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Court glare on Laloo let-off
- Judges seek reports on fast-track clean chit to minister after UPA takes reins

New Delhi, April 26: The Supreme Court today frowned on the 'hurried' manner in which the income-tax department let off Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi in a disproportionate assets case 10 days after a government partnered by him came to power at the Centre.

The court also directed Patna High Court to constitute a special bench to hear a petition seeking sanction to prosecute Laloo Prasad on charges that he misused his official position to bury the assets case.

The order had an unparalleled element as the court named the judge ' Justice Aftab Ahmed ' to head the bench. Usually, the chief justice of the high court decides who should preside over a bench. Patna High Court now has an acting chief justice.

The Supreme Court said the bench should take a decision on the appeal 'as soon as possible and not later then 30 days from today'.

Rajeev Ranjan Lallan of the Janata Dal (United) and Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP had filed a public interest litigation alleging that Laloo Prasad was misusing his official position to influence the course of the cases.

The three-judge bench of Justices S.N. Variava, A.R. Lakshmanan and S.H. Kapadia ordered the income-tax appellate tribunal president to submit a report on the hearing of the couple's cases and the verdict that let them off the hook.

A directive was also issued to the income-tax intelligence director-general to give a status report on the cases.

He was asked to explain why no appeal was filed against the tribunal's acquittal of Laloo Prasad and his wife.

The court wondered how the tribunal in Patna 'hurriedly' disposed of the cases (it had reportedly heard 130 cases in a week) and how an officer of the Union law ministry had opined that no appeal should be filed in these cases against Laloo Prasad and Rabri Devi.

The judges wanted to know how the special bench of the tribunal decided in favour of the couple within 10 days of the formation of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.

Solicitor-general Ghulam E. Vahanvati was asked to submit details of the orders passed by the tribunal between June 21 and July 2, last year, including the 136-page judgment exonerating the couple of all income-tax violations and giving them the benefit of tax reduction.

The bench questioned how the tribunal accepted the 'voluntary returns' filed by the two for 10 years at one go (between 1986 and 1996) and treated it as a 'full and final' disclosure of his income between the assessment years.

The court also directed the Central Board for Direct Taxes (CBDT) to inform it of the action the board had taken for the assessment years after 1996.

The Centre, through the solicitor-general, told the apex court that the UPA government would not 'give an impression that a cover-up operation' was on in favour of Laloo Prasad 'simply because he is in the Union council of ministers'.

The Supreme Court fixed May 10 for further arguments by which time the income-tax intelligence report as well as that of the tribunal should be filed.

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