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Rediff.com  » Business » How slumbering babus cost the country

How slumbering babus cost the country

Last updated on: October 13, 2010 16:43 IST

How slumbering babus cost the country

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M J Antony


The departments of income tax, sales tax and excise were named by two Supreme Court judges as the most corrupt ones anywhere in the country.


When the revenue departments sleep over cases they had lost in the courts and do not appeal for long, it is difficult to tell whether it is just red tape or something else. Their lethargy causes losses to the government and gains to tax dodgers.

The new Chief Justice of India (CJI) started his stint in the Supreme Court a few months ago with a strict code for the indolent babus. Some appeals are filed after a delay of a thousand and one nights.

He has ordered investigation into the delays in some gross cases. His campaign is expected to nudge bureaucrats to move appeals faster.

On the part of the assessees, the CJI has insisted on them paying a substantial part of the tax demand before hearing their late appeals.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff
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The judges generally make caustic remarks against the laggards but 'condone the delay' as a matter of course. This is because if the appeals of the revenue departments are dismissed only on the grounds of delay, the winners would be exactly those who engineered the delay and the losers would be the public whose money vanished in the dusty files of the departments of income tax, sales tax and excise.

These three departments were named by two Supreme Court judges last week as the most corrupt ones anywhere in the country.

Though the problem has been in existence for decades, one bench of the Supreme Court has taken up the issue with quixotic zeal and issued notices to the chief secretaries of all states and requested the solicitor general to assist it in its crusade.

In the case State of Jharkhand vs Krishan Pradhan, the court said: "It appears that cases are coming up before this court and probably before the high courts also, where appeals or writ petitions are filed after inordinate delay and an explanation is sought to be given in the application for condonation of delay in such cases filed by the government or the state authorities that the file was moved from one desk to another or the approval was sought from the higher authority which took considerable time."

The judges added: "We feel that the beneficiary of the judgment may be hand-in-glove with the officials in the government department who deal with the files, and files are suppressed for a long period, and then the appeal before the high court or the Supreme Court is filed after a long delay to get the appeal dismissed on the ground of delay. Huge amounts of public money or public property may be involved and the government will be the loser on the technical point of limitation in such cases. This racket has been going on for a long time. Now the time has come that this racket is ended and the officials responsible given severe punishment."

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff
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The court regretted that this practice was often adopted by officials of various state governments and has become a 'regular feature'.

With all emphasis at its command, the court declared that "it is high time that this malpractice is severely rooted out and an effectual mechanism adopted all over the country so that such delays do not occur in future".

Similar battles have been proclaimed earlier, and they have not shaken the steel frame very much. Earlier this year, the court ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the high functionaries of a state corporation that took four years to file an appeal (Oriental Aroma Chemicals vs Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation).

The court ordered that the loss suffered by the corporation should be recovered from the officials who caused the delay.

Last year, the court asked the Karnataka government to pay Rs 10,00,000 for filing an appeal after a delay of 14 years (State of Karnataka vs Moideen Kunhi).

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It also asked the government to take action against "every person responsible for the alleged fraud and delay in pursuing legal remedies". In another case, State of Delhi vs Ahmed Jaan, the court passed a similar order.

The courts go by the maxim: "Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights." Therefore, the Limitation Act specifies the delays permissible in filing different types of petitions.

The Companies Act and most other legislation have similar clauses setting time limits to press claims. Stale claims do not impress the judiciary.

In practice, however, the judges are extremely "kind" and routinely condone the delay. This is mainly because a substantial claim to a right should not be defeated by a technical fault.

Sometimes a citizen may be ignorant of her rights and the law to protect her. But the babus and corporate lawyers are a different set. They might be suffering from too much knowledge of the rules of the game.


Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff
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