The Supreme Court on Thursday said that a mechanism should be put in place to determine whether investigations by the Enforcement Directorate against officials of the Opposition-ruled states are being driven by political vendetta, reported Live Law.

A division bench of Justices Surya Kant and KV Viswanathan was hearing a petition by the central agency seeking directions to the Tamil Nadu government to share the first information reports and other details of corruption cases against the state ministers and officials.

The plea also sought the transfer of a bribery case against an Enforcement Directorate officer from the Tamil Nadu Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The officer, Ankit Tiwari, was arrested in December after the police caught him accepting a bribe of Rs 20 lakh from a doctor in Dindigul.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and Tamil Nadu Additional Advocate General Amit Anand Tiwari argued that the Centre was using the Enforcement Directorate to target only certain non-Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states.

They said that the political vindictiveness jeopardised the federal structure of the country.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the central agency, argued that the Tamil Nadu government can approach the courts if it feels that the arrests were vindictive, reported The Hindu.

“Once we take cognisance, it is a statutory mandate under the PMLA [Prevention of Money Laundering Act] that the agency, state or central, investigating the predicate offence, share all the details of the case with us,” Mehta told the court. “That is the system. Tamil Nadu is not sharing anything with us.”

The court said that the objective of law enforcement agencies is free and fair investigations.

“Allegations and counter-allegations of political vendetta cannot be evolved as a paradise for those who are corrupt,” Kant said. “There should be some mechanism for screening, with a view to eliminate the apprehension of so-called or actual political vendetta. We cannot allow wrongdoers to go scot-free.”

The court also suggested the two parties in the case give suggestions to frame guidelines for such a mechanism, reported Live Law.

“There has to be a mechanism where when a central agency particularly when the ruling party is different between the Centre and the state,” the court said. “Something has to be evolved so that while genuine cases don’t go scot-free merely because it is being handled by the central agency, at the same time there is no mala fide witch-hunting.”

The bench said that the mechanism could be first tested in Tamil Nadu before applying to the rest of the states.

Enforcement Directorate-Tamil Nadu tussle

The Enforcement Directorate is investigating a series of cases against Tamil Nadu ministers and senior state government officials.

On June 14, the central agency had arrested Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji in a money laundering case.

Balaji is accused of allegedly conspiring with transport corporation officials to appoint candidates recommended by his aides in exchange for money. He allegedly laundered the proceeds of the crime in violation of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

The law enforcement agency has alleged that bribes worth crores were taken from candidates in exchange for jobs when Balaji was the transport minister in Tamil Nadu’s previous All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government, from 2011 to 2016. After the party split in 2017, Balaji joined the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is currently in power in Tamil Nadu.

On January 13, a court in Chennai denied bail to Balaji.

In November, the state government had moved the Madras High Court against the Enforcement Directorate summons to 10 district collectors as part of an investigation into alleged irregularities and malpractices in the mining and sale of river sand in Tamil Nadu.

The High Court had then stayed the Enforcement Directorate’s summons.

In its petition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government had accused the Enforcement Directorate of selectively exercising its powers in a “pick-and-choose approach” and raised questions about the lack of investigations into similar offences in states governed by the BJP.

Also read: How the Modi government has weaponised the ED to go after India’s Opposition