February 11, 2021 9:21:52 pm
The Gujarat High Court on February 10 has directed Directorate General of GST Intelligence (DGGI) officials to appear before it through video conferencing, after receiving several petitions from businessmen, mostly from Vapi, alleging “undue harassment” and “coercion” by intelligence officers of DGGI during search proceedings.
The court further said in its order that if the officials fails to appear before the court, it could “proceed to take appropriate steps in accordance with law.”
The latest among the petitions filed in the last few days, is a plea moved by Vapi industrial estate (GIDC, Vapi)-based chemical manufacturer Hemani Intermediates Pvt Ltd, Ideal Dye Chem Industries and its proprietor Premji Hemani, alleging physical violence and torture by the tax officials.
The division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora in its order noted, “This is one more matter amongst many other matters that have come up before this court in the last one week of undue harassment, coercion etc…”
The petitioner had submitted before the court that search proceedings at GIDC Vapi units lasted from 11 am on January 20 until 9 am of January 21 and DGGI additional director and senior intelligence officer resorted to “physical violence and torture on the employees” of Hemani Intermediates Pvt Ltd.
The tax authorities had allegedly also forced the employees to switch off CCTV cameras of the office premises and statements of all persons during the search proceedings were taken under coercion, putting them under “immense mental stress and depression.”
The bench noted that “what is more disturbing” than the averments by the petitioners, was the fact that panch witnesses of the search proceedings also attested to the allegations in their affidavit.
The affidavit by one such panch witness states that the search proceedings “was conducted in a very bad manner wherein many untoward incidents took place,” while also putting on oath that “officers conducting search proceedings resorted to physically violence and torture on the accountants and senior accountants of M/s Hemani Intermediates Private Limited despite them cooperating with the said officers.”
The panch witness’ statement also submits that the management/directors of the company were “forced” to make the payment of tax, interest and penalty at midnight.
The court has issued notice to the tax authorities, returnable for February 16 while also directing that the intelligence officer and senior intelligence officer remain present through video conferencing, “failing which, this Court may proceed to take appropriate steps in accordance with law.”
Two other cases of chemical manufacturers at Vapi GIDC alleging harassment of similar nature, too will be heard on February 16, for when the notices have been kept returnable. On the same day, the respondents – tax authorities, state government as well as Union of India are expected to respond to the cotentions raised and allegations made, either through written or oral submissions.
In another petition, moved by Kanubhai Patel, proprietor of Vapi industrial estate-located Bharat Acid and Chemicals, the same bench of the Gujarat HC had observed in an order dated February 5, that allegations of undue harassment were “gross and shocking” wherein a business proprietor-petitioner was detained for 33 hours and forced to deposit Rs 9 crore rupees before being released.
Patel also levelled “serious allegations” against the additional director of DGGI and senior intelligence officer of DGGI, that the court observed, “needs to be looked into urgently”.
Advocate for Patel, Hardik Vora said that a search was conducted on January 20 and 21 and when nothing was found, Patel was called at the GST office and kept in confinement for upto around 33 hours. “The main prayer remains there has to be a distinction between dealing with billing transaction cases and genuine businesspersons,” added Vora.
In another petition moved by Vapi GIDC-based Apurva Chemicals Private Limited through its director and partner Kevinkumar Desai, “serious allegations of harassment, coercion, threats, etc.” were made against senior intelligence officers of DGGI, wherein a search was conducted and in the course of the search, the senior intelligence officers had allegedly “forced and threatened” Desai to transfer an amount of Rs 2.68 crore.
While a number of guidelines and court orders exist on how search operations and other aspects of investigation must be addressed, these are not statutory in nature, said Vora.
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