|COURT:||Bombay High Court|
|CORAM:||M. S. Sanklecha J, N. M. Jamdar J|
|CATCH WORDS:||Special Bench, strictures|
|COUNSEL:||A. K. Jasani, J.D. Mistri|
|DATE:||August 13, 2015 (Date of pronouncement)|
|DATE:||August 12, 2015 (Date of publication)|
|FILE:||Click here to download the file in pdf format|
|S. 253: Severe strictures passed regarding the conduct of the Vice President and President of the ITAT and the CBDT for seeking to constitute Special Bench for non-judicial reasons and on grounds of "political sensitivity"|
(i) Having rejected the contention that the Regular Bench had recommended a special bench and that it constituted sufficient material for the president, we now come to the second material placed before the president, that is the recommendation of the Vice president.
(ii) This is the most distressing part. The president forwarded the letter of the Board to the Vice president for his comments. This was purely an internal movement of the file. It was not that the matter was judicially assigned to the Vice president and notified on his board. There was no indication for any litigant to know that the file was now before the Vice president. In spite of this position, the Special counsel who was to be engaged by the Revenue met the Vice president and explained him the need for a special bench. How the Special counsel knew that the file of the matter was before the Vice president, is a mystery. This was a private meeting and the Petitioner was not informed. The matter was seized before the regular bench and the revenue was a contesting party. The Petitioner was completely unaware that any such private meeting had taken place between the counsel and the Vice president. Permitting a party to the litigation to meet privately in absence of other side in respect of an ongoing litigation and then base an opinion on such meeting ,was most improper on the part of the Vice president. The Vice president did not even find it improper and he has proceeded to place the said private meeting on record as if nothing was wrong about the same. Not only holding such private meetings is opposed to judicial conduct, but not knowing that it is an improper judicial conduct, makes the matters worse.
(iii) The Vice president had played a major role in the decision making process to constitute the special bench. After he received the file from the president for his opinion, he suggested that the Regular Bench should give their opinion. He asked them to consider formation of a special bench and for that purpose hold a hearing, if necessary. When the opinion was received from the Regular Bench, he gave his own comment that the Bench had recommended a special bench, omitting to mention that the Bench had recommended a bench outside Andhra Pradesh. The Vice president, therefore, was an integral part and in fact played a major role in a decision to constitute a special bench.
(iv) It is true that the final order of the president is not a judicial order. Nevertheless, even when a judicial body acts in administrative capacity, in midst of the litigation, which order will have effect on the ultimate outcome, the judicial body, must act with fairness, and not allow itself to be influenced. This is a fundamental principle. We will be failing in our duty if we do not uphold this most important principle. No attempts to influence a judicial body by non judicial methods can be permitted and tolerated. If a litigant, be it the State, indulges in such acts, it shall not derive any benefit there from. Such tainted process must be obliterated and undertaken again. This course of action is necessary to retain the faith of litigants in the quality of justice rendered by the Tribunal. It is also necessary to send a strong signal to all the litigants, including the State, to make no attempts to influence a judicial body by non judicial methods.
(v) What is further troubling is that is the introduction of ‘political sensitivity’.In fact, the request letter of the Board does not specifically invoke this concept. It is the Vice president who has introduced this concept. This concept is then carried forward by the Regular Bench and during the arguments before us. We fail to understand how ‘political sensitivity’ is relevant in tax litigation. Tax is levied and collected under the sovereign power of the State. The Revenue is entrusted with collecting the tax and employ all legitimate methods to bring the tax evaders to book. The Tribunal is established to adjudicate disputes arising from the application of the Act. In the scheme of the Act, political affiliation of an assessee is irrelevant. The Vice president thought the case was politically sensitive. This was after the private meeting with the representative of the Board. So are we to presume that politics was discussed in the meeting? The Vice president has sown a seed of an irrelevant and potentially dangerous concept in the income tax litigation. Consider a converse scenario. There could be situation where an assessee may send its representative to hold a private meeting to refer the entire matter to special bench because the result before regular bench may affect his political career or that the issue in his case is politically sensitive. We therefore strongly deprecate the invocation of this criterion. The collection of tax and the adjudication must move unconcerned with political identity.
Such a disgrace to the judiciary. It is high time that CCTV cameras be installed in the corridors of ITAT. Anyone can see during the afternoon there is scene like hawkers’ market outside the cabins of the members. We all know who was by “TheWay” counsel of the revenue to meet VP. It is matter of the special attention why VP is sitting with only selected AM. It is also worthy that cases like “Hassan Ali Khan” are specifically kept for the same bench with same special counsel. (Cause list is proof of this.) Such members should immediately be de-rostered from judicial duties & an inquiry into their past one years’ orders must be lodged by CBI. This case is no different from AM Jugal Kishore.