The government has compulsorily retired almost a dozen senior tax officers on charges ranging from extortion, bribe and sexual harassment.
The axe has fallen on about 12 senior officers of the rank of chief commissioners, principal commissioners, commissioners of income-tax (I-T) department under rule FR (fundamental rule) 56 (j) of central civil services (pension) rules.
The officers include Ashok Agarwal, joint commissioner of I-T and former deputy director, ED; SK Srivastava, commissioner (appeal, NOIDA; Homi Rajvansh, IRS 1985 batch; BB Rajendra Prasad; Ajoy Kumar Singh; B Arulappa; Alok Kumar Mitra; Chander Saini Bharti; Andasu Ravinder; Vivek Batra; Swetabh Suman and Ram Kumar Bhargava.
This is major crackdown by Modi government 2.0 on bureaucrats and officials indulging in alleged corruption practices.
Among the key tax officials shown the door is Ashok Agarwal who has remained suspended from 1999 to 2014. He faced serious allegations of corruption and extortion from businessman accused of helping late 'godman' Chandraswami. Mr Agarwal was found to have acquired ill-gotten wealth to the tune of Rs12 crore and faced a CBI (central bureau of investigation) enquiry.
The 1989-batch Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer has also been retired prematurely as he faced charges of alleged sexual harassment.
Some of the tax officers forced to exit the service acquired movable and immovable properties without obtaining required approvals.
One of the disgraced officer Homi Rajvansh had illegal acquired assets worth Rs3.17 crore. Finance ministry sources said Mr Rajvansh was arrested by CBI after absconding from his headquarters to evade arrest.
Another officer BB Rajendra Prasad was arrested by the CBI on allegations of passing favourable order for illegal gratifications while SK Srivastava, commissioner (appeal), NOIDA is accused of sexual harassment to two women IRS officers of commissioner rank.
In the case of Ajoy Kumar Singh, sources said that CBI, ACB, Mumbai, had registered a disproportionate assets case when Mr Singh was additional commissioner of I-T, Mumbai. He was also arrested by the CBI in connection with the case and placed under suspension w.e.f. 25.10.2009.
Officers have also been compulsorily retired for incompetence as in the case of B Arulappa. He allegedly proved to be ineffective as a supervisory officer and failed to ensure assignment of important cases having large tax implication to senior and experienced officers. But, ministry sources said that Alok Kumar Mitra is allegedly involved in many cases of corruptions and extortion and passed many wrong and malafide assessment orders which were later on reversed by the appellate authorities.
On the other hand, Chander Saini Bharti was apprehended by CBI in connection with a trap case and the bribe money of Rs30 lakh was recovered from angadiya (courier) used by him. He was allegedly found using hawala channels for transferring the ill-gotten money.
Swetabh Suman was arrested by CBI in New Delhi on 13 April 2018 for allegedly demanding Rs50 lakh for giving relief in a shell company matter to a businessman. The amount was recovered from a middle-man and searches were carried out by CBI on the premises linked to Swetabh Suman in Guwahati, Jorhat, Shillong, Noida and Delhi.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
“We could go back... to the time of Cicero (106-43 BC). His words resound through time: We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free.”
Delivering the first JB D’Souza Memorial Lecture in Mumbai on 3rd June, Justice Gautam Patel said that pillorying courts for ‘judicial over-reach’ is the Executive’s attempt to ‘rule’ rather than ‘govern’. This distinction has blurred over the years and, what were once considered norms that required no special mention, these are the very qualities that are today on the brink of extinction.
Referring to Joseph Bain D’Souza, truly a development administrator if ever there was one, Justice Patel said “Nowhere is this truer than in the field to which Bain dedicated his entire life—public administration.”
The Lecture titled “Mephisto in Mantralaya, Whose Government Is It Anyway?” was organised by Citizens for Peace and the D’souza family.
Among the causes for the deplorable standards of public administration and the bureaucracy, according to Justice Patel, were: a) complete lack of a willingness to learn and to listen; and b) unwillingness to accept that anyone else has anything at all to contribute, any knowledge, skill or domain expertise.
He said bureaucrats believe that: “Only they have all the answers, on everything from traffic congestion in our cities to agrarian reform. The truth is many do not even know what the questions are, and they are certainly out of touch with contemporary knowledge from elsewhere. This leads to what I call the bubble-ization of governance, proposals and policies unmoored from reason, logic, common sense and contemporary knowledge and experience. Nothing else can explain the completely madcap proposals we see emanating one after the after from Mantralaya in the name of development.”
The other reasons are even more dangerous because they are based on a lack of understanding of democracy and what the mandate of elections means. He said “Parliamentary democracy is founded on two cardinals: the rule of law, and second, the idea of people as their own legislators, through the agency of elected delegates. The crucial issue... is the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. If we are to preserve this, we must specify the terms and the limits of government action — the circumstances under which it can legitimately claim to be a government of the people, for the people and by the people... our only current method of doing this is by holding periodic elections.
“But what do elections achieve? They only establish ‘the democracy of authorisation’, the granting of permission to govern. Elections do not, by themselves, determine the relationship between the governors and the governed, only between representatives and their constituents—elections only legitimise the occupation of the post... Power being not a thing but a relation, the extent and manner of control over executive power determine whether a society succeeds or fails as a democracy—whether the power vests in the people or is exercised over them.”
When elected legislators fall into the trap of the Executive and more laws and more regulations are being brought into existence not primarily for the betterment of the populace, but precisely to augment the power of the Executive in controlling every aspect of the governed, when legislatures succumb to demands for expanding administrative control, by arming the Executive by more apparent lawful authority, it is an assault on democracy. THAT is where the judiciary has to step in and establish the rule of law.
Executive authoritarianism is marked by its resistance to judicial review. This is the one vital check on administrative excess. The persistent endeavour, again by the Executive through legislation, is to limit the space occupied by judicial review. “The thinking is simple. If you narrowly define the boundaries of judicial review, you are set at liberty beyond those limits.”
Justice Patel said: “Judicial review is the one vital check on government and administrative excess. It is a critical component of the maintenance of the rule of law and, therefore, of the preservation of a participatory democratic republic... For the most part, courts are careful to stay within their boundaries. It is when executive action is found again and again to be utterly indefensible and misguided that we see expansive judicial interventions.”
How do we rid ourselves of this oppression? How do we, in short, get ourselves good government, a return to the rule of law? We may, for one thing, consider an adaptation of a principle firmly entrenched in environmental law, the doctrine of public trust. This is not a strictly fiduciary relationship, in the sense of involving money, but it says that our governors are custodians who hold in trust for we, the people, things of common ownership... The principle is founded on a different concept of the nature of the relationship between the governed and the governor. It limits the dispositive powers of the governor... To the construction of permanent, sustainable, robust democracies, the renewed notion of trust is a central component. This trusteeship makes two essential demands — first, integrity; and second, truthfulness.
Unfortunately, even as the Executive criticises the judiciary for its over-reach, into which its own actions and predilections force the judiciary, there is no attempt to correct the faulty civic structures and processes that make judicial intervention inevitable.
Ending on a note of hope, Justice Patel said the situation is not beyond repair. But “Our search for an answer must begin with a rudimentary understanding of what we are, or, at any rate, what we are supposed to be. For this, we must turn to our defining document, the Constitution. That document made a very conscious choice among the very many available for self-definition. It called us a democratic republic; neither one nor the other exclusively, but both, together. At its simplest, this means that sheer majority will not determine an outcome at any level; it is the law, a body of rules, structures, regulations and norms that are determinative.”
He said: “Democracies are noisy, messy, chaotic; but that is what they are meant to be because that is precisely what vox populi means. Systems in republics work more slowly than in authoritarian regimes precisely because of this overarching principle of the rule of law. Our impatience is with the form the processes of the rule of law take. We find them glacial, ponderous, confusing, illogical, out of step with technology and social needs.” But the choice is ours—as long as we remain a democratic republic.
Media reports in April said that the government is considering reviewing the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to put in its place a mechanism for pre-packaged resolution, an individual bankruptcy scheme, and use of artificial intelligence (AI). What is interesting about this reportage is the last part, the use of AI in the field of jurisprudence.
The news does not specify how this will be done. The report of the artificial intelligence task force does not talk about it either but only alludes to AI application for enhancing the quality of public utility services which includes law and justice. It appears that the proposed maiden use of AI in law and justice in India could be in the civil laws domain as IBC is a civil law statute. What is not understood is, whether the application of AI will be for drafting better laws such as through AI models of legal reasoning or for quick disposal of cases through ‘smart courts’ system. Given the state of judicial pendency, the possibility of the latter appears stronger.
Reducing pendency in lower and higher judiciary is a key focus area for judicial reforms. The problem is not new. Several law commission reports have examined this issue. But the situation has become acute, particularly after the 1993 reforms.
Academic studies sponsored under the scheme for action research and studies on judicial reforms have produced useful insights into the nature of the problem. Some of the causes of high pendency include shortage of judges, lack of effective management, long time consumed due to the absence of advocates or in serving notices. A study of the life cycle of court cases in district courts in Maharashtra indicated that around 33% of the cases registered were decided by judgement; 46% dismissed and the remaining 21% either withdrawn or settled through compromise. Thus there is a high degree of unproductive pendency, adding to high workload on judges.
In practice, variation in time taken for disposal of cases in courts can also be due to country specific practices. Unlike in the American system where discoveries and interrogatories are mandatory, in the Indian system, although permitted under the CPC, are not mandatory. Furthermore, in the interest of justice, courts have been accommodative in granting adjournments, permitting longer time for arguing cases and keeping the judgement reserved in order to carefully weigh the arguments. Such unique practices exist in all systems and need not be over emphasised. Rather, they should be acknowledged in order to find pragmatic solutions.
Hence, as described above, over the life cycle of a typical court case, the most urgent need for technology intervention is needed at the trial stage. Such an AI technology intervention can free valuable time by reviewing evidence/arguments to find contradictions/anomalies, thus isolating genuine cases from frivolous ones, collate information on previous similar cases to decide on the quantum of damages or punishment.
However, for such a system to work, the processes leading to trial must be done in the digital mode. In this regard, the progress of eCourts Mission Mode Project has largely gone unnoticed. The first phase of the project involved computerisation and was completed in 2015. The second phase, which is under implementation since 2015, envisages enhanced information and communication technology (ICT) enablement of court, use of cloud computing, digitisation of case records, e-filing, e-payment gateways and mobile payments and automation of workflow management.
High degree of digitization of court procedure makes it possible to create a smart court system in India by exploiting the data in eCourts through AI. If and when completed, India can be in league with China which recently launched its AI-enabled system to assist courts in judging criminal cases in Shanghai Peoples Intermediate Court. China’s trial-centric system is expected to enhance judicial credibility because of its accuracy and time efficiency. A smart court system will no doubt improve India’s ease of doing business rankings and boost contract enforcement.
But as is the case with any discussion involving AI, question arise. Will AI replace ‘human judges’ with ‘cyber judges’? The current state of technology and Chinese example suggests that this possibility looks unlikely. Any trial is not just a process to ascertain whether some law is breached; it also involves gauging finer traits of human (mis)behaviour. AI has not reached a stage where it can capture those finer traits or make ethical judgements.
Then, legal services also have high social quotient in that a human interface will be required to preserve trust. Judges are referred to as nyayamurti. Will a computer be accepted as a nyayamurti? Lastly, the introduction of technology in existing social structure disturbs the prevailing equilibrium. Will the use of AI alter the delicate balance between judiciary, legislature and executive? It remains an open question.
(The author is an economist in the banking system. The views are personal)