the State of West Bengal and the country".
It also claimed that the motive behind registration of the FIR and the subsequent issuance of notices is "only to harass the officers of the Directorate and to use the State Police Machinery to halt the investigation being conducted by the officers of the Directorate against highly placed persons in the State Government of West Bengal and their suspected role in the offence of money laundering".
The West Bengal government had earlier told the court that the plea was not maintainable here as no cause of action arose in Delhi.