Are I-T sleuths serious in probing ex-CJI?

February 28, 2011, PNS | Kochi, Source:

The credibility of the Income Tax Department’s probe into the allegations of illegal wealth amassment against former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan and his close relatives has come under a cloud. The department had the other day said that the probe was in its final stages but its own statements earlier show that the department had not even identified some of the close relatives of the former CJI.

ET Lucose, Director General, Income Tax, Kochi had the other day said that his investigators had found that three of the close relatives of Justice Balakrishnan had amassed wealth disproportionate to their means. He, however, refused to name them saying “You all know who they are”.

Lucose also said that he could not reveal whether there was an investigation going on into the charges leveled against the former Chief Justice. He even refused to reveal whether his investigators had questioned Justice Balakrishnan as part of the probe saying it would not be proper to do so at this juncture.

According to sources, the three persons of whom the official spoke were Justice Balakrishnan’s brother KG Bhaskaran and sons-in-law PV Sreenijin and MJ Benny, all of whom were in the legal profession. However, information provided by the department under the RTI Act recently said that it had not even been able to identify Benny.

In reply to an application from Kochi-based RTI activist T Balachandran requesting for details of income tax returns of the former CJI, Bhaskaran, Sreenijin, his wife KB Sony, Benny, his wife KB Rani and one KB Pradeep, said to be a relative of theirs, the department had said that it had not been able to identify the last three persons.

“What kind of an investigation is the I-T Department carrying out if they do not even know who Justice Balakrishnan’s daughter Rani and her husband Benny are?” asked lawyer D Binu, general secretary of RTI Kerala Federation. “Can an investigation like this be comprehensive?” he wondered.

He complained that the responses of the department had not been helpful right from the start of the issue. “When Balachandran first asked for the income tax returns of Bhaskaran, Sony and Sreenijin, the department had failed to provide them. It said that Sony and Sreenijin had objected to divulging the details while Bhaskaran had failed to respond to its notice,” Binu said.

The objection of the third parties — here Bhaskaran, Sony and Sreenijin — to divulging details of their I-T returns was not sufficient reason for withholding the information, Binu pointed out. The Chief Information Commissioner had recently ordered that a public information officer should come to a decision in such a situation not depending on the reply of the third party but by applying his mind to the matter, he added.

Even if Lucose now chooses to argue that the three persons the department had found to be wrong-doers were Bhaskaran, Sony and Sreenijin, the shadow of suspicions over the probe would not be removed, feel lawyers. “When the department doesn’t even know who the former CJI’s daughter Rani and her husband Benny are, how can the investigation be comprehensive?”

RTI activists point out that it was impossible for the department to avoid probing the conduct of Rani and Benny while the investigation against others was going on because the issue involving them had already been brought to it much earlier. “There is no space for technical excuses also? asked a lawyer.