Where nothing is for free

Sampad Patnaik | SIMC Ink

Tremors in the Indian judiciary recently went unnoticed because of the earthquakes in politics. With the Raja-Radia story grabbing half the news space of any paper or channel, a spark that can cause future conflagrations was not even noticed.

Earlier, justice in India was mostly delayed and sometimes in the process, denied.  Now it is openly sold. In 2007, Vodafone acquired a 67 percent stake in Hutchinson Essar to create Vodafone Essar.

The deal, costing Vodafone a staggering 55,000 crores, seemed to be worth every penny as Vodafone International BV is now the fattest cat in the telecom world. Indian income tax authorities demanded 11,218 crores from the deal as capital gains tax which the company refused to pay, citing that the transaction took place on foreign soil.

The Bombay High Court saw merit in the Government’s argument and validated the imposition of the tax. Determined to keep its purse strings closed, Vodafone went knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court.

The apex court asked Vodafone to first deposit 2500 crores within three weeks before the hearing took place. The Director General of International Taxation asked the court permission to withdraw the 2500 crores with the undertaking that should Vodafone win the case; the Government would return the money with interest. However the loophole in this hasty commitment was haste itself.

The SC, agreeing to the DGIT’s demand, made it clear that it too wanted a piece of the pie. A commission of 1 percent or Rs 25 crores was demanded by the SC as fees for services rendered. This sent tax mandarins into a huddle to determine how on earth they were to make such a payment.

The SC has decided to use the money to revamp its own infrastructure which is on the brink of a complete collapse. Though the ends may seem justified the means are still questionable. The very idea of a Court to charge for justice is blasphemous to say the least.

Further, court fee costs collected by the SC in the past have always gone to the Consolidated Fund of the Government of India that allocates budgets for the apex court.

Now, with the SC demanding money for infrastructural needs, it can be safely anticipated that it would not hand over the money to the CFI.

Not only is it a breach of protocol but also a cause for concern as to how much of the money will not be siphoned off into stashes already piled sky high.

So as the Courts start bartering justice, politicos fleece the system with the executive doing the handholding, it is only the common man who is not laughing his way to the bank.



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