New Delhi: The government notification to compulsory retire twelve senior income tax officers was not a sudden decision. The move was initiated in August 2018 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided a Delhi-based caterer Rakesh Tiwari and recovered some incriminating documents related to Vivek Batra, an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer who also figures in the finance ministry’s purge list. Tiwari was allegedly working for Neeraj Kochar, who runs a Mumbai-based company.
Kochar, sources said, was in touch with Tiwari to ensure relief for Batra, who, along with his wife, was facing a disproportionate assets case. The CBI had alleged that Batra had acquired huge assets, both movable and immovable, in his name and those of his family members. The wealth, the CBI claimed, was beyond his known source of income, and was acquired by corrupt and illegal means by abusing his official position as a public servant. The agency alleges that he was abetted by his wife and Neeraj Kochar, owner of Viraj Profiles Limited. It was also alleged by the CBI that Batra had opened an office in the name of Vertica at Nariman Point, Mumbai to provide consultancy service in real estate.
The CBI claimed that Batra has parked some of his ill-gotten wealth with Kochar and Alok Industries, and both exchanged black money during the demonetisation period in November-December 2016. Money moving from Alok Industries was shown as consultancy fees in his wife's bank account. The CBI said that disproportionate assets accumulated by the officer were to the tune of Rs.6.79 crore, besides unknown expenditure on several foreign trips between 2011 to 2017. Subsequent to the CBI case, Kochar got in touch with Tiwari to extend favours for Batra.
The government moved swiftly after the case tumbled out, and on 14 September 2018, a meeting was convened at North Block to review the cases against the officers to ensure probity among government servants. The meeting, while taking up the routine matter of review of officers under CCS rules 56 (j), also shortlisted names of officers who were facing corruption charges. Around the same time in September 2018, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) was asked to prepare a list of officers facing CBI or vigilance inquiry. The Prime Minister Office (PMO) in May 2016 had asked all the ministries and central departments to take strongest possible action against corrupt officers and those facing probes in corruption cases.
Swetabh Suman, IRS officer of the 1988 batch, who was convicted and sentenced to seven years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 3.5 crore in February 2019, was also added to the list. After the purge list was drawn, the prime minister's office gave its go-ahead against 12 senior income tax officials and separate order against the officers were issued on 10 June 2019. Some of the officers were still in the office on Monday evening when the order came, and some on Tuesday went to their offices to hand over the respective charge.
Ajoy Kumar Singh, Commissioner, Income Tax, Kolkata, when contacted, refused to respond to queries by Firstpost. It has been alleged that the CBI had registered a disproportionate assets case against Singh in 2007 when he was Additional Commissioner of Income Tax, Mumbai, and subsequently, he was arrested. A chargesheet was also filed against him in 2009 and criminal prosecution is pending. SK Srivastava, too, did not respond to queries.
Sources in the Income Tax said an IRS officers' WhatsApp group has been flooded with messages since Monday night, and many have expressed shock over the government action.
“The officers are scared and after forwarding the messages, they are clearing the history to erase the digital footprints. No message has come so far from the IRS association. Although the officers who have been compulsory retired will get all benefits, they will be forced to live with the stigma. Taking legal recourse will be difficult, and petitions to the ministry will be fruitless."
Alok Kumar Mitra was clearing files at around 8.30 pm on Monday in his Kochi office when he came to know about the finance ministry’s order against him. Mitra, who was serving as Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals), said that he was surprised by the action, as no disciplinary proceeding was pending against him. Mitra said his annual confidential reports have always been outstanding and he has handled some sensitive income tax investigations across the country. It has been alleged that Mitra was involved in many cases of corruption and extortion and passed many wrong and malafide assessment orders which were later reversed by the appellate authorities. It has been further stated that despite several complaints and departmental findings against him, Mitra managed to avoid action by filing cases in Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) etc. Mitra denied the charges saying the charges are frivolous and he never faced any disciplinary inquiry.
“In fact, two attempts were made on my life and was I was provided with ‘Y’ category security between 1997-2008. I argued a case wherein Rs 700 crore cash was recovered in Kerala. On deputation to the Centre, I investigated and unearthed corruption in high-profile cases. Some with vested interest may have filed a complaint against me but there is no evidence to suggest that I have done anything wrong. My career has been unblemished. This order lacks objectivity,” Mitra said.
Despite repeated attempts, BB Rajendra Prasad, Commissioner of Income Tax, could not be reached for comment. Prasad, an IRS officer of the 1992 batch, was arrested by the CBI in May 2017 in a graft case.
The phone of another officer, Homi Rajvansh, has been switched off. Rajvansh was arrested in 2011 by the CBI for alleged embezzlement of funds when he was serving with the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).
The phone of Andasu Ravindar, who also figures in the list, is also switched off. Ravindar, currently posted in Odisha, was arrested by the CBI in 2011 in a bribery case.
Government sources said more action is likely against "corrupt" officers in the next few weeks after the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has sought sanction to prosecute two income tax officials.
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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2019 21:23:53 IST