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SC upholds sacking for tax delay
March, 11th 2009

If you are in the armed forces, pay your taxes on time or you may be asked to hang up your boots. The Supreme Court has upheld a decision of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to retire an officer for delayed payment of property tax.

A bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat did not find any fault with the IAF, which treated delayed payment of property tax by IAF officer Praveen Bhatia as misconduct and handed down a punishment of compulsory retirement. He was not even given  pension benefits as he had not completed 20 years of service.

The verdict widens the scope of misconduct and gives more discretion to the armed forces in disciplinary action.

The IAF had said that Bhatias conduct in belated payment of property tax between 1981 and 1986 was most unbecoming of an officer of the Air Force and amounted to misconduct within the meaning of the Air Force Rules, 1969.

Bhatia, who was commissioned in IAF in July 1973, had contended that his offence wasnt serious enough to warrant such a grave punishment.

But the court upheld the order of the Bombay High Court that rejected his contention.

The power of the court to interfere with the quantum of punishment is extremely restricted and only when the relevant factors have not been considered the court can direct re-consideration or in an appropriate caseindicate the punishment to be awarded; and that can only be in very rare cases, the bench said.

The court took note of the fact that though Bhatia was aware that the prescribed period for filing property return was six months, but chose not to file any return. Even during the course of enquiry no return was filed and he ultimately filed it only after a show cause notice was issued to him.

The court said, though incapable of precise definition, the word misconduct on reflection receives its connotation from
the context, the delinquency in performance and its effect on the discipline and the nature of duty.

Trouble started for Bhatia when his father-in-law, a government contractor, sought the IAF officers help in securing him contracts. When Bhatia did not help his father-in-law, the latter lodged a complaint against him with the IAF that he mistreated his wife.

The complaints led to disclosure of certain acts of omission and commission on the part of Bhatia, including non-payment of property tax.

Though, the IAF refused to act on the father-in-laws complaint against Bhatia but constituted a Court of Inquiry to probe the other acts of omission and commission.

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