Days after IRS officer Baldip Singh Sandhu was transferred out of the tax panel’s New Delhi bench, it agreed to begin hearing the Sahara case.
New Delhi: Five months before the Income Tax Settlement Commission (ITSC) granted Sahara India immunity from any future prosecution and penalty over the Sahara diaries, a member of the bench that eventually heard the company’s application was transferred under less than normal circumstances.
According to a report in The Hindu, IRS officer Baldip Singh Sandhu was appointed in March 2016 as a member of the ITSC in Delhi and was appointed to the principal bench headed by the chairman of the tax settlement commission.
The bench that Sandhu was appointed to was the same bench that, on November 10 2016, issued the immunity order for the Sahara group.
However, before that, on July 19, Sandhu “was transferred out to Chennai” even though his appointment was “location-specific and non-transferable”. The Hindu reports that on July 19, Sandhu was relieved of his duties and a finance ministry official came to the commission to serve him his transfer order.
Sandhu’s transfer was then taken to the Delhi High Court, which in an October 26 order, declared that he could not “now be transferred to the Additional Bench, Chennai; the appointment is against a particular vacancy and the appointee is not transferable to another vacancy that may have arisen, without the consent of the appointee”.
His transfer case, however, is still before the Delhi High Court, after the Centre moved an appeal on the initial stay and Sandhu filed an appeal against the stay on the original stay.
Fishy or not?
The Sahara group did not initially have easy sailing with the ITSC. Because the company’s group headquarters was in Lucknow, the firm first had to file its settlement petition before the Additional Bench II. This bench rejected Sahara’s petition in August.
Clearly disappointed, Sahara put up another application before the ITSC’s Chairman, asking that its case be transferred to the principal bench in New Delhi; this bench was the one that Sandhu was appointed to in March.
Days after Sandhu was transferred out of the New Delhi bench, it agreed to begin hearing the Sahara case.
As the Indian Express notes, the ITSC’s final order that granted immunity to Sahara was unusually quick. It began hearing the application in August 2016, held another hearing on November 7th 2016 and then passed a final order on November 10th, 2016. The ITSC’s decision, as The Wire reported last week, may have glossed over crucial evidence furnished by the tax inspectors who had acquired the Sahara diaries following the 2014 and 2013 raids.