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'Delay No Sole Ground To Quash Disciplinary Proceedings': Kerala HC Dismisses Plea By Income Tax Officer Charged For Leaking Informant's Identity [Read Judgment]

Live Law News Network
30 May 2019 7:48 AM GMT
Delay No Sole Ground To Quash Disciplinary Proceedings: Kerala HC Dismisses Plea By Income Tax Officer Charged For Leaking Informants Identity [Read Judgment]
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Delay cannot be a sole reason for terminating proceedings, and in considering whether to quash the proceedings on ground of delay, the Court should take into account the nature of charge, its complexity and on what account delay had occurred.

The High Court of Kerala has refused to quash the disciplinary proceedings initiated against an Income Tax officer for allegedly leaking the identity of an informant to an assessee.The Division Bench of Justices C T Ravikumar and V G Arun dismissed the original petition filed by Shantam Bose, Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals), challenging the 2015 order of the Central Administrative...

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The High Court of Kerala has refused to quash the disciplinary proceedings initiated against an Income Tax officer for allegedly leaking the identity of an informant to an assessee.

The Division Bench of Justices C T Ravikumar and V G Arun dismissed the original petition filed by Shantam Bose, Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals), challenging the 2015 order of the Central Administrative Tribunal declining to interfere with the proceedings.

The Tribunal had held that it was premature to interfere with the proceedings when the officer was only served with a charge-sheet. The High Court agreed with this reasoning, observing that interferance with disciplinary proceedings at the stage of charge-sheet can be made only in exceptional circumstances, which were not made out in the case.

The charges against Bose were that while functioning as Additional Director of Income Tax at the Directorate General of Income Tax (Investigation) in Mumbai between November 2009 and May 2010, he had unauthorizedly shared the identity of an informant with an assessee named Davinder Ahuja, who was intercepted at Mumbai airport in 2009 for suspected cases of tax irregularities. It was further alleged that Bose had taken away confidential documents kept in the Air Intelligence Unit of Mumbai concerning Davinder Ahuja, and thereby had "abused his official position and committed serious misconduct and showed lack of integrity". The informant had allegedly faced death threats from the assessee following the leak.

The main argument raised by Senior Advocate Mohan Parasaran for Bose was that the proceedings were initiated in 2015, five years after the alleged incident. Disciplinary proceedings initiated after inordinate and unexplained delay can be terminated at the inception stage itself, as held by the Supreme Court in the case State of AP v N Radhakrishnan, submitted Parasaran.

However, the Division Bench was not impressed by this argument. It noted that the SC had added that delay cannot be a sole reason for terminating proceedings, and that in considering whether to quash the proceedings on ground of delay, the Court should take into account the "nature of charge, its complexity and on what account delay had occurred". 

In this regard, the Court took note of the explanation offered by the respondents that proceedings were initiated only after clearly ascertaining the source of leak and that they did not want to take hasty steps considering the seriousness of the issue. This explanation was found to be satisfactory by the Court, which said :

"The fact that the identity of the informant was leaked was sufficient to spoil the reputation of the department and therefore, when cautious approach was taken to identify the delinquent and if delay has occurred in that matter that cannot be a matter and reason for stifling proceedings initiated subsequently, especially when the preliminary enquiry prima facie reveals the involvement of a higher officer in the matter".

"The identity of the informant from the officers of the department in the higher level if leaked to public, it will certainly dissaude persons from passing on information to the department and in such circumstances, it would hamper the smooth and effective functioning of the department. Therefore, a cautious and careful approach in the matter was inevitable to begin with", added the judgment authored by Justice C T Ravikumar.

The misconduct alleged against the petitioner is serious and grave, added the Court. It also held that the delay did not cause any prejudice to the petitioner.

The next argument of the petitioner was that the disciplinary authority had already pre-judged the issue, as the recitals in the charge memo stated were to the effect that he had conducted the misconduct. Therefore, the proceedings will be a farce, argued the petitioner.

This was rejected by the Court by saying that the recitals in the charge memo were only a prima facie view based on the preliminary enquiry. The Court agreed with the Tribunal's conclusions on the issue that the recitals were couched in that manner to enable the petitioner to understand and defen the charges properly.

The Court also held that the promotion granted to the petitioner in the meantime cannot be taken as a reason to hold that he was innocent of the charges.  

While dismissing the petition, the Court ordered that the disciplinary proceedings be completed within six months.

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