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Tax officials asked to respect human rights during raids
February, 29th 2012

In a move that can give some relief to those who are facing tax authorities ire as a part of their collection drive, Bihars human rights commission recently held that while undertaking raids tax authorities should ensure that person and his family is not harassed and this judgment was later upheld by the Patna High Court with an instruction to the tax authority to consider issuing appropriate instruction in future raids to record the duration of interrogation and breaks. In other words proper breaks should be provided to person raided and his family members to leave normal life during the period.

This happened in the case of raids on one Rajendra Singh who runs a saw mill near Patna in Bihar who underwent lots of harassment when he was raided by the local Income Tax Department and was forced to disclose of Rs 4.8 crore undisclosed income. This, in itself, is not unusual, but what he did thereafter is unusual from the perspective of taxpayers who face similar action by the IT Department. Aggrieved by the treatment allegedly received by him from the raiding officers, and particularly a non-stop interrogation of more than 36 hours, Singh filed a complaint before the Bihar Human Rights Commission for violation of his human rights.

The Commission, while ruling in his favour, held that prima facie, there has been violation of human rights by the concerned officials of the IT Department. The Commission further observed that the IT Department should ensure that the search and seizure operations at large in future are carried out without violating ones basic human rights. The Commission even held Singh entitled to be monetarily compensated to be recoverable from the salary of the concerned officers in accordance with law.

The department took up the matter with the Patna High  Court. However, while upholding the Order of the Commission on the aspect of violation of human rights in early February this year, the  High Court also suggested that the department would consider issuing appropriate instructions in future to record the duration of interrogation and breaks. 

The High Court, however, quashed the notice issued by the Commission to the IT Officers on the issue of monetary compensation.
Commenting on this, Shailesh Sheth, a Mumbai based tax practitioner said, revenue department is known to commit excessive during raised and this judgment will put a check on such excesses. He said, The judgment applies not only to income tax but also to other tax departments.

This is because in case of raids by the excise, customs-department of revenue intelligence and VAT enforcement such excessive are not uncommon and there too himan rights need to be protected.   

There are several cases and judgments which support the action of the IT Department of carrying out search and seizure or what is commonly called raids for long duration, even running into  several days, if the circumstances so warrant.  However, this is perhaps for the first time that more than one judicial forums have asked the department to ensure that the basic human rights of the person raided are not violated. 

The Commission further observed that continuing search without any break at odd hours upto 3.30 am, forcing the applicant and/or his family members to remain awake when it is time to sleep was torturous act. It was violative of their rights relating to dignity of the individual and therefore, violative of human rights. 

Upholding the Order of the Commission partially, the High Court also said the human rights belong to all of us equally and would apply no less to an intruder of law, as to a law enforcing agency.  Quoting Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the High Court said no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel in human or degrading treatment or punishment.

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