“Please Enlighten Us What Provisions Empower These Officers To Exercise Such Atrocious Powers. If This Conduct Is Allowed, Then No Professional Would Be Safe In This Country. We Aren’t Living In 1975 Or ’76, Where You Can Go Anywhere And Do Whatever You Want To. This Isn’t A State Of Emergency”: The Gujarat HC Criticizes The IT Raids Conducted On A Lawyer’s Office

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Case Title: Maulikkumar Satishbhai Sheth vs Income Tax Officer Assessment Unit, Ahmedabad

The division bench of Justice Bhargav D Karia and Justice Niral Mehta of  Gujarat High Court on criticized officials of the Income Tax Department at for the manner in which they conducted a raid at the house and office of an advocate, while searching for a document concerning one of his clients.

An advocate named Maulik Kumar Sheth filed a plea before the court, drawing attention to the fact that Income Tax officers had conducted a search of his office and residence in search of a document related to one of his clients’ transactions.

During the Court proceedings, it was revealed that the income tax officers not only illegally raided the lawyer’s premises but also confiscated a document and restricted him from accessing the Court for a period of three days.

At the hearing, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi represented Sheth and revealed that the seizure had been finalized on November 3rd. Nevertheless, officials hindered Sheth from attending court or his family members from resuming their work until November 6th.

The bench asked that “Please enlighten us what provisions empower these officers to exercise such atrocious powers. If this conduct is allowed, then no professional would be safe in this country. We aren’t living in 1975 or ’76, where you can go anywhere and do whatever you want to. This isn’t a state of Emergency”.

The counsel representing the IT department submitted that “The law allows the officials to resort to search and seizure after recording a satisfaction that an individual, served with summons or notice, would not furnish the documents related to money, jewellery or bullion”.

The bench acknowledged that the document in question, which IT officials were seeking, was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) filed by a client of the petitioner. The IT Department purported the MOU contained “sensitive” information regarding two transactions.

The bench also noted that the Sheth was not issued any notice before his premises were raided by the Income Tax Officers.

“You (IT Department) did not issue any notice to the petitioner. Then how could you record such a satisfaction? Anybody can have the copy of the MoU, then will you search everybody in the market? This is not the correct approach Mr Counsel. The Department cannot resort to such conduct”.

Justice Karia said “The petitioner has nothing to do with your seizure, etc. but the manner in which it was conducted that is a problem. You have taken away all the documents. So, return all the documents to him and make a public apology. Else, we are not going to spare any one of you”.

The IT department requested an adjournment until Monday, as they wanted Additional Solicitor General Devang Vyas to appear and provide guidance on the matter after obtaining proper instructions. The Court, however, denied the request.

The bench said “Mr Counsel, consider the plight of the petitioner. He is your professional brother. Put yourself in his place and then think. We will take action against the officers involved otherwise everybody will be under fear”.

The bench issued show cause notices to seven IT officers, Rakesh Ranjan (Income Tax Officer), Dhrumil Bhatt (Inspector), Neeraj Kumar Jogi (Inspector), Vivek Kumar (Office Superintendent), Ranjeet Choudhary (Multi Tasking Staff), Amit Kumar (Inspector) and Toral Pansuria (Conducting Officer).

The bench while issuing show cause notices said that “Let them file their responses in individual capacity and pay for the lawyers,” the bench added before adjourning the matter.

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