Rejecting the bail plea of an official of the Central Goods and Service Tax (CGST) department who was arrested in a bribery case, a Vadodara court said that “corruption has stunted development” in the country and came down heavily on the practice of “bribery in bureaucracy”.
The 13th additional sessions judge of Vadodara rejected the plea, which was the second attempt by the CGST inspector who was arrested in July this year in a case filed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 2.5 lakh.
In the order delivered on Monday, the court said, “Corruption has stunted development and given rise to a kind of pollution among bureaucracy with the officials demanding bribes. These are signs of white-collar crime. This is why the economic development of the country has become stagnant.”
The case relates to Shivraj Meena, a Grade 3 inspector with the Central GST office in Vadodara, who was arrested on July 7, along with Superintendent Grade 2 Nitin Gautam, for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 10 lakh from a manufacturer of food and soft drinks in Baska near Halol in Panchmahal district.
The ACB, which filed a chargesheet in court, said that the complainant initially was forced to pay Rs 50,000 and thereafter the officers “kept demanding the remaining amount”.
District Government Pleader Anil Desai objected to the bail plea stating that the complainant, who ran a flour and food production business in Baska, diversified into packaged water business in 2013 and soft drinks business in 2019. The complainant has a GST licence for the businesses in two different names.
The complainant alleged that the CGST officials who went to search the premises of his Jay Kuber Flour and Food Production Pvt. Ltd. on June 15, 2021, asked for the CCTV cameras to be turned off and told him to pay GST on soft drinks at the rate of 28%. When the complainant argued with the officials about the slabs being 12% GST for soft drinks and 5% for snacks, the GST officials allegedly threatened to seal his company if he refused to pay Rs 10 lakh, before handing him summons.
Desai argued, “When the complainant and his father appeared in response to the summons, they were allegedly told that there was ‘pressure’ to file a case and the officials could ‘do something’ if they agreed to pay the amount. On July 6, the complainant informed the officials over phone that they had arranged Rs 2.5 lakh and was asked to hand over the money in the second half of the working day.”
The defence counsel argued that there was “no apprehension that the accused would tamper with evidence”. “As per a Supreme Court precedent, keeping an accused in judicial custody in the pre-trial mode is as good as imprisoning a convict,” Meena’s counsel SH Patel argued.
Rejecting the plea, the court held, “The Gujarat High Court, in previous cases, has called for viewing economic crimes from a different perspective. Therefore, we have to consider the chargesheet as well as the fact that the bribe amount of Rs 2.5 lakh was recovered from the boot of a private car, combined with the fact that a previous regular bail application of the accused had been rejected…”