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Patna High Court holds tax officials guilty for sleep deprivation of taxpayer during Income-tax search!

                 One Rajendra Singh made a complaint before the Bihar State Human Rights Commission that during the Income-tax search and seizure operation, the raiding party committed various acts of omission and commission including violation of his human rights. He alleged that the officials of the Income Tax Department confined his family in the house for two days in course of the search and seizure operations at their business and residential premises almost uninterruptedly and did not allow cooking food, thereby compelling them to purchase the same from outside. He also alleged that the members of the search team misbehaved, abused and tortured the taxpayer and his family members and used methods of coercion for recording statements and obtaining signatures forcibly.


                  The Commission issued show cause notice to the Income Tax Department to reply to the allegations of the taxpayer. The Income-tax Department filed its reply and report. The Commission came to a finding that there was continuous interrogation without a break for more than 36 hours and the first break was given only at 3.30 a.m., forcing the applicant and his family members to remain awake at hours which were meant for sleeping. The continuous interrogation at odd hours in night was a torturous act in violation of basic human rights of an individual. The Commission broadly agreed that the department if need be may conduct such search and seizure operation for days together, but then they have to stop the same at proper time and resume again at an appropriate time in the morning. The Commission observed that the search and seizure operations have to be carried out keeping in view the basic human rights of an individual. The Commission directed the concerned officials to show-cause why the taxpayer should not be compensated from their salary.


                   The Income-tax Department filed a writ petition before the Bihar High Court challenging the above order of the Commission. Rendering its decision on the first of its kind case, the High Court observed that, “though the search and seizure manual does not prescribe any time limit for search and survey operation and the same may continue for days if required, but it has to be in keeping with the basic human rights and dignity of an individual. The purpose of the Income-tax Act is to give effect to the process of execution of actions of executive and bureaucratic machinery in line of accepted standards of basic human rights, which are internationally recognized. The laws and approach to law for its execution must confirm to the charter of human values and dignity. Even a person accused of a serious offence has to be produced before the nearest Magistrate within 24 hours minus the time taken in reaching the Court.”

                   The Court went on to hold that, “There is no possible justification to continue interrogation and keep the taxpayer awake till 3 a.m. on the second night of search and interrogations. No reason has been assigned as to why the interrogations could not have been deferred till the morning of the next day. The officials could have continued with the interrogation on the next day in the morning after allowing the taxpayer to retire at an appropriate time in the night.”

                   Analyzing the ratio of various cases of the European Court on Human Rights, the Court also noted that, “Sleep deprivation method of interrogation amounts to inhuman treatment and violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No exception to Article 3 can be made even in the event of public emergency threatening the life of the nation.”

                   The High Court held that the Department was guilty of violating human rights even though the operations were conducted in best interest of revenue and good faith. However, the Court also held, that since the Commission had, without affording the officials an opportunity of hearing as to the violation of human rights, called upon them to explain why monetary compensation be not awarded and be recoverable from their salary, it had pre-judged the officials and therefore, this notice had to be reversed.

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