Shimla: In a reprieve to Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and his family, the Himachal Pradesh High Court on Thursday stayed the orders of Income Tax Commissioner, Shimla, to transfer the alleged income tax evasion cases to Chandigarh.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan passed the orders on petitions filed by Singh and his wife.
Pratibha Singh, son Vikramaditya Singh, and daughter Aparajita Kumari and one Anand Chauhan (caretaker of Singh's orchards) had challenged the order of the IT Commissioner, who had ordered transfer of their cases on the ground of conducting coordinated and joint probe in all cases.
They have argued that the coordinated and joint probe of all the cases can be done in Shimla also, and there is no need to transfer the cases to Chandigarh as it will amount to "harassment".
The chief minister had filed revised I-T returns for assessment years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, where his income showed about 14 times increase from Rs 47.35 lakh to Rs 6.56 crore.
The income tax case against Singh was reopened after the revised IT returns were challenged in Delhi High Court through a PIL.
The Income Tax Commissioner in his orders had said that the agricultural income had dramatically increased in the revised return, which is an apparent attempt to justify the investments made in the purchase of insurance policies and the assessees had close relations and business dealings among themselves and Vakamulla Chandrashekhar and M/s Tarini Infrastructure Limited, which require coordinated and joint investigations in all cases.
He had transferred all the cases to Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax, Central Circle, Chandigarh, saying centralisation of cases will enable the department to conduct focused, synchronised and coordinated investigation.
The Court directed the Income Tax Commissioner to file reply within four weeks and posted the matter for September 16.
Citing case laws, the Chief Minister said that the courts
should prima facie verify the credentials of the petitioner before entertaining a PIL.
"In this particular case, the deponent (CM) contends that the petitioner (NGO) has moved in bad faith. The petitioner should have disclosed all material facts...Before invoking the jurisdiction of the court," the affidavit, which would be considered on September 10 by the court, said.
Earlier, CBI had filed its final status report in the case before the court which also asked the Chief Minister to file his affidavit.
The bench had also taken note of allegations of receipt of unaccounted money to the tune of nearly Rs 5 crores by the Chief Minister and filing of revised Income Tax returns for years 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 by him and had sought a report and documents from the IT department.
The revised IT returns showed an increase in agricultural income to the tune of Rs 6.10 crore, the PIL had claimed.
The PIL has alleged that Singh has amassed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and sought a court-monitored "investigation by the CBI and the Income Tax Department" into the charges of money laundering, corruption, disproportionate assets and criminal misconduct.
The allegations also include cash payment of about Rs 2.28 crore to Singh by an MNC steel firm during 2008 and 2010 when he was the Union Steel Minister.