Five of the 12 senior officers of the Indian Revenue Service who were terminated on charges of corruption are set to challenge their removal in the court and legal consultations on the way ahead have begun. The counsel of two of the dismissed officers confirmed to Financial Express Online that they are mulling all legal remedial options available to them. The counsel for some of the officers is of the opinion that the ministry has not taken all the information related to cases against officers into account before ordering action against them. For instance, he said, there were two cases of sexual harassment against SK Srivastava, but in both cases, the officer has got a clean chit from the CAT (Central Administrative Tribunal).
Senior Supreme Court lawyer SK Gupta who is dealing with some of the cases said: “I’m dealing with some of the cases (of allegations against the officers)…the officers have been acquitted and exonerated from all the allegations. And by passing the orders, if the media reports are correct, then they ( the government) have taken the same base as of the allegations that have been set aside by the court of law. And the Revenue Secretary while not informing the minister concerned the true facts has committed a contempt. I’m not blaming the government but it is the duty of the bureaucrat to place the true facts before the minister concerned more particularly before the Prime Minister.”
The officers who have been given mandatory retirement are Joint Commissioner of Income Tax Ashok Kumar Aggarwal, Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Srivastava, Commissioner Alok Kumar Mitra, Commissioner Arulappa B, Commissioner Ajoy Kumar Singh, Commissioner BB Rajendra Prasad, Commissioner Homi Rajvansh, Commissioner Swetabh Suman, Additional commissioner Andasu Ravindar, Additional commissioner Vivek Batra, Additional commissioner Chander Sain Bharti, and Assistant commissioner Ram Kumar Bhargava.
The counsel informed that the officers will take all remedial steps that are available under the law. He said that the officers were trying to ascertain the basis and at what level the file has been approved.
“We don’t know whether the file has gone to the ACC (Appointments Committee of the Cabinet). As per my information, it is a joint file. Once it’s a joint file, it must go to the ACC because some of the officers who been retired are holding the post of principle commissioner and chief commissioner, and their appointment as commissioner, principal commissioner and principal chief commissioner are approved by the Prime Minister. Once their appointment was approved, then in accordance with the law which is prevailing as on date under 56J, the file must go to a committee headed by the Prime Minister,” Gupta said.
He added that 56J is a unique power and the government can not invoke this in case of allegations of corruption or sexual harassment, the law is settled like in case of Sukhdev and Chunnibhai Patel.
The counsel further said that all the allegations that have come are stigmatic in nature. “The first name (in the list) is AK Aggarwal against whom charges are that he acquired so and so assets – in which he has been acquitted. The matter attainted finality from the High Court. The charge sheets have been set aside. The government has lost in the Supreme Court.” He said that the CAT, in fact, asked the government to promote Aggarwal.
In the case of SK Srivastava, against whom two lady officers slapped charges of sexual harassment, a six-member committee constituted to look into the allegations gave a clean chit to Srivastava. Thereafter, a writ petition was filed by the lady officers seeking one member-committee under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
“The court acceded to their request and a one-member committee was appointed which also exonerated Srivastava. Have these facts been disclosed?” Gupta asked. He said that after the committee gave a clean chit to Srivastava, one of the lady officers called the report ‘bad in law’ and sought from the Finance Minister directions to constitute a new committee to look into the charges.
“That order of Finance Ministry was set aside by the Delhi CAT in November 2018 against which the government filed a writ petition which is pending. As on date, the judgement of CAT is holding the field,” Gupta informed.
“Apart from that, recently the office of principal chief commissioner of Delhi has given a report against one of the lady officers (who accused Srivastava of sexual harassment) that she threatened various officers of CBDT saying that if you ask any question, I’ll malign under sexual harassment. This was enquired into and the report was against her…was this fact disclosed to the Finance Minister or Prime Minister? We don’t know,” Gupta said.
In the case of BB Rajendra Prasad, there was an allegation that he, while holding the post of CID Appeal Bombay, demanded Rs 5 crore. “Till date has the charge sheet been filed by the CBI? No. And because of the non-filing of the charge sheet, his suspension was revoked by the CAT and the government accepted,” the counsel said.
The government on Monday invoked clause J of rule 56 of the fundamental rules to dismiss 12 IRS officers. According to an office memorandum issued by DoPT in March 2014, “instructions exist on the need for periodical review of performance of Government servants with a view to ascertain whether the Government servant should be retained in service or retired from service in the public interest. Provisions in this regard are contained in FR 56 0), FR 56 (I) and Rule 48 (1) (b) of CCS(Pension) Rules, 1972.”