Former Union Telecom Minister Sukh Ram, who was convicted in the 1996 telecom scam, secured a breather Wedn-esday with the Delhi High Court agreeing to hear his appeal agai-nst a fine of Rs 1 crore imposed by the Enforcement Directorate.
The adjudicating officer of the directorate had, in September 2015, slapped him with the fine under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999, for violating rules under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), 1973. Next year, he moved the Delhi HC, which, in its verdict, quashed the plea saying as per FEMA rules, he could file an appeal only with the Special Director (Appeals).
Senior Counsel Kirti Uppal, appearing for Sukh Ram, said the adjudicating officer had fined the latter on the basis of the “uncorroborated” testimony of a sole witness, without providing an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
This order also contravened the principles of natural justice besides violating Article 226 (power of high courts to issue writs) of the Constitution. Examining the earlier order of the single judge, Chief Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal said the verdict highlighted that a writ petition could not be heard by the High Court when there was a provision of appeal in FEMA itself.
The Chief Justice, however, said according to the precedent established by the SC, in cases where the statute itself prescribed the remedy of appeal, the HC could hear the plea if there were exceptions. These comprised violation of principles of natural justice, complete lack of jurisdiction by a tribunal, and tribunal invoking the sections which were against law.
As the order of the single judge was merely on the ground of availability of alternative remedy under FEMA, the verdict was not sustainable, said the Chief Justice adding, the writ petition had to be considered afresh. Meanwhile, the court also condoned the delay in filing the appeal on grounds of Sukh Ram’s “advance age (91) and health”.