The Delhi high court on Friday refused to stay income tax proceedings against Young India Private Limited (YIL), asking the company to raise its grievances with the assessing officer first and move the court later if it is not satisfied.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi are major stakeholders in the YIL that acquired the holdings of Associate Journal Limited (AJL), publisher of three newspapers, including the now-defunct National Herald. Following BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s private complaint in a court that Congress leaders conspired to acquire the assets of AJL, the I-T department sent several notices to the Congress since 2014, a move termed by the opposition party as political vendetta.
One of these notices pertained to a loan worth Rs 1 crore taken by YIL from a private company, which the former challenged in the Delhi high court. A bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Chander Shekhar said on Friday that the company had not raised its grievances with the assessing officer and therefore it should move the income-tax department first. “We are not inclined to entertain your petition. It is better you withdraw it and approach the income tax assessing officer,” the bench said. Following this, YIL’s counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi withdrew the petition.
Shortly after the court’s observation on the YIL petition, the Congress accused the BJP-led NDA government of spreading “misinformation” by circulating unsigned notes that give a different version of what transpired in the court. These notes, circulated on WhatsApp by some lawyers, claimed that in a setback to the Congress, the court paved the way for an I-T investigation against Young India.
“It’s a sorry state that government agencies, by proxy, are engaging in incomplete and distorted information, possibly bordering on the contempt of court… Unsigned note circulated by government proxies is using all adjectives. Some are even saying there is a direction by the court to the I-T department to investigate into the matter. Does the order say this? We will apologize if the order says this,” Singhvi, who is also a Congress spokesman, said at a press conference.
“The court recorded my statement and gave me liberty to raise all these points with the I-T department… We will now await the assessing officer’s decision in accordance with law. In those proceedings, we will raise all objections that we had in the petition. The I-T department had absolutely no reason to believe in reopening the assessment,” he said.
The Congress leader reiterated that no one from the party had financially benefited from the company. “Has anybody benefited financially from this? Is it possible? Section 25 of the Companies Act prohibits paying of dividend? Who has gained financially? It’s section 25 company. Has there been an asset transfer?”
However, Singhvi said the Congress party is proud to be associated with the National Herald newspaper that stood up for free speech during the colonial period. “We are proud to protect this important symbol of freedom struggle. BJP’s witch-hunt will not deter us from our fight for truth and integrity.”
Welcoming the court’s decision, Union law minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a press conference that it would be in the Gandhis’ interest to cooperate with income tax authorities.