Prashant Bhushan questions selection of tax Ombudsmen


New Delhi: Supreme Court senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to go ahead with the appointment of H.K. Sharan and Rajendra Prakash as Indirect Tax Ombudsmen for Bombay and Lucknow, respectively, as there were “serious doubts about their integrity”.

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In his letter to the prime minister, Bhushan said: “I have come to know from various reliable sources which cast serious doubts about their integrity and thus make them totally unsuitable for the post for which they have been selected and names have been sent to the ACC (Appointments Committee of Cabinet) for final approval.”

The Ombudsman – an official whose job is to examine and report on complaints made by ordinary people about public authorities – will consider complaints of taxpayers and facilitate their “satisfaction or settlement” by agreement through conciliation and mediation between the departments of Customs, Central Excise and Service Tax and the aggrieved parties. He will have the powers to give “awards” to the aggrieved parties in keeping with the guidelines.

“The institution is being established for the first time; therefore, it is all the more important the government must select people with sterling character, impeccable integrity and upright behaviour,” read Bhushan’s letter, dated Sep 21.

Bhushan said credibility of an institution like that of Ombudsmen can be seriously damaged owing to complaints of corruption against H.K. Sharan and Rajendra Prakash. He said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had even sought permission for prosecution of Rajendra Prakash.

In fact, there is another charge against Sharan that while he was posted in Delhi, he obtained his LLB (law) degree from Surinder Nath Law College at Kolkata as a regular student of Calcutta University, the letter said.

“It would also go against the avowed and stated stand of the government to fight against corruption. I, therefore, hope the ACC would take all these facts into consideration before taking any final decision.”

Bhushan, who had successfully challenged the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner in the apex court, also expressed his surprise over the eligibility criteria under the Indirect Tax Ombudsman Guidelines, 2011.

He said the only criteria is that the person under consideration should have held a government post in the pay scale of Rs.67,000-79,000 on a regular basis for at least an year and he should be a serving officer on the last date of receipt of application.

“Surprisingly, no other qualifications or eligibility criteria is prescribed,” the senior counsel said in the letter.

“It certainly goes without saying that since the Ombudsman has to deal with the complaints made by the taxpayer against the revenue department, he should be a man of competence and impeccable integrity beyond any shadow of doubt,” Bhushan said in his letter.