Letter dated 6th June 2008 written by Shri. S. E. Dastur, Senior Advocate, to The Editor, The Federation of Tax Practitioners Journal.
The Federation of Tax Practitioners Journal
215 Rewa Chambers
31 New Marine Lines
The Bombay edition of The Times dated 15th May, 2008 carried a news item concerning a bribe allegedly offered to a member of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal based in Kolkata by an advocate. Several outstation newspapers and magazines (though not Bombay based publications) have reported subsequent developments.
It is indeed unfortunate that such an event has occurred. One does not at all know whether there is any truth in the particular allegation of bribery and for the moment one must assume the parties to be innocent until proved guilty. What is unfortunate is that members practising in the Tribunal, at least in Mumbai, did not evince any great sense of disbelief or surprise that there could be an occurrence of this nature. In the Bar Association members recounted stories of the influence which the Advocate concerned commands and the easy access and audience he always has. It is also rumoured that he and his sons have been generous in providing hospitality to members of the Tribunal.
Some members of the Bar recalled how quite a few members of the Tribunal at Mumbai were absent at the time of a wedding function hosted by the advocate mentioned in the news report. One, of course, does not know whether the absence was on account of their having travelled to Kolkata to participate in the function or for some other reason.
Let me add that all this may be just idle talk or gossip and there may be no truth in these Bar room musings. It is, in the interest of the Tribunal itself that this matter be speedily and thoroughly investigated. Even a whiff of suspicion must not attach to a Judicial Tribunal or persons practising before it.
One report says that 14 computers were seized from the premises of the concerned advocate but it was found that the hard disks were removed prior to seizure. This raises the issue whether any prior intimation was leaked. The same report says that all the hard disks were recovered from the residence of the Advocate’s employee. If so, a serious effort must be
made to retrieve data from the hard disks as it may afford valuable information. If any diaries or papers have been seized their contents must be closely scrutinized. It may be relevant also to probe the correctness of some representations addressed to high officials which have been circulated amongst professionals and which make reference to certain alleged activities of the Advocate referred to in the newspaper reports. All leads must be considered. If at the end of an impartial investigation it is held that there is no truth in the bribery and other allegations it will be a wonderful boost to the reputation of the Tribunal which has taken a hard knock on account of the alleged incident. To establish the truth there must be a proper and thorough investigation without interference from bureaucrats, politicians or any other person. It would be in the interest of all if the name of the Tribunal is cleared. I sincerely hope that all the stories and speculations are without foundation. If, on the other hand, it is found that there is truth in the allegations which are making the rounds, then, the matter must be carried to its logical conclusion.
The entire matter is of grave concern to professionals, assessees in general and particularly those whose cases come before the Tribunal and the lay public. It would, therefore, be appropriate for the Tribunal to take some damage containing measures. The issue of the members evolving a code of conduct for themselves has been pending now for over 7 years. The Federation has already submitted a draft for consideration of the learned members but no action has been taken. It would be in the fitness of things to evolve a code of conduct which regulates the relationship between the members of the Tribunal and the professionals appearing before them as well as others. The Tribunal prides itself on a view expressed by eminent personalities years ago about its greatness. It must do everything in its power to maintain that image at the present time.
I am fully aware that the judgements of the Tribunal often display learning of a high order. The activities of a few, however, tarnish the image of all. It is indeed sad if a professional person’s activities have created this unfortunate situation. It is the duty of all of us to ensure that our actions in no way diminishes the splendour of the Institution before which we practise.
An item in the Mumbai Mirror of May 16, states that the Bar Council of India has apparently sought information from its members about their opinion concerning the judiciary. The Bar Council may also look into the present issue involving an advocate.
S. E. Dastur.