Sacking of tax officials: Kolkata HC tohear govt plea against CAT’s interim relief

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on June 27, 2019 Published on June 27, 2019

The much-talked about government’s decision to compulsorily retire some senior tax officials has now reached the courts.

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had refused to give relief to one of the officials citing jurisdictional issue.

Meanwhile, the Kolkata High Court will on Friday hear the government’s plea against the interim relief given in two different cases by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).

The case involves dismissal of tax officials on allegations of serious corruption charges. The government invoked Section 56J of the Fundamental Rules to compulsorily retire 15 senior tax men dealing with indirect taxes (Customs and GST) and 12 officials dealing with income tax.

Rule 56 covers Group ‘A & B’ officers who entered service before 35 years of age and have attained 50 years of age. A review is carried out on a quarterly basis, including of officials and employees facing serious allegations of corruption. If the review committee finds the allegations to be true, it recommends compulsory retirement and the order is then signed by the President.

CAT Lucknow had passed a order asking government to produce all records of 56 J case in case of IRS official Ram Kumar Bhargava. This order was challenged before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the ground that CAT at present has no jurisdiction because an alternative remedy was available to the retired officer to file representation before the Representation Committee under Rule 56 J. The High Court agreed with the government’s stand and asked CAT to decide jurisdiction matter first before going into merit, if the case is placed before it.

Meanwhile, CAT Kolkata stayed compulsorily retirement orders related with two Indian Revenue Service Officers — GS Harsha and Ashok R Mahida. Both these orders were passed by a Single Bench of AK Patnaik (Judicial Member, CAT-Kolkata). The government has challenged these two orders in the Kolkata High Court. The government has argued that technically such cases should be heard by the Division Bench and not by Single Bench.

Also, according to Finance Ministry sources, the aforesaid order granting interim stay is violative of a plethora of judgments of the Supreme Court. The apex court, in a judgement in the case of Public Services Tribunal Bar Association versus State of Uttar Pradesh (2003) had held that interference at the interim stage with an order of dismissal, removal, termination and compulsory retirement would be giving the final relief to an employee at an interim stage which he would have got in case the order of dismissal, removal, termination and compulsory retirement is found not to be justified.

The government has also argued that an application to CAT can only be made on exhaustion of alternative remedy available. In fact, Patnaik in his own judgment (dated July 18, 2018, Sanyasi Charan Das versus Union of India & Ors), had held that any aggrieved official should ventilate his/her grievances before the departmental authorities before approaching the Tribunal and disposed of the OA (Original Application, the petition before CAT is known by this name) giving liberty to the applicant to file a comprehensive representation before the respondents.

Published on June 27, 2019

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