Ex ASG Bishwajit Bhattacharyya pens memoirs; Says Central Agency’s handling government’s litigation ‘shockingly callous’
Bar & Bench News Network
Nov 19, 2012
Former Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of India Bishwajit Bhattacharyya (appointed specifically to represent the Government in indirect taxation cases), released a book titled ‘My experience with the office of Additional Solicitor General of India’. The book was released a day after he retired as ASG-Indirect Tax.
In his book, Bishwajit talks candidly about his experiences and ordeals while holding the post of ASG and also exposes shocking details on how the Central Agency (that handles the government litigation) is managing its tax cases worth thousands of crores in the courts.
Bishwajit had served for three years as the ASG and his term ended on November 9, 2012.
Speaking to Bar & Bench on his decision to write this book, Bishwajit said. “I decided to write this book on July 4, 2012. This was the day when perhaps for the first time in my tenure of 32 months, no brief was marked to me. From that day I thought I was perhaps not wanted and the trend continued like this.”
In his book he has said, “I sensed clearly that keeping an ASG (Indirect Taxes) idle and marking indirect taxes to others means that I was clearly not wanted. I felt humiliated”. So the fact that he suddenly found himself without any new work prompted him to write this book.
As soon as Bishwajit decided to pen down this book, he spoke to a publisher and promised him that the manuscript would be ready by September 30, as he wanted to release the book on November 10, a day after he retired as ASG. Bishwajit said that it took him exactly 79 days to complete the manuscript and it was ready on September 20 even before he had completed his term as ASG.
On being asked whether he had any new cases marked to him in these last few months, Bishwajit said, “No fresh cases were marked except few old cases.”
Bishwajit said, “My only target as ASG was to narrow down the fiscal deficit and I think I have achieved it to some extent and you can see the same in my book”.
Talking about his experience as ASG, he said “It was a tremendous experience, very fulfilling. I am a transformed person. They have converted me into a direct tax expert. First six months, I virtually worked as ASG (Direct Taxes) though I was appointed as ASG (Indirect taxes). So this trend of allocating me direct taxes matter continued in blatant violation of my presidential notification which clearly stated that I was appointed as ASG (Indirect Taxes).”
Bishwajit in his book has written, “I had opened my innings as ASG-Indirect Tax with a Direct Tax matter! My colleagues in the Bar told me not to make this an issue, as I could do little about it. None could question the marking of the briefs, I was told. The analogy given was: ‘The King can do no wrong’! But who was the King? Who was calling the shots? What was the basis of marking? Was there any guideline?”
He told Bar & Bench that the marking of the briefs was most arbitrary and erratic. “It is non transparent and some vested interests were instructing the senior officer of the Law Ministry who heads the Central Agency in this regard”, he added.
Another nightmare that lasted for eight months after joining as ASG’s office was that he had no office, no clerk, no peon and no place to sit. He carried files in the boot of his car and held his conferences with the briefing panel in the Bar Library because he had no other place to sit.
But his nightmares did not end here. He said, “What was most surprising and indeed shocking was that I found in crucial cases some important pages were invariably missing or that the full brief was not given or that briefs were delivered invariably late at night leaving little or no time to read the briefs.”
“Dissatisfaction came only when in the last four months I was made to sit idle and that compelled me to write this book. In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise”, he added.
Listing out the chronic ailments in the Central Agency in his book, Bishwajit said, “Such was the shockingly callous state of affairs. My protests obviously fell into deaf ears. No one bothered whether the government’s interest was jeopardised or not was the least of all concerns of persons who mattered.”
“In my perception, there has always been total anarchy in the Central Agency without any accountability. This I witnessed for almost three years. However, knowing that Central Agency was incorrigible, I decided to argue matters in the court with whatever material I had, since they would not provide me with full set of applications.”
Bishwajit said, “I was hoping that the Attorney General would call a meeting of all the Law Officers. I was hoping that in the said meetings I would vent my feelings in the best interest of the government. But not one single meeting was called by the AG during my tenure”.
“I think it is only in order to ‘escape’ from being asked uncomfortable questions that such meetings were never held,” he further said.
“Apart from adverse functioning of the Central Agency in jeopardizing the interest of the Revenue, the department also has been causing delay during the process of filing appeals/petitions. Revenue’s interest is being seriously jeopardized because of huge delays, which are totally avoidable.
Even former CJI SH Kapadia expressed exasperation at the repeated delay being caused by income tax department in filing appeals in the Supreme Court, contrary to department’s interest”, said Bishwajit.
Bishwajit in the end said, “My fight is against the entire system and not a particular person”.
“Till today after functioning as ASG for almost three years I don’t know how cases are marked, who marks them and the basis of marking! The entire exercise is shrouded in non-transparency! It smacks of arbitrariness in the extreme!” he said.