In a reprieve to chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his family, Himachal Pradesh high court on Thursday struck down the income tax department's July 14 order to transfer the cases pertaining to alleged income tax evasion against them to Chandigarh.
A division bench, comprising chief justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan, passed the order on petitions filed by Virbhadra, his wife Pratibha Singh, son Vikramaditya Singh, daughter Aparajita Kumari, one Anand Chauhan (caretaker of Virbhadra's orchards) and Chunni Lal Chauhan (proprietor of Universal Apples) wherein they had challenged the order of the income tax commissioner to transfer their cases for conducting coordinated and joint investigations in all cases.
The court ruled, "We have no hesitation in holding that the show cause notices issued to the petitioners were only an empty formality as the basis and foundation of the transfer of the cases is not the one for which the petitioners in fact had been asked to show-cause".
The court said that the impugned order has been passed after taking into consideration the extraneous material which had never been brought to the notice of the petitioners prior to passing of the impugned order. "Therefore, the action of the respondents is violative of principles of natural justice and fair play and therefore not sustainable in the eyes of law," read the judgment.
It further ruled that the person against whom the allegations are to be made must be given particulars thereof before hearing, so that he can prepare his defence. It ruled, "The fair procedure and principle of natural justice are inbuilt into the rules".
"Reply to show-cause notice is not an empty formality because after all justice must not only be done but it must manifestly appear to be done, which principle is equally applicable to quasi-judicial proceedings," read the judgment.
Earlier, the petitioners had argued that the coordinated and joint probe of all the cases can be done in Shimla also and transfer of the cases to Chandigarh would amount to harassment.
On November 26, the court had reserved the judgment after hearing arguments of both parties.
During the previous hearing on October 15, the high court had rejected preliminary objections raised by the income tax department against the petitions filed by Virbhadra Singh and his family members. The income tax department had raised preliminary objections over maintainability of the writ petitions, stating the orders passed by the income tax department already stood implemented and therefore it had submitted the petitions had become infructuous.
August 4 - HC stayed the order of Shimla IT commissioner to transfer cases to Chandigarh
October 15- HC rejected IT department's preliminary objection on PIL filed by Virbhadra Singh and his family
November 18- HC summoned case records from IT department
November 26- HC reserved the judgment
December 18- Quashed IT department's order to transfer cases