The Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed the operation of the Enforcement Directorate’s summons, sent to five district collectors in Tamil Nadu, asking them to appear for questioning in connection with the illegal sand mining case. Registering a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the agency is probing the proceeds of rampant illegal sand mining and has been conducting searches in sand quarries across Tamil Nadu.
The Madras High Court bench comprising of Justices S.S. Sundar and Sunder Mohan granted an interim stay on the petition filed by the state public department secretary K. Nanthakumar and five other district collectors. The court, after hearing the arguments made by senior counsel Dushyant Dave on behalf of the government and Additional Solicitor General AR.L. Sundaresan on behalf of ED, granted three weeks time to the central agency to respond to the main case.
“The ED is trying to fish for possible commission of predicate offence and the summons were issued as a fishing expedition to identify possible proceeds of crime from illegal sand mining. We are prima facie convinced that the summons is not within the jurisdiction of the ED,” the Madras High Court bench said. The bench however said that the ED can continue its probe into the illegal sand mining in Tamil Nadu. The bench also contended that prima facie, the pleas moved by the state government and the district collectors against the central agency are maintainable. “This is only our prima facie view. It is subject to elaborate discussion,” the bench said.
ED has been conducting searches and interrogating several water resources department engineers for the past two months. Subsequently, ED had issued summons to district collectors to produce details regarding the names of sand mining sites in their districts, the complete address of the quarries, their GPS coordinates, the GPS address of the sand depots, the GPS coordinates of the depots, the permitted area of sand mining and the permitted depth.
The state government represented by Nanthakumar and five district collectors--Ariyalur, Vellore, Thanjavur, Karur and Tiruchirapalli--had challenged the summons issued by ED asking them to appear for interrogation. Stating that ED’s actions to question the district collectors were against federalism, the petition filed by the government also sought a declaration against the ED’s power to investigate such offences without the consent of the state government.
On Monday, when the case came up for hearing before the Madras High Court bench, ED informed the court that sand worth Rs.4,730 crore has been illegally mined in the state in the last one to two years.