A recent case before the Patna High Court was a tax issue with human rights ramifications. For, the taxpayer, after being subjected to search by the Income Tax Department, approached the State Human Rights Commission alleging violation of his human rights in the course of search and seizure operations. His contention was that the officials of the Department confined him and his family in the house for two days; did not allow food to be cooked, thereby compelling them to purchase the same from outside; and so forth.

The Commission, through an order passed in April 2011, held that there was violation of human by the IT officials, for which the complainant would be entitled to monetary compensation. It also asked the Department to submit its response as to why the monetary compensation be not awarded to the applicant recoverable from the salary of the concerned officials of the Department. Aggrieved by the order, the Department approached the High Court.

From the Department's side, a case cited was that of Rajendran Chingaravelu (2010) in which the apex court upheld the detention of the applicant for 15 hours. He was carrying Rs 65 lakh in cash along with a bank certificate stating the source and withdrawals. The apex court observed that though the individual has right to carry money, the same is subject to verification or seizure by the Intelligence authority to ensure that the said money is not intended for illegal activities. “Any bona fide measures taken in public interest, and to provide public safety or to prevent circulation of black money, cannot be objected as interference with the personal liberty or freedom of a citizen,” reads a snatch of the apex court verdict cited by the High Court ( www.taxindiaonline.com ).

The search and seizure manual of the Income Tax does not prescribe any time limit for search and survey operation and the same may continue for days if required, but it has to be in keeping with the basic human rights and dignity of an individual, the High Court said. “The purpose of the Act is to give effect to the process of execution of actions of executive and bureaucratic machinery in line of accepted standard of basic human rights which are internationally recognised. The laws, and approach to law for its execution, must confirm to the charter of human values and dignity.”

In the present case, therefore, the court affirmed the findings of the Commission that the Department violated human rights of the complainant. However, the writ application was partially allowed so far as the response of officials was sought for levying monetary penalty.

A case that highlights the importance of human rights, an oft-ignored dimension in tax laws.

(SMS your comments about Taxation page to 94449 07996)