The Income Tax (IT) Department has approached the Haryana government seeking a further enquiry into the transfer of an apartment in Gurgaon from Novel Lavasa, wife of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, to his sister Shakuntala Lavasa for alleged evasion of stamp duty.
The IT Department has flagged “discrepancies” between the income tax returns of Novel Lavasa for the financial year 2017-18 and registered transfer deeds of the Gurgaon property to Haryana’s Additional Chief Secretary and Financial Commissioner.
Haryana’s Financial Commissioner of Revenue and Disaster Management, Dhanpat Singh, confirmed that the I-T department’s letter was received on November 27. “The communication was shared with the Deputy Commissioner of Gurugram on December 9. We haven’t received his reply yet. We have reminded him to apprise IT department and also my office,” Singh told The Indian Express.
The Lavasa family, including Ashok Lavasa, have denied evasion of stamp duty in response to questions emailed by The Indian Express. Shakuntala Lavasa said that she has paid “stamp duty of Rs 10,42,220 as per law”.
When contacted by The Indian Express over email, Ashok Lavasa replied, “There is no evasion of stamp duty, which has been paid as per applicable rates by the person liable to do it. It is for the department to ascertain the facts and not indulge in selective leaks.”
Novel Lavasa too said that the property transfers were done “by permission of competent authority” and the due stamp duty has been paid. She alleged that these “roving inquiries” were meant to “humiliate and malign me and my family’s reputation.”
According to the report of IT department, Novel Lavasa’s returns show that she sold the first floor of the four-storeyed building in Gurugram to Shakuntala Lavasa for Rs 1.73 crore. This “sale” is corroborated by the returns filed by Shakuntala Lavasa for the financial year 2017-18 in which she has shown the said property as “self-occupied”.
“Deduction under relevant section of Income Tax Act has been claimed on the capital gains arising on this transaction in ITR by Mrs Novel Lavasa and no tax has been paid,” states the report of the IT department accessed by the newspaper.
However, according to the department, the registered transfer deeds show that Novel Lavasa gifted the property to her husband on 27.12.2018 and Ashok Lavasa, in turn, gifted the same property to his sister, Shakuntla Lavasa, on 21.1.2019. Gift of immovable property between spouses and between blood relatives (parents, children, grandchildren and siblings) does not attract stamp duty as per an order of the Haryana government dated June 16, 2014. The registered deeds state that the above transfers are “on account natural love and affection” and hence are exempt from stamp duty. Any property sale transaction in urban areas of Haryana attracts a payment of stamp duty at 5%.
“The property is shown to have been transferred to Dr Shakuntala Lavasa without consideration as per registered transfer deed whereas as per the ITR, the transfer has been taken place in consideration of Rs 1.73 cr,” the report of the IT department states.
“Prima facie, this appears to be a case of stamp duty evasion by Mrs Novel Lavasa and Dr Shakuntala Lavasa. The ‘sale’ transaction between Mrs. Novel Lavasa and Dr. Shakuntala Lavasa has been camouflaged as ‘gift’ of immovable property in a circuitous manner — first by Mrs Novel Lavasa to Sh Ashok Lavasa (spouse of Mrs Novel Lavasa) and then by Sh Ashok Lavasa to Dr Shakuntala Lavasa (sister of Ashok lavasa),” the report further states.
The Indian Express, on September 25, had first reported the IT department’s probe against three members of the Lavasa family. Novel and Shakuntala have received income tax notices. Abir Lavasa, Ashok Lavasa’s son, and the company in which he is a director (Nourish Organic) have also received income tax notices and are facing an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged violation of foreign exchange laws.
That apart, on August 29 the government wrote to 11 PSUs to verify their records for any exercise of “undue influence” by Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa during his tenure in the Power Ministry from 2009 to 2013.
Incidentally, Ashok Lavasa is one of the three commissioners in the Election Commission (EC) who had on five occasions opposed the clean chit given by the EC to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former BJP president Amit Shah on charges of violating the Model Code of Conduct during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.
In response to the reports on Lavasa’s insistence of having his opposition recorded in the final orders of the EC, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said in a statement, “The three members of ECI are not expected to be template or clones of each other. There have been so many times in the past when there has been a vast diversion of views as it can and should be. But the same largely remained within the confines of ECI after remission of office unless appearing much later in a book written by the concerned ECs/CECs.”