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Centre ‘most neglected’ litigant, says book
- Former law officer accuses revenue department of fighting SC cases in ‘arbitrary’ manner

New Delhi, Jan. 2: A former additional solicitor-general has accused the Centre’s revenue department of fighting Supreme Court cases in an “arbitrary, inequitable, uneven and non-transparent manner”, saying this has seriously jeopardised the country’s revenue interests.

In his book, Bishwajit Bhattacharyya, who demitted office last month, attributes these practices to some “invisible forces” within the system without elaborating.

Sources close to him said the reference was to the political establishment, whose orders the bureaucrats carry out.

“I have never embarrassed my client, the central government, arguably the most neglected hapless litigant in the country. I say ‘neglected’ because my perception is that down the line are invisible forces who have been acting against the interests of the government. The challenge to the government mostly comes from within. I have always attempted to thwart such forces,” Bhattacharyya says in the book My Experience with the Office of Additional Solicitor General of India.

Bhattacharyya has alleged that the revenue department, which handles all important government matters relating to revenue loss, adopts a “pick and choose” method in dealing with legal cases.

“Distribution of briefs to panel counsel and law officers is most arbitrary, inequitable, uneven and non-transparent. Some panel lawyers are marked briefs and some others remain only on paper. Even amongst those who are marked briefs, there is serious distortion. Favourites are flooded with briefs. How one can become a favourite is widely known and hardly needs any elaboration,” writes the tax expert who served as additional solicitor-general for three years.

“Some people exercise this option of becoming favourites, but (the) majority in the panel, out of self-respect, don’t exercise this option. Brief eludes such panel counsel.”

Bhattacharyya writes that sometimes, a revenue panel counsel returns the brief at the eleventh hour, claiming that he or she knows the assessee, only to appear for the same assessee when the matter reaches the board in the court.

“When such a situation occurs, no substitute is provided.... The practice of revenue panel lawyers being permitted to appear for the assessee has given rise to such a situation,” Bhattacharyya writes.

“Sending docket without the brief is a regular feature. Even when a brief is sent, some pages or annexures go missing. Sometimes, (the) counter-affidavit or other crucial papers or annexures are not sent. Sending an incomplete and truncated brief is a rampant phenomenon.

“Sometimes, counter-affidavits and rejoinders are not filed without reasons or filed with considerable delay jeopardising, thereby, the interest of the revenue.”

Bhattacharyya has accused the revenue department of being inconsistent in appealing against orders of the departmental appellate authorities, tribunals and high courts dealing with a question of law.

“I found often that on the same question of law, the department files appeals in some cases and chooses not to file appeal in another set of cases. In short, I found propensity on the part of the department to pick and choose,” Bhattacharyya writes.

“This kind of an attitude and conduct has been repeatedly deprecated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. I have often faced serious difficulties justifying the stand of the department without a plausible reasoning!”