Supreme Court Defers Hearing on Gandhi Family and AAP's Income Tax Assessment Transfer Challenge
In a significant development, the Supreme Court has deferred the hearing of petitions filed by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The petitions challenge the transfer of their income tax assessments to the Central Circle, mandated to check tax evasion. The court, headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna, observed that formal notice had not been issued on their petitions against the Delhi High Court's order denying them relief.
The Delhi High Court, in a common order dated May 26, dismissed the petitions challenging the Income Tax department's decision to transfer their assessments to the Central Circle. The move, authorized to combat tax evasion, raised concerns among the Gandhi family members, associated trusts, and AAP. They contested the decision, arguing that the transfer was related to arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and had no connection to their cases.
Details of the Case
The Gandhis had contested the January 2021 order by the Principal Commissioner (Income Tax) transferring their cases for the assessment year 2018-19 to the Central Circle. The order was linked to an investigation involving Sanjay Bhandari, wanted in India on money laundering charges, and alleged business links with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's husband, Robert Vadra. Vadra has consistently denied any business connections with the arms dealer.
The Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justice SVN Bhatti, directed the Income Tax department to bring the relevant file on December 13, the next date of the hearing. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asserted that formal notice issuance was unnecessary, emphasizing the department's commitment to not pass any final assessment order. The court had earlier indicated that the Income Tax department should not take such actions until the matter is resolved.
High Court Ruling
On May 26, the Delhi High Court clarified that the transfer to the Central Circle was in accordance with the law, citing Section 127 of the Income Tax Act. The court stated it had not examined the merits of the controversy between the parties but emphasized that the Central Circle's jurisdiction extends beyond search cases. It ruled that no assessee has a fundamental or vested legal right to be assessed by a faceless assessing officer.
The Gandhis and AAP had opposed the transfer on multiple grounds, contending that they were unrelated to the Sanjay Bhandari group's cases. In response, the Income Tax department argued that the transfer aimed at "better coordination, effective investigation, and meaningful assessment," reflecting administrative convenience and exigency.
The Supreme Court's decision to defer the hearing adds a layer of suspense to the ongoing legal battle between the Gandhi family, AAP, and the Income Tax department. As the next hearing approaches, stakeholders eagerly await further developments in this high-profile case that intertwines issues of taxation, alleged financial connections, and administrative procedures.