Former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has approached the Supreme Court alleging violation of his fundamental rights by the NDA government, which he claimed is misusing agencies such as the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to harass him and his family members.
“The grievance of the petitioner is that the Central government, misusing its agencies, has violated the petitioner’s fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution,” Chidambaram said in his plea before the apex court. The plea urges the court to issue directions to stop these agencies from “continued harassment of the petitioner and members of his family, including his son”.
Chidambaram stated that he has a house in Chennai but currently resides in a house in Delhi owned by his wife and son Karti Chidambaram. The CBI and ED, he alleged, had “repeatedly searched” the two houses and Karti’s office “without authority of law and in utter abuse of the limited powers of investigation conferred by various laws”.
The searches were in connection with the Aircel Maxis and INX Media cases relating to alleged corruption in grant of approvals by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) under the Finance Ministry during the UPA rule. Giving dates on which the searches were conducted, the former Union minister said that “during the searches of the two residential premises or the office premises of the petitioner’s son, nothing of incriminating nature was seized by any of the agencies concerned. No undisclosed money or valuable property or evidence of undisclosed assets was detected or seized during the searches. What is important is nothing of relevance to the subject matter of the investigation was recovered in the searches.”
Chidabmaram said he, as the then Union Finance Minister, had “considered recommendations for approval submitted by FIPB in the cases of Aircel-Maxis and INX Media and granted his approval in the normal course of official business.” He stated that in discharge of his functions, he “never allowed any member of his family, including his son, or any other person to interfere with or influence the conduct of official business.”
He said the allegations in the CBI’s FIR against Karti in INX Meida case were “totally imaginary, farfetched and highly improbable.” The petition added that “even on a bare reading of the FIR, it would be clear that the petitioner’s son has been deliberately drawn into a small, routine commercial transaction between two private companies for a paltry sum of Rs 10 lakh…” Chidambaram said that “it appears the Income-Tax Department has also been roped in to harass the petitioner and his family” over their coffee business.
“The Petitioner and his family members own coffee estates. Like thousands of coffee growers, the coffee is sold after pulping and drying. No ’curing’ is done because ‘curing’ requires curing works/machinery and is a specialised function. Never before has it been alleged against any coffee grower who sells coffee after pulping and drying that he/she had sold ‘cured coffee’. For the first time, in respect of AY (Annual Year) 2009-10, after 6 years and on the last day of limitation, re-assessment notices were issued to the Petitioner, his wife, his son and his daughter-in- law alleging that they had sold ‘cured coffee’ and hence 25 per cent of the income was assessable to tax as non-agricultural income. Overruling the objections to the proposed re-assessment, the IT Department passed re-assessment orders on 30-12- 2016. An RTI application revealed that no other coffee grower in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka had been re-assessed in this manner.”
This was challenged in the Madras High Court which ruled that the “re-assessment” was “illegal both on facts and law” and noted that he and family had been singled out for the re-assessment, Chidambaram pointed out. But despite this order of the HC, the IT department “continue to harass” him and family “by re-opening assessments and passing wrong orders in current assessments”, he added.