Security personnel outside the residence of a Congress leader during a raid by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a mining case, in Raipur, Monday, ED conducted searches at multiple locations in Chhattisgarh in the case. (PTI Photo)
New Delhi: Days ahead of the AICC plenary session, the Enforcement Directorate on Monday conducted searches at multiple locations in Chhattisgarh, including at premises of those linked to Congress leaders, as part of an ongoing probe into the coal levy money-laundering case.
This is the first time that Congress legislators of the state are coming under the Central agency’s radar in this case.
The three-day plenary session of the Congress is to be held from February 24 to 26 in the state capital Raipur.
According to officials, the searches began early on Monday morning at over a dozen locations that include those of MLA Devendra Yadav in Bhilai (Durg district),
Chhattisgarh PCC treasurer Ramgopal Agrawal, chairman of Chhattisgarh State Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board Sushil Sunny Agrawal and party’s state spokesperson R.P. Singh in Raipur. The raids also covered some other ruling party leaders.
Agency officials said the ED has been investigating those who have been the "beneficiaries" of the proceeds of crime of the alleged coal levy scam perpetrated during the tenure of the current government led by Mr Bhupesh Baghel.
Hitting out at the BJP over the raids, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel called the ED’s raids at the premises of Congress leaders in the state a "politically motivated" move and claimed that the BJP was afraid of the Congress and misusing Central agencies to crush the voices of political opponents.
"Their intention is to impact the Congress’ upcoming plenary session in Raipur where a roadmap for the 2024 general election will be discussed," Mr Baghel said, addressing a press conference at the party’s state headquarters.
"Whenever the Congress takes any major step, such acts (raids by Central agencies) happen… The BJP-led Centre is scared of the Congress… The BJP was nervous when the Congress took out the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and now they are afraid of the plenary session going to be held in Raipur," he said. "They have resorted to low-level acts to create hindrances ahead of the conclave out of their frustration," Mr Baghel added.
"But, we are not afraid of such acts and we will emerge stronger and make the event a grand success. When we were not afraid of the Britishers, then why should we be afraid of them (BJP)," he said.
The ED investigation relates to "a massive scam in which an illegal levy of Rs 25 was being extorted for every tonne of coal transported in Chhattisgarh by a cartel involving senior bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and middlemen", the agency has alleged.
The Congress Party also termed the ED raids against party leaders in Chhattisgarh as an example of the "third rate politics" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and said it will not be intimidated by such "tactics".
This is not "Amrit Kaal" but an "undeclared emergency", AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh said at a joint press conference with party spokesperson Pawan Khera.
Mr Ramesh also said 17 Opposition parties have already come together against grant of powers to the ED under the PMLA and the Opposition will jointly file a review petition in the Supreme Court against its previous ruling in the issue.
Reacting to the Congress’ charge linking ED’s raids against its leaders in Chhattisgarh to "vendetta politics", finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the
Congress should not speak on corruption as it lost power on the issue and said the probe agencies do their homework and investigate only when they have necessary prima facie evidence.
Nine persons, including state administrative service officer Saumya Chaurasia, Suryakant Tiwari, his uncle Laxmikant Tiwari, Chhattisgarh cadre IAS officer Sameer Vishnoi and another coal businessman Sunil Agrawal have been arrested by the agency till now in the case.
The searches were still on till the last reports came in.
Several senior Congress leaders, including party president Mallikarjun Kharge, condemned the ED action.