SC raps Centre over transfer of tax cases from high courts

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The Supreme Court turned down the Union government’s plea to transfer a clutch of cases relating to reassessment notices sent under the Income Tax Act from various high courts to the top court, observing that the Centre must stop this “practice of convenience”.

“Is it a matter of convenience for the Union government to bring all matters to the Supreme Court? You want all the cases to come here and, in the process, you ensure no other court can proceed. Aren’t the high courts also constitutional courts? Why can’t they hear and decide a case?” a bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana asked additional solicitor general (ASG) Balbir Singh.

Singh, appearing for the central board of direct taxes (CBDT), had requested the Supreme Court to transfer to itself several hundreds of petitions pending before the high courts of Bombay and Calcutta on the validity of notices issued to several entities under the old provisions of Section 148 of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The ASG emphasised there are more than one lakh notices issued under Section 148 of the old Act.

Singh maintained that the high courts have stayed the revenue department’s notices in all these cases and that an authoritative ruling by the top court could help the situation since different high courts may end up laying down different judgments.

But the bench, which also included justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, was livid at the Centre’s attempt to bring all the cases to the top court.

“Why do you do this in every case? This has become a forum of convenience for the central government, we think. You also force all the litigants to come to the Supreme Court who want high courts to decide. We will have to stop this practice,” the bench told Singh.

“You withdraw this and seek your remedies before the high court. We will not entertain it here. We will rather have the advantage of the high court judgment,” said the bench, compelling the ASG to withdraw the transfer petition.

The Centre earlier this year moved the Supreme Court seeking transfer of several batch of cases relating to separate aspects of the 2021 Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules from various high courts to the top court.

In March, the government sought transfer of cases relating to regulating content of releases on over-the-top platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar, and Zee5.

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