Tax Tribunal Through President Vs. K. Agarwal & Anr  INSC 542 (17 November 1998)
V. Manohar, & G.B. Pattanaik, Mrs.Sujata, V.Manohar, J,
public interest Writ Petition No.2350 of 1996 was filed in the Bombay High Court
by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal Bar Association through its Secretary
challenging the validity of a letter dated 5.11.1996 purporting to modify the
powers of the President of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal regarding posting
and transfer of Members of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal. The petitioners
contended that they were interstd in fair and impartial administration of the
income-tax law and in upholding the independent working of the Income-tax. Appellate
Tribunal, the Rule of Law and independence of the income-tax Judiciary. By an
interim order, the High Court restrained the Under Secretary, Ministry of Law,
Government of India and the Union of India who were respondents 1 and 2 therein
from Interfering with the powers of the President of the Income-tax Appellate
Tribunal to assign work to any Member, to constitute Benches and to require a
Member to sit on any Bench wherever situate, and for such duration, as he may
deem necessary. This petition was transferred to this Court. This Court by -its
order dated 31.3.1997 confirmed the Interim order passed by the High Court.
Another similar petition filed before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh was also
transferred to this Court. Both these petitions are pending.
pending petitions the present application is being made Dy the Income-tax
Appellate Tribunal through its President. The occasion for making this
application has arisen on account of an order dated 23rd of October, 1997
passed by a Bench of the Income-tax Appel late Tribunal consisting of two
Members, one judicial and one accountant.
said order was passed in the case of Smt. Neerja Birla v. Assistant Commi ssioner
of Income Tax for the assessment year 1992-93. As a result of the said order,
the assesses who claimed a benefit amounting to Rs.1,50,00,000 was denied that
benefit by the Tri buna. 1 which decided the appeal in favour of the revenue.
the President of the Tribunal received a letter dated 30th of December 1997
from Shrl V.K.Agarwal, who was then the Law Secretary, Ministry of Law and
Justice, Government of Tncna. Tn the letter, the then Law Secretary, who is tha
first respondent before us, referred to the dec is Ion of the Tribunal -in the
case of Neerja Birla v.
Commissioner of Income Tax heard and decided by Shri R.V.Easwar, Judicial
Member and Shri M.V.R. Prasad, Accountant Member sitting together. He observed
that the Judicial Member dictated this judgment in this matter some time in
August, 1997 and dul y corrected and signed it.
a contrary order dated 23rd October, i 997 was pronounced by the Accountant
Member which was signed by both the Members. Copies of both the
"orders" were enclosed.
first respondent then went on to say, "...........Thus the two orders have
taken a contradicting stand. The aforesaid circumstances disclose judicial
impropriety of highest degree. It is intriguing as to how two contradicting
orders got dictated in the same matter by the two Members, while one order is
by the Judicial Member, the other is by the Accountant Member and signed by
both. You may like to enquire into the matter and send a report to the
Government within 10 days from the date of the receipt of this letter. You may
also like to suggest the action that may be taken in the matter and the Members
against whom it may be taken. Further, while submitting the report,, a copy of
the 'file order sheet' indicating the name of the Member to whom the case was
allotted for writing the judgment may also please be sent to the
Government." On receipt of this letter, the appi icant addressed a letter
dated 7th of January, 1988 to both the Members of the said Bench enclosing a
copy of the letter he had received from the f-irst respondent, and requesting
them to send their comments. Both the Members have separatel y sent their
replies to the applicant pointing out that the only order which was passed In
the said case is the order dated 23rd of October, 1997 which has been signed by
both the Members constituting the Bench on 23.10.1997. The Judicial Member has
pointed out. that after hearing the above case, he had prepared a draft order
which was in favour of the assessee. When he sent the draft to the Accountant
Member, the Accountant Member expressed n-is reservations on the views
expressed in the draft order. Thereafter, both the Members met and discussed
the issues involved. At the end of the discussion, the Judicial Member agreed
with the view taken by the Accountant Member and requested the Accountant
Member to prepare an order on those lines. The Accountant Member thereafter
sent a draft order signed by him to the Judicial Member. The Judicial Member
fully agreed with the draft order sent by the Accountant Member, put his
signature on the draft order and the final order dated 23rd of October 1997 was
issued with ooth the signatures. Both have stated that there are no two orders.
Tne so-called first order was only a draft prepared by the Judicial Member
which was not agreed to by the Accountant Member and ultimateiy after
discussion a new draft order was prepared by the accountant Member which is
signed by both the Members on 23rd October, 1997. This was the only order which was issued and copies were sent to the assessee
as well as to the department.
the Members also expressed surprise and distress at a confidential document
like a draft judicial order reaching the first respondent.
the applicant could send any reply to the first respondent after ascertaining
the views of the concerned Members, on 3rd of February, 1998, the first
respondent wrote another letter to the applicant which 1s as follows:
refer to my D.O. letter of even No.dated 30.12.1997 regarding the case of Smt. Neerja
bench consisting of Shri R.V. Easwar, JM and Shri M.V.R. Prasad, AM.
matter involved two contradicting orders being dictated in the same matter by
the same members constituting the bench. You were reauested to reply within 10
days of the receipt of the letter. In spite of this, I have not received any
report from you in the matter even after a month.
would appreciate that as President of the Tribunal you have the responsibility
to ensure that the judicial functions of the Tribunal are discharged by its
members properly and in a manner conducive to instilling confidence in the
minds of the taxpayers. The irregularity pointed out in my letter relates to a
Bench which is functioning at Mumbal, where you, as the head of the Tribunal,
have your regular headquarters. Under the circumstances. silence on your part
may invits adverse inferences in the metter.
It is threfore
reauested that your report in the matter may be sent to the Government without
further delay and in any case not later than 6th February, 1998. in case no report -is received from you by that date, it
will be presumed that you have nothing to say "in the matter and
Government will be constrained to taKe such action in the matter as may be
deemed f-tt accordi ng to law.
may please be accorded TOP PRIORITY.
kind regards, Yours faithfully, Sd/- (Dr. V.K. Agarwal) Shri T.V. Rajagopala Rao,
Presdent, ITAT, 101, Old DGO Bidg., M.K. Marg, Mumbai - 400 020. " The appilicant
replied to this letter by his letter of 6th of February, 1998 In which he
pointed out that there was no impropriety in the passing of the order by the
Members of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal -in the matter of Neerja Biria v.
Assistant Commissioner of Income-tax.
went on to state that the appliant's letter amounted to gross interference in
the judicial functioning of the Tribunal, and he had no authority to do so. The
applicant also stated that the contents of the first respondent's letter
pertaining to himself smacked of vindictiveness. The applicant has viewed the
letters as serious interference with the administration of justice particularly
in the context of the pending petitions. Thereafter the present application has
Deputy Secretary in the Department, of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law and
Justice has also been made a party-respondent in this application because of
the letter dated 29th of December, 1997 received from the Deputy Secretary just
before the letter from the first respondent dated 30th December, 1997. In the letter of 29th of December, 1997, the
applicant was told that on a perusal of the summary statement showing
institution, disposal and pendency of appeals before the Tribunal during the
month of October, 1997 it appears that disposal has considerably gone down
during the month of October, 1997 and the appi -icant should look into the
matter and send a report on the reasons for this. According to the appi -icant
the disposals were within the norms, but were less than the previous month.
the letter was merely to intimidate him. The second respondent has, in his
affidavit, stated that this letter was issued on the instructions of the first
respondent and the letter was handleed by the first respondent directly.
view of the statements made in his affidavit by the second respondent, the
applicant has not pressed the application against the second respondent.
application, the applicant has requested this court to issue a show cause
notice to the first respondent why action should not be taken against him in
contempt, inter alia, for interfering with judicial functioning of the
Tribunal. He has also prayed for a direction to the first respondent not to
interfere in any manner with the independent judicial functioning of the
Income-tax appellate Tribunal. On the basis of the application, this Court
issued a suo motu contempt notice to both the respondents.
the application is not being pressed against the second respondent in view of
his explanation for the letter of 29th of December, 1997, we have to examine
the conduct of the first respondent who was, at the material time, the Law
Secretary in the Ministry of Law and Justice.
in the application before us it was also contended that the two letters can be
looked upon as interference with the interim orders of this Court dated
31.3.1997 and 9.5.1997 in the pending petitions. This would then amount to
civil contempt. But the basic charge is interference with the judicial
functioning of the Tribunal.
prayer in this petition was amended after is was filed to make it clear that
the grievance related to interference with administration of justice. The
respondents at their request were given sufficient time to reply to the charge
of criminal contempt. There can, therefore, be no grievance on this score.
examining the conduct of the First respondent. we would like to deal wi th the
technical objections which were raised before us on behalf of the first
respondent. The first respondent had initially contended that the income-tax
Appellate Tribunal was not a court, and was also not a court subordinate to the
Supreme Court. Hence the Supreme Court had no Jurisdiction to issue a suo motu
notice of contempt in respect of a matter pertaining to the Income-tax
Appellate Tribunal. However, subseauently, learned senior counsel for the first
respondent conceded that the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal did perform judicial
functions and was a court subordinate to the H^gh Court. Hence, there is no
need to examine any further, the contention that the said Tribunal is not a
129 of the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court shall be a Court of
Record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to
punish for contempt of itself. This Article has come up for consideration on
numerous occasions. This Court has consistently held that the Supreme Court has
power under this Article to punish, not merely for contemut of itself, but also
for contempt of all court and Tribunals subordinate to it. In the case of Delhi
Judicial Service Association, Tis Hazari Court,
Delhi v. State of Gujarat and Ore. ( 3 SCR 936), this
Court examined at length the power of this Court under Article '129 to punish
Court first examined the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and held, (at page
970) "There is. therefore. no room for any doubt that this Court has wide
power to interfere and correct the Judgment and orders passed by any court or
Tribunal in the country. In addition to the appel -late power the Court has
special residuary power to entertain appear against any order of any court in
the country. The plenary jurisdiction of this court to grant leave and hear
appeals against any order of a court or Tribunal, confers power of judicial
superintendence over all the courts and Tribunals in the territory of India
including subordinate courts of Magistrate and District Judge. This Court has,
therefore, supervisory jurisdiction over all courts in India." Examining the powers of a
court, of record, it came to the conclusion tnat a court of record has inherent
power to punish for contempt of at 1 courts and tribunals subordinate to it in
order to protect these subordinate courts and tribunals. This power to protect
is founded on the inherent power of a court of record to correct the judicial
orders of subordinate courts. This Court further observed, (pages 976-977,
979.) "The Suprerne Court being a court of record under Article 129 and
having wide power of judicial supervision over all the courts in the country,
must possess ana exercise similar jurisdiction and power as the High Courts had
prior to contempt legislation in 1926. Inherent powers of a superior court of
record have remained unaffected even after codification of contempt law.......
Article 129 declares the Supreme Court a court of record and it further
provides that the Supreme Court shall have all the powers of such a court
including the power to punish for contempt for itself. The expression used In
Article 129 is not restrictive, instead it is extensive in nature. If the
Framers of the Constitution intended that the Supreme Court shall have power to
punish for contempt of itself only, there was no necessity for inserting the
expression "including the power of punish for contempt of -itself".
The Article confers power on the Supreme Court to punish for contempt of itself
and in addition, it confers some additional power relating to contempt as would
appear from the expression "including".
expression "inc1uing" has been -interpreted by courts to extend and
widen the scope of the power. The plain language of the Article clearly
indicates that this Court as a court of record has power to punish for contempt
of Itself and also something else which could fall within the inherent
jurisdiction of a court of record. In interpreting the Constitution, it is not
permissible to adopt a construction which would render any expression
superfluous or redundant.
ought not to accept any such construction. While construing Article 129, it is
not permissible to ignore the significance and impact of the inclusive power
conferred on the Supreme Court. Since, the Supreme Court is designed by the
Constitution as a court of record and as the Founding Fathers were aware that a
superior court of record had inherent power to indict a person for the contempt
of itself as well as of courts inferior to it, the expression
"including" was deliberately inserted in the Article.
129 recognised the existing inherent power of a cor the contempt of inferior
view was reiterated and reaffirmed in the case of In re: Vinay Chandra Mishra
( 2 SCC 564) where this Court affirmed the decision in Delhi Judicial Service
Association, Tis Hazari Court, Delhi v. State of Gujarat and Ors. (Supra).
After quoting extensively from the said judgment this Court held that since
this Court has the power of judicial superintendence and control over all the
courts and Tribunals functioning in the country, it has a corresponding duty to
protect and safeguard the interests of inferior courts to ensure that the flow
of the stream of justice in the courts remains unsullied by any interference or
attack from any quarter. The amplitude of the power of this Court can not oe
curtailed by a law made by the Central or a State Legislature. This Court's
Jurisdiction and power to take action for contempt of subordinate courts is its
inherent juriediction, and is protected under Misra has been partially set
aside in Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr. ( 4
SCC 409) on the question of power to suspend an advocate's licence under
contempt jurisdiction, this part of its basic reasoning is unaffected. In fact
it is reaffirmed. There can, therefore, be no doubt that this Court has
jurisdiction to punish for contempt of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.
also submitted before us by learned senior counsel for the first respondent
that although this Court may have jurisdiction to punish for contempt, that
jurisdiction should not be exercised in the present case.
appropriate authority to take action would be the High Court. We do not see
much force in this submission. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, although It
may have Benches in different parts of the country, is a national Tribunal and
its functioning affects the entire country and all its Benches. Appeals also
lie ultimately to this Court from the decisions and References made by the
Tribunal, The mere fact that by this Court taking suo motu cognizance of the
contempt, the first respondent would not be able to appeal to any other court,
cannot be a ground for not exercising the power to punish for contempt of a
present case the President of the Tribunal has sought directions and orders
from this Court and has placed all relevant information concerning the conduct
of the first respondent before us, on the basis of which this Court has, suo motu,
issued notice. Section 15 of contempt of Courts Act which deals with cognizance
of criminal contempt, also prescribes that the Supreme Court or the High Court
may take action on its own motion. Rule 3(a) of the Supreme Court Rules
regulating proceedings for contempt of the Supreme Court, similarly provides
for the court taking action suo motu. In the cass of Supreme Court Bar
Association v. Union of India and Anr. (1998 (4) SCC 409), after reiterating
the posit-ion that Article 129 vests the Supreme Court with power to punish not
only for contempt for itself but also contains the -inherent jurisd-iction of
the court to punish for contempt of suborch nate courts and Tribunals In order
to prevent interference in the due administration of Justice, this Court also
clarified the position of a party which brings the contumaci ous conduct of the
contemner to the notice of the court. It said (page 429) that the party which
brings such conduct to the notice of the court, whether a private person or the
subordinate court, is only an informant and does not have the status of a
litigant in the contempt of court case. The case of contempt is not stricto seneu
a cause or a matterr between the parties, inter se. It is a matter between the
court and the contemner.
an Act adversely affects the aamT-istration of justice or tends to impede its
course, or shake public confidence in a judicial institution, the power can be
exercised to uphold the dignity of the court of law and protect its proper
functioning. It is in the light of these principles that one has to examine
Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Section 2(c) is as follows:-
Section 2(c): "Criminal contempt " means the publication (whether by
words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or
otherwise ) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which - ( i
) scandalises or tends to scandal i se, or lowers or tends to lower the
authority of any court;
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of
any judicial proceeding ; or (iii) -interferes or tends to interfere with, or
obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other
scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of
any court [Section 2(c)(i)] or interferes or tends to interfere with, or
obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any manner
[Section 2(c)(iii)]. Therefore, any act which tends to interfere with the
administration of Justice or tends to lower the authority of any court can be
punished with contempt.
present case the President of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal has considered
the letters of 30th of December, 1997 and 3rd of February, 1998 of the first
respondent as interference with the Judicial decision-making process of the
Tribunal. The concerned Members of the Tribunal from whom the President invited
comments, a1so looked upon the letter of 30th December, 1997 as gross interference in the
judicial discharge of their duties; and they were justified in so viewing the
letter. The first respondent had jumped to the conclusion that the Judicial
Member had issued two contradictory orders or the Tribunal had issued two
contradictory orders, and had demanded action against erring members. Coming as
it did from a senior officer holding the rank of Law Secretary, the applicant
was justified in taking a serious view of the first respondent's conduct.
senior counsel for the first respondent then contended that the two letters
were written after the should not be construed as interference with judicial
decision-making. This contention is without any merit. It is quite clear that
by writing the two letters the first respondent was questioning the judicial
decision arrived at by the Tribunal. The first respondent had commented upon
the two so-called "orders" and had said that the so-called
contradictory orders disclosed judicial impropriety of the highest degree. He
had demanded action against the Members of the Tribunal. Questioning of a
decision given in a particular case, or the conduct of a Member of the Tribunal
in deciding a case by the Law Secretary who has thee power to write
confidential reports of the Tribunal Members, is bound to be perceived by the
Members as an attempt to affect their decision making. It is a clear threat to
their independent functioning. The letter also tends to undermine confidence in
the judicial functioning of the Tribunal.
In re Hira
Lal Dixit and two Ors. (1955 (1) SCR 677), this Court observed that it was not
necessary that there should be an actual interference with the course of
administration of justice. It is enough if the offending act or publication
tends in any way to so interfere. If there are insinuations made which are
derogatory to the di'gnity of the court and are calculated to undermine the
confidence of the people In the integrity of the Judges, the conduct would
amount to contempt. In the case of C.K. Dapntary ana ors. v. O.P. Gupta and
Ors. (1971 Supp. SCR 76) this Court negatived the contention that once the case
1s decided, even If the judgment is severely and even unfairly criticised, it
should not be treated as contempt.
Court said, "We are unable to agree .,...,.. that a scurrilous attack on a
Judge in respect of a judgment or past conduct has no adverse affect on the due
administration of justice. This sort of attack in a county like ours has the
inevitable effect of undermining the confidence of the public in te judiciary. If
confidence in the judiciary goes, the due administration of justice definitely
suffers" (page 97).
attention was drawn to Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 which
excludes innocent publications as specified in that Section, published when the
civil or criminal proceeding concerned is not pending, from the realm of
contempt. The present case, however, deals with acts which lower the author-ity
of a court and tend to interfere with the administration of justice. Sect-ion 3
has no application in the present case. ^he letters of the first respondent
insinuate a d-ishonest conduct on the part of the two mennbe.rs, oresuftiably
because the view expressed by the Judicial Member in the first alleged order is
changed by him in favour of the revenue when he concurs with the order which
was actually pronounced. This kind of an attack based on access to a
confidential draft exchanged between the Members of the Bench is bound to
affect free exchange of Ideas between the two Members wno have to judicially
decode a case. It "is a clear obstruction to proper decision-making and to
proper administration of justice.
case of Delhi Judicial Service Association, Tis Hazari Court, Delhi etc. etc. v. State of Gnjarat and
Ors. etc. etc. (Supra) it has been he}d that the defini -tion of criminal
contempt is wide enough to include any act by a person which would tend to
interfere with justice or which would lower the authority of a court. The
public have a major stake in effective and orderly administration of justice. A
letter from a high officer such as the Law Secretary which questions the bona
fides of the Members of the Tribunal in deciding a case and asks them to
explain the judicial order which they have passed, unfairly tampers with the
judicial process and interferes with judicial decision-making.
first respondent has tried to justi fy his conduct by saying that the letters
were written by him bona fide in the exercise of his right to control the
functioning of the Tribunal. He has pointed out that the Tribunal functions
under the Department of Law and Justice. The Rules of Recruitment prov-ide that
the Law Secretary should be a member of the Selection Board which selects the
Members of the Tribunal. The confidential reports of the Tribunal's Members are
written by the Law Secretary. The Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of
Legal Affairs, exercises disciplinary powers over the Members of the Tribunal.
The Allocation of Business Rules of the Government of India place the Income
Tax Appellate Tribunal under the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law
and Justice. He contends that the two letters were written by him in a
legitimate exercise of his power of supervision and control: and these could
not be construed as contempt. In this connection, the first respondent has
placed reliance upon a decision of this Court in Rizwan-UI-Hasan and Anr. v.
The State of Uttar Pradesh (1953 SCR 581) where the Court said that since the
alleged contemner had the duty to supervise the work of the trying Magistrate,
the alleged contemner was only doing his duty as a superior officer and this
would not amount to contempt. In the present case, however, the Rules of A1
location of Business as also the supervisory control of the Department of Legal
Affairs over the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, is administrative supervision
and control. It does not extend to control ting or duestloning judicial
decisions of the Appellate Tribunal.
entire conduct of the first respondent leaves much to be desired. He claims to
have received a pseudonymous complaint dated 15th of November, 1997 from one K.
Prassd with which copies of "two separate and conflicting orders passed by
the ITAT Mumbai Bench A, in ITA No.9013/Bonn./1995" were enclosed. The
pseudonymous complaint stated that while one order was dictated and signed by
the Judicial Member in August, 1997, the other order was per pro the Accountant
Member and signed by both.
letter says, "The aforesaid circumstances disclose judicial impropriety of
the highest degree". On ths basis of this pseudonymous complaint, and the
receipt of copies of two separate orders, the first respondent claims to have
written the letter of 30th of December, 1997. Before doing so, he did not check
whether there was any person of the name K. Prasad existing at the address
given in the letter and whether what had been stated in the letter had any
factual basis. He did not even check whether aoth the orders or any of them had
been pronounced by the Bench or not. He should have been aware of an Office
Memorandum dated 29th of September, 1992 issued by the Department of Personnel
and Training, Government of India to all departments, giving instructions about
dealing with anonymous and pseudonymous complaints. The Memorandum states that
before taking cognizance of such complaints the Chief Vigilance Officer of the
Department or organisation concerned should obtain specific orders from the
Head of the Department. A copy of all such complaints shal 1 fi rst be made
available to the officer concerned for his comments, and only thereafter
further action should be taken.
should be taken to take into custody all relevant documents. In the present
case the first respondent did not send a copy of the complaint which he had
received to the President of the Tribunal for investigation. Although he was
the Law Secretary, he seems to be unaware of Rules 34 and 35 of the Income Tax
Appellate Tribunal Rules of 1961 which regulate the procedure of the Appellate
Rule 34 which deals with final orders to be passed, it is provided as follows:-
"34(1): The order of the Bench shal 1 be in writing and shall be signed
and dated by the Members constituting it." Rule 35 provides as follows:
The Tribunal shall, after the order is signed, cause it to be communicated to the
assesses and to the Commissioner." Therefore, unless the order of a Bench i
s signed by all Members constituting it and is dated, it is not an order of the
Appellate Tribunal. Secondly, this signed and dated order has to be
communicated both to the assessee and to the Commissioner. The first respondent
has noted in the letter of 30th December 1997, that the first so-called "order" only bears the signature
one Member. It is not signed by the second Member, nor does it bear any date.
He ought to have verified whether this so called first "order" had
been communicated to the assessee or to the Commissioner. Had he done so, so he
would have found that such an "order" does not exist and no such
order has been communicated either to the assessee or to the Commissioner. Had
he been aware of Rule 34, he would have realised that if the copies which werre
sent to him were authentic, then the only order which could be construed as an
order of the Tribunal was the second order which was signed by both the Members
and bore a datge. Had he ascertained from the Commissioner of Income Tax or the
assessee which order had been communicated to them, he would have found that
the only order which had been communicated was the order signed by both the
Members and bearing the date 23rd of October, 1997. Therefore, he should have realised
that there could not possibly have been any misunderstanding about the order
passed. What appears from the letter is that the first respondent seems have
taken umbrage at the fact that the judicial Member, whose initial draft order
was in favour of the assessee, was changed and the judicial Member, after
discussion with the Accountant Member, ultimately agreed with the view taken by
the Accountant Member and decided the appeal in favour of the Revenue.
Certainly, the language of the letter of 30th of December, 1997 is wholly unwarranted.
Curiously, the statement fn the letter that, the aforesaid ci rcumstances
disclose judicial impropriety of highest degree is reminiscent of the language
used in the pseudonymous complaint. Instead of even waiting for an explanation,
ho has straightway asked the President to enquire into the matter and send a
report to the Government, and that too peremptorily within ten days. All this
is wholly unbecoming of a person holding the rank of tha Law Secretary.
without waiting for some time for a response from the President, immediately on
the lapse of a month, he wrote a second letter of 3rd of February, 1998 in an
equally peremptory fashion pointing out that although the President was
requested to reply within ten days, he had not received any report even after a
month! He admonished the President, pointing out that the President had the
responsibility to ensure that the judicial functions are discharged properly,
he referred to the so called irregularity, and even went to the extent of saying
that silence on the part of the President may invite adverse inferences in the
matter! He demanded a report from the President not later than 6th of February,
1998, when his letter was dated 3rd of February, 1998. The entire tone of the
letter is highly unwarranted, offensive and tends to undermine the dignity of
the post of the President of the Appellate Tribunal. It is unbecoming of the
Law Secretary to issue such "commands" to the President of the Income
Tax Appellate Tribunal ordering him to send reports within a few days and
threatening that adverse inferences would be drawn if the report is not so sent
- and all this without even bothering to check whather the complaint received
by him was a genuine complaint or not! The first respondent, although he
received the pseudonymous complaint of 15th of November, 1997, seems to have
written a letter to the so-called sender of the complaint only on 12th of
January, 1998, and that too asking only for a confirmation whether the
complaint was made by that person. When he wrote the letter of 30th December, 1997, he had not even checked the
veracity of the complaint.
although the first respondent had not received any response to his letter of
12th of January, 1993, he did not hesitate to address the letter of 3rd of
February, 1998 to the President of the Tribunal.
view this kind of conduct and that, too on the part of the Law Secretary, who
is expected to maintain the Independence of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal
and not interfere with its judicial functioning, amounts to gross contempt of
court. It is a deliberate attempt on his part to question the judicial
functioning of the Tribunal coming as it does from a person of his rank. It is
rightly peresived by the President as well as the two concerned Members of the
Tribunal as a threat to their independent funct-ioning in the course of
deciding appeals coming up before them.
first respondent has offered his apology to us.
looking to all the circumstances of the present case we cannot accept the
apology offered. He has travelled far beyond exercising administrative control
over the Tribunal. He has tried to influence or question the decision-making
process of the Tribunal. Anapology, in these circumstances, cannot be accepted.
We, therefore, hold the first respondent guilty of contempt of court.
however, to the fact that he has since retired as the Law Secretary and -is not
in a position to inflict further damage, the ends of justice will be met if he
is fined a sum of Rs.2,000/- as punishment for contempt. We order accordingly.