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National Herald case: After HC snub, Congress accuses govt of running a smear campaign

Catch Team | Updated on: 13 May 2017, 8:59 IST
National Herald case (Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

After the Delhi High Court declined to stay the income tax proceedings against Young India Private Limited in the National Herald case, the Congress accused the government of deliberately engaging in running a campaign of misinformation and distortion in regard to the court proceedings.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is also the counsel arguing the matter for the Young India, said “It is a very sorry, sad state to find that government agencies through proxy are deliberately engaging in a incomplete partial and distorted information which is possibly bordering on contempt of court because it is deliberately distorting court orders passed in my presence.”

The misinformation campaign

Claiming to have one such note of the government's version of what transpired in the court in the National Herald case, Singhvi pointed, “I sometimes wonder if the government doesn't have better things to do with governance in this country than to circulate unsigned notes of briefing to all of you (media) which are actually campaigns of misinformation and distortion.”

Lashing out at the government, Singhvi alleged that these agencies are feeding information like Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi being asked to appear before the concerned agencies to the media.

He went on to add, “When all of my grievances are kept open to be raised there in the IT department, including my grievance that jurisdictionally the department had no reason to believe to issue the notice in the first place. Then why should I argue before the writ court? Where did you get this order that the IT dept will do this and that. Where did you get that Mr so and so and Mrs so and so should appear. Is this fair reporting? Is this the fair conduct of govt agencies?”

The proceedings

The Congress also claimed that Young India, which has Congress President Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi are principal stakeholders, had approached the High Court and raised some jurisdictional issues regarding the IT proceedings and reassessment notices. Sensing the mood of the judges, the Congress withdrew its writ petition after being satisfied with the court order.

The two-bench judge of Justice S Murlidhar and Justice Chander Shekhar said that they are not inclined to entertain the writ petition and it would be better if it is withdrawn. The bench directed Young India to approach the Income Tax Assessing Officer to raise its grievances and submit the necessary documents. The court went on to add if not satisfied, Young India can then move the court.

Meanwhile, Singhvi said that they approached the court claiming that the department had no jurisdiction issuing this notice or even reopening the proceedings “because as per the statute the department has no reason to believe which is essential condition to reopen proceedings”.

“The HC observes to us that all the points which we have raised in the writ in HC can be raised by Young India before the dept including the point that dept had no reason to believe to reopen. So the court put to us that why do you come here, why don't you go to the department because you can raise the questions before the department,” he added.

He went on to add that thereafter his statement was recorded and the court “expressly” gave him the liberty that all points raised by Singhvi in the writ in the court can be raised in the department, including the jurisdictional point that the department had no reason to issue a notice. “Because of that I withdrew the writ. This is the order. Is this what you have been told? The unsigned note circulated by terrified government proxies is using all adjectives. Some are even saying there is direction by court to IT Dept to investigate. Please produce the order today and we will apologise for this. Is this not contempt of order?” asked Singhvi.

A non profit group

Congress said that it is proud to be associated with National Herald which according to the party spokesperson stood up for the free speech during the pre-Independence era when the British were stiffing and throttling free speech “very similar to present day climate”. “NH stood up for certain ideals and we fully support with pride this initiative,” Singhvi added.

Calling Young India a not-for-profit organisation that only runs a newspaper, Congress' chief spokesperson said, “No one can withdraw a single rupee of profit, salary or dividend from it or benefit from it in any manner as per the Companies Act.” Even Singhvi echoed similar sentiments and claimed that the Section 25 of the Companies Act prohibits payment of dividend, penury and perks.

The Income Tax department served notices to Young India after BJP MP Subramanian Swamy filed a case against the Gandhis accusing them of misappropriating Associate Journals Limited's funds while transferring their shares to Young India. Swamy accused the Gandhis along with four others of paying only Rs 50 lakh which led to Young India getting the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which the AJL owed to the Congress.

First published: 12 May 2017, 20:11 IST