Updated: December 4, 2014 10:05:51 am
A new controversy may be brewing for the NDA government as the Solicitor General of India on Wednesday sought to argue on behalf of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the Supreme Court in the black money case, amid allegation of “conflict of interest” by petitioner Ram Jethmalani.
In a prelude to what can blow into a full-fledged battle of wits, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India H L Dattu in fact denied Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar permission to argue without showing a formal letter of his engagement by the SIT and a due approval by the competent authority in the government.
Senior advocate Anil Divan, who appeared for petitioner Ram Jethmalani, described it as a “clear case of conflict of interest” and questioned how a top law officer of the government could appear for the SIT, which has been tasked with scrutinising the role of the Centre in bringing back black money stashed abroad.
“This is clear conflict of interest. How can a law officer for the union of India appear for SIT? SIT is an independent party in the case and has been set up on the orders of the court,” said Divan, as SG Kumar sought the court’s permission to argue on behalf of the SIT.
Divan said he was “surprised” that Kumar was appearing for the SIT since the previous two orders of the court stated that the SG was appearing for the government, along with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
Kumar replied that he was representing the SIT even on the last date and that this could be a “mistake” or a “typographical error” if the court order recorded that he was appearing for the government. Divan, however, pointed out that he has not seen Kumar’s vakalatnama in the case papers, nor any other letter authorising the law officer to argue for the SIT.
At this, the bench, also comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and A K Sikri, asked Kumar to show the relevant letter authorising him to appear for the SIT but the SG said he did not have the letter with him at the moment.
“Then you should not argue. You should sit down. Since there is an objection from the other side, we cannot let you appear without a document authorising you to appear,” retorted the bench, forcing the second senior-most law officer of the government to sit down in his chair.
Meanwhile, on being asked, AG Rohatgi assured the bench that nobody will go scot-free from prosecution in an income tax case on account of a technical ground that the six-year period of limitation for prosecution would expire on March 31, 2015. Divan had sought directives to the Centre to ensure a case is not frustrated due to expiry of the limitation period.
“We are confident that the central government will complete the proceedings relating to income tax on or before March 31, 2015. If on account of any reason, it cannot be done, we are confident again that they will pass appropriate orders, as suggested by the Attorney General,” said the bench.
The court also left it to the SIT to decide another plea by Jethmalani regarding making the probe reports available to him. The court also asked the SIT to consider a request by the petitioner to give him fresh copies of correspondence between authorities in India and those in the foreign governments over sharing of bank account-related information about persons suspected to have black money.
It adjourned the matter to January 20 while asking the government to file its reply to Jethmalani’s application on disclosing information received from France in the matter.
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