India

ED gags its own officers: Report colleagues who speak to media

ED gags its own officers: Report colleagues who speak to media

THE ENFORCEMENT Directorate (ED) has issued an internal circular warning of “punitive action” against officers who interact with the media. The circular also asks officers to keep an eye on colleagues and report those found to be in touch with journalists — failure to do so will be considered “dereliction of duty”.

The circular, signed by ED Director S K Mishra, states: “It has been observed that certain information relating to ongoing investigations have been published in the media. These information relating to impending action may jeopardise the interests of ongoing investigations.”

Henceforth, it said, “any officer other than the authorised officer if found interacting with the media, the same should be brought to the knowledge of the principal special director or undersigned (Director) immediately. Any deviation will amount to dereliction of duty and liable for punitive action”. The circular said that a similar order had been issued on November 30, 2018, but “has not been followed in (the) right spirit”.

A senior ED officer denied that the circular was an attempt to silence the media. “Regular press briefings are done through authorised channels. Press releases are issued on developments in all important cases. The press is supposed to talk to the authorised spokesperson or the Director. The press cannot be allowed to meet the investigating officer. Details, which can hamper our case or alert an accused, are not to be shared. It’s a rule in all government departments. It’s against the conduct rules of officers,” the officer said.

Another ED officer said the circular was issued after a recent news report, which allegedly contained details that “could adversely impact” a case. “It was seen that those details were never shared by the official channel. That is why a new order reiterating the old stand was issued,” the officer said.

The ED is the lead agency probing cases of forex violations, money laundering and terror funding. It is currently engaged in a number of big-ticket probes, including the AgustaWestland case, the Robert Vadra land deal, the Aircel-Maxis case, the PNB fraud, and the Chanda Kochchar case.