The Enforcement Directorate(ED) on Monday conducted raids at over a dozen locations in Chhattisgarh including at premises linked to state Congress leaders as part of an ongoing probe into the alleged coal levy scam, officials said.
The raids that were underway over 12 hours after they were launched early this morning come days before the start of the three-day plenary session of the Congress party which is in power in the state. The three-day session begins on February 24 in Raipur.
The Congress and state Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel cried foul over the raids calling it "vendetta politics" by the Centre, a charge rejected by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The Congress also raised questions over the timing of the raids.
The Congress described the searches as an example of "third-rate politics" of "vendetta, vengeance and harassment", and asserted that the party will not be intimidated by such "tactics".
Hitting back, Sitharaman said the Congress should not speak on corruption as it lost power on the issue and asserted that the probe agencies do their homework and investigate only when they have necessary prima facie evidence.
"The Congress should not speak on corruption at all and then bring in the angle of vindictiveness. It's a shame," she told reporters in Jaipur.
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At a news conference in Delhi, senior Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh and Pawan Khera said the ED stands for 'Exterminating Democracy' and "Eliminating Democracy".
According to officials, the locations where searches are still underway included those of MLA Devendra Yadav in Bhilai (Durg district), Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee treasurer Ramgopal Agrawal, chairman of Chhattisgarh State Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board Sushil Sunny Agrawal and party's state spokesperson RP Singh in Raipur.
The raids also covered some other ruling party leaders, they said.
Offficials said the ED is 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.
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. Nine persons have been arrested by by the ED till now in the case.
Youth Congress and NSUI workers staged a demonstration in front of the office of the ED in Raipur to protest against the raids. Police personnel deployed outside the office had to use mild force to disperse the protestors with some videos showing a minor scuffle between protestors and security personnel.
While Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge claimed that the raids show the cowardice of the BJP before the Congress plenary session, Baghel described it as politically motivated and claimed the BJP was afraid of the Congress and misusing central agencies to crush the voices of political opponents.
This is not 'Amrit Kaal' but an "undeclared emergency", Ramesh, who is Congress general secretary, said.
"If anything, these raids have increased our determination. If anything, these raids have given us a booster dose to be even more aggressive against the prime minister and his third-rate politics of vengeance, vendetta and harassment."
Ramesh alleged that the probe agencies are being misused by the present regime.
He said where raids are supposed to happen, they do not take place, especially on the "scams" involving Gautam Adani and where the law has been allegedly violated.
"This is clearly the politics of vendetta, politics of vengeance, politics of harassment and this is supposed to be the curtain raiser for the 85th session of the Congress. We are not afraid and we have nothing to hide. We will not be intimidated. Mr Modi's policy of FDI is fear, deceit and intimidation and we will not be afraid or intimidated by such actions."
Baghel said the raids are an attempt to divert attention ahead of the party's plenary session and would not be able to break the spirits of its leaders engaged in preparations for the session.
He said the ED has raided the houses of many of his colleagues, including the treasurer of the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee, the former vice-president of the party and an MLA.
"Four days later the Congress convention will be held in Raipur. You cannot break our spirits by stopping our comrades engaged in preparations like this. The BJP is frustrated with the success of the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' and the truth of Adani being exposed. This raid is an attempt to divert attention. The country knows the truth. We will fight and win," Baghel said in a series of tweets.
Baghel later addressed a press conference at the party's state headquarters where he alleged that the intention of the BJP is to impact the Congress' plenary session.
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