Says it will lead to media trial while the firm’s case is pending
Restraining officials of the Income Tax Department from disclosing information related to an inquiry conducted against Tiruchengode-based Christy Friedgram Industry to journalists, the Madras High Court on Tuesday said it would pave the way for “media trial” when a case filed by the firm, challenging the adverse proceedings against it, was pending in court.
Justice T. Raja granted the interim injunction on two writ petitions filed by the proprietor of the firm T.S. Kumarasamy who had accused I-T officials of having leaked false information about kickbacks having been paid to politicians and bureaucrats to secure tender for supply of food items for the noon meal scheme implemented in government and aided schools.
Civil Service rules
The judge prima facie agreed with senior counsel Satish Parasaran and AR.L. Sundaresan, representing the petitioner, that public servants were bound by Rule 11 of the Central Civil Services Conduct Rules of 1964 which prohibit disclosure of official information except in accordance with government instructions or in good faith of the duties assigned to them.
He also took note of a judgment passed by the Supreme Court in Sidhartha Vashist alias Manu Sharma’s case in 2010. In the verdict, the then Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam held that trial by media should be avoided particularly at a stage when the suspect was entitled to the constitutional protections and that invasion of such rights was impermissible.
Mr. Justice Raja also recorded the submissions of A.P. Srinivas, senior standing counsel for IT department, that neither the Additional Director of Income Tax B. Jeya Raghavan nor the Deputy Director Rohan Raj had leaked the information to the media as alleged by the petitioner. He denied the allegations stoutly and sought time to file a detailed counter affidavit.
In his affidavit, Mr. Kumarasamy said the two officials named by him had raided his premises along with 150 others in July. The raid continued for five days and some employees were coerced to make false statements. He also alleged that materials reportedly recovered from the petitioner’s premises were actually planted.
Subsequently, when a case filed by the firm was pending in the court, news reports appeared in various television news channels and newspapers including The Hindu on November 24 citing an anonymous source of having claimed that kickbacks worth ₹2,400 crore appeared to have been paid for obtaining contract for supply of edible products.
Claiming that this was “false news” and that it had brought disrepute to his firm, the petitioner in his first writ petition sought to restrain the I-T officials from leaking information to the media, except in accordance with Rule 11 of conduct rules, and to initiate departmental action against those who had already provided information to journalists.
The petitioner’s prayer in the second writ petition was to transfer all files related to the search and seizure proceedings in his firm from the two officers (Mr. Jeya Raghavan and Rohan Raj), who had been impleaded by name to any other independent and impartial officers who had so far not participated in the proceedings against the firm.