Kannaiyan and his brother Krishnan
Kannaiyan and his brother Krishnan

Two elderly Dalit farmers fighting case against TN BJP leader, summoned by ED

The ED is alleged to be pursuing the Dalit farmers – who subsist on a Rs 1,000 monthly pension – as they are engaged in a land dispute case, where they have accused a local BJP leader of trying to illegally grab their land.

Kannaiyan and his brother Krishnan, two elderly farmers in their 70s, living in Attur of Salem district in Tamil Nadu, received a summons from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in July 2023. The Union government’s multi-disciplinary organisation, mandated to investigate cases of money laundering and violations of foreign exchange laws, finds itself embroiled in a controversy following the summons. While it is still not clear why the brothers, who own 6.5 acres of agricultural land in their village, were summoned by the ED, what has triggered further outrage is that the envelope of the ED summons mentioned the caste of the farmers as ‘Hindu Pallars’ on it. The ED is alleged to be pursuing the Dalit farmers – who subsist on a Rs 1,000 monthly pension – as they are engaged in a land dispute case, where they have accused a local BJP leader of trying to illegally grab their land.

TNM has accessed a copy of the summons issued to the farmers by Ritesh Kumar, Assistant Director of ED, dated June 26, 2023. According to the summons, investigating officer (IO) Ritesh Kumar is investigating under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, and asked Kanniyan and Krishnan to appear before the agency on July 5, 2023.

“Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me under sub-section (2) and sub-section (3) of Section 50 of the said act, I require the said Kanniyan S/o Chinnasamy to appear before me at my office on 05/072023 along with the documents as per the schedule attached,” read the summons.

The farmers were asked to bring documents like a copy of their PAN card, Aadhaar card, voter ID, a copy of their passport, two passport-size photographs, copies of their tax returns and those of their family members, details of investments made by them and their family members, details of immovable properties in their name and in the name of family members, details of bank accounts, fixed deposits in their name and the names of family members, agricultural land details, and details of crop production.

Speaking to TNM, Dalit Parvina, the lawyer representing Kanniyan and Krishnan, said that no information regarding the case was mentioned in the summons. “The brothers had no idea what the case was, and there was nothing mentioned in the summons apart from asking them to appear before the ED with proper documents. The only case these farmers are dealing with is the land grab attempt by a local BJP functionary,” she added.

Kanniyan and Krishnan own 6.5 acres of agricultural land in Ramanaickenpalayam near Attur in Salem district, and they have been fighting a legal case against Gunashekar, BJP’s Salem east district secretary, and have accused the latter of trying to grab their agricultural land. Based on Krishnan’s complaint, a criminal case was registered against Gunasekar and he was arrested and remanded in judicial custody in 2020. A civil case regarding the land dispute between Krishnan and Gunashekar is pending in the Attur court. 

In this backdrop, the ED summons to the farmers has triggered massive outrage and questions have been raised as to whether the ED is trying to help the BJP functionary by intimidating the farmers. 

“We took all the records and went to meet ED officials in July 2023. They asked us to appear again. We told them we are somehow surviving, how can anyone accuse us of illegal wealth?” Krishnan asked. 

At the ED office, the farmers were asked to fill a proforma for interrogation in English and it was filled by the lawyers who accompanied them. The proforma had questions on whether they were summoned, arrested, detained or convicted under FERA or FEMA violations in the past or indulged in any offences under the Customs, DRI, or Income Tax acts. 

In the same proforma, the farmers were asked to fill details regarding their financial profiles and the farmers mentioned that they receive an old age pension of Rs 1,000 from the Tamil Nadu government and they had no other source of income. According to Dalit Parvina, the farmers were unable to carry out their agricultural work for the past four years because of land issues. Their only source of income is the Old Age Pension that they receive and depend on free ration provided by the Tamil Nadu government. 

Advocate Parvina told TNM that the farmers had to borrow money pledging their land to cover the expenses of their visit to the ED office. “When they received the summons asking them to appear before the IO at the ED office in Chennai, the farmers had Rs 450 in their bank account. They borrowed Rs 50,000 for hiring a vehicle and other expenses. Now they have to pay it back,” she added. 

Two farmers with advocate Parvina
Two farmers with advocate Parvina

Meanwhile, BJP functionary Gunashekar has released a video on social media and has accused the Tamil Nadu police of trying to defame the ED and the BJP. Speaking to TNM, the Salem East District BJP president P Shanmuganathan defended his colleague Gunashekar and said that they are in the process of collecting information as to who lodged the complaint and how ED issued summons to the farmers. 

TNM reached out to ED officials for a comment, but they have not responded so far. This story will be updated if TNM receives a response.

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