The author laments that while the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal is globally recognized as one of the best tax tribunals for its independence and competence, its reputation at home is under a cloud owing to the allegations of corruption. He makes a fervent plea that the Bench and the Bar has to play a positive role to maintain the dignity, sanctity and integrety of the Tribunal. He also outlines a few suggestions towards this end.
1. Courts and Tribunals are temples of justice. They are viewed with great sanctity and reverence. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal is in existence for more than 67 years and is one of the oldest temples of justice in our country. Recent CBI raid on the residence of the sitting member of the ITAT has shaken the faith and confidence as well as sullied the reputation of this great institution. The Federation is of the opinion that there has to be speedy and impartial examination of the entire episode. If it is held to be a frame up, the member concerned should be reinstated with dignity and Bar should make sincere attempt that such incidents do not recur. On the other hand if it is found that the incident to be correct, the Bar and Bench will have to play a positive role to eradicate the cancer of corruption from the institution. There has to be national debate and like minded people and members must come together and try to find a workable solution for eradicating the seeds of corruption from the roots of the institution.
2. Recently, Hon’ble Justice Shri V. R. Kingaonkar of Bombay High Court in the matter of Shivdas Dashrath Jadhav vs. The State of Maharashtra, confirming the rigorous imprisonment in a bribery case against the police prosecutor has observed as under:–
“The cancer of corruption is more dangerous to judicial system which is the institution in which a common man still has certain amount of faith. There cannot be duality of opinion, that corrupt practices adopted by members of the Bar or members of the prosecution wing, tarnish the image of the judicial system as such”.
The Court also observed that:– “Corrupt influences gradually erode the strength of democratic institution and take away credibility of the organs in the Government. Instances like the present case give serious jolt to the faith of the litigants in the judicial system”.
3. Hon’ble Justice R. C. Lahoti, Former Chief Justice of India, while addressing tax conference organized by All India Federation of Tax Practitioners at Indore on 7-9-2002 stated:-
“Corruption is a cancer eating into the roots of the society. It is difficult to fight against corruption because the chances of success are bleak but this is no reason for despondency. Nobody is born corrupt; it is the vitiated atmosphere in the society and the system of governance which converts the clean into corrupt. An honest person resists corruption but allurements and temptations at times prevail upon him and once corrupt, even an honest person prefers and finds it convenient to stay corrupt. The seeds of corruption are sown in the mind of the man and the cure, if any, lies in eradicating the seeds of corruption from his mind. An honest revenue official says “The honest are hounded; they are humiliated; they are ignored; they are manipulated: they are used, they are punished; they become the laughing stock in society and in their families, even their very honesty is suspected. In spite of that, there are many honest officers in the department who remain honest against all adversities. They are a special specie; they have to be preserved and protected”.
4. Hon’ble Shri R. C. Lahoti, Former Chief Justice of India once again in the year 2004 warned that corruption and inefficiency in judiciary will not be tolerated and will be dealt with firmly. He suggested that the High Courts, which exercise supervisory control over the subordinate judiciary, should activate the vigilance cells. According to Hon’ble Chief Justice prompt action against deviant and erring Judges would go a long way in weeding out the dead wood, corrupt and insolent. Hon’ble Chief Justice opined that once the Chief Justice feels that a strong prima facie case of indulgence in corruption by a judicial officer has been made out, permission for lodging the FIR, for initiating and completing the investigation under ordinary law and sanction for prosecution should be allowed, to act as a deterrent and to set an example to the fence-sitters.
5. We know there are good number of members whose integrity cannot be doubted. It is only few greedy members and professionals who spoil the reputation of the institution. No doubt it is very difficult to eradicate the cancer of corruption from the system under which we are functioning, however, it is not impossible. We have following suggestions for consideration and national debate.
1. Professionals practising before the Tribunal must take an oath that they will not indulge in unethical practice whatever may be temptation. Once you become firm nobody can expect any favour from you. One of the senior members of the Sales Tax Bar once told me that when he started practice initially, some officials wanted certain favours from him and he said no, and lost some matters, but later because of his honesty and integrity he became one of the most successful and well reputed lawyers having vast practice. When he retired from the profession after 50 years of practice, he said he has great satisfaction that he did not indulge in any unethical practice to get favour for his client. If the Bar members follow the code of conduct adopted by the Federation, there may not be any scope for unethical practice. (AIFTP Journal – July-September, 2001 p. 47)
2. There have to be regular seminars and discussions on the subject of professional ethics and integrity of the profession. Eminent professionals whose integrity is beyond doubt should come forward and address the professionals. Members of the Tribunal and Judiciary should also participate in the discussion.
3. When a High Court Judge retires, he is not allowed to practice before the same Court or lower Courts. It is for the consideration, whether similar rules can be adopted by the members of the ITAT.
4. ITAT Co-ordination Committee of the Federation has drafted code of ethics for members of the ITAT based on the code of ethics adopted by the judges of the High Court. This code of ethics was forwarded to the President and the former President of the ITAT. It is the right time to adopt and follow the same, which will enhance the faith in the institution. (AIFTP Journal -July – September, 2001 p. 48)
5. Administration of justice, whether in tax related matters or in any other field is a joint venture in which both the lawyers and the Judges / Members of the Tribunal are equal participants. It is therefore, a partnership of equals. The tax bar is recognized as one of the best bars. This has been in no small measure due to ethics and values of the stalwarts of the tax bar such as Shri R. J. Kolah, Shri N. A. Palkhivala, Shri S. P. Mehta and others. We have a great responsibility to preserve the same. Let us work together, hand in hand and see that the Tribunal should retain its glory as one of the finest institutions in this country and as a model for other institutions to follow.
6. A Judge or a Member, who administers justice must be as pure as 24 carat gold. His conduct and integrity must be beyond reasonable doubt. The Bar and Bench has to play a proactive role, otherwise, the institution of Tribunal may break down.
6. The pendency of appeals before the Tribunal has reduced considerably in all places. In some places like Amritsar, etc. the appeals there are fixed for hearing within 30 days of filing of the appeal. The Institution deserves to be appreciated for expeditious disposal.
7. At an International seminar held in New York, the ITAT was described as a greatest tax tribunal in the world by the UN Officials and rich encomiums were paid to the Independence and Competence of this institution. (www.itatonline.org). Some of the orders of the Tribunal were appreciated by International Tax Experts of other countries. This proves, globally Income Tax Appellate Tribunal is recognized and appreciated by the International community.
8. Everty one is very much concerned with the Institution in which he practices. Institution is greater than the individuals who man it. According to the Federation “A Vision 2020 – A Road Ahead” the ITAT should attract the best talent and men of character and integrity alone should adorn the Bench, and in such a scenario the assessees and the Department would be able to get justice from the final fact finding authority without any fear and favour. We firmly believe that, endeavour to maintain the dignity, integrity and sanctity of the Institution can alone inspire confidence of the ‘tax payers’ and the revenue. Any constructive suggestions will be appreciated.
Dr. K. SHIVARAM
(Reproduced with permission from the Income Tax Review, July 2008)