Delhi HC to decide on issue of key tribunal’s chair

The Delhi high court on Wednesday said it will examine the issue related to a non-judicial member currently presiding over the charge of Acting Chairman of country’s only and crucial appellate tribunal dealing with the seizure and attachment of properties under money laundering Act, Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators Act (SAFEMA) and Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

Relying upon a Hindustan Times report from last week, the authority of current acting chairman – G C Mishra, who is from Indian Legal Services and is the only member in the tribunal at the moment, was challenged by advocate Vijay Aggarwal on behalf of Echanda Urja Pvt Ltd (EUPL), a company linked to former ICICI Bank managing director Chanda Kochhar’s husband Deepak Kochhar. Aggarwal argued that Mishra, being a non-judicial member, cannot decide cases in the absence of a regular Chairman as only a judicial member can deal with legal aspects.

HT reported on November 27 that the tribunal was headless for the past 14 months, seriously affecting its functioning and Mishra, being an acting chairman, had mostly deferred the appeals filed by individuals and business entities challenging attachment of their properties by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or other authorities.

ED approached the tribunal last week challenging a November 6 order by its own adjudicating authority under PMLA for releasing the attachments worth Rs 78 crore belonging to Kochhars. Kochhars sought a stay on hearing ED’s appeal till the matter of an acting chairman is heard.

Justice Navin Chawla, however, refused to stay the proceedings on ED’s appeal while agreeing to contentions of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju who said that a stay would create a havoc in the various appeals being heard at the tribunal.

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ASG Raju contended that if a stay were granted other parties would also seek a stay on the cases being heard in the tribunal.

After hearing lengthy arguments, the court said that it does not consider it fit to interdict in the proceedings (ED’s appeal) pending in the tribunal. The court also issued notice to ED seeking to know its response and posted the matter for further hearing in February 2021.

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