Dera chief Gurmeet Raam Rahim is serving jail term.
Orders have been issued for recovery of about Rs 350 crore from the Dera Sacha Sauda following an investigation carried out by Income Tax department, Centre on Friday informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The investigation into the tax returns filed by Sirsa-based Dera was carried out in pursuance to an order passed by the High Court.
The statement was made by Additional Solicitor General Satya Pal Jain in a case in which a full bench is at present hearing arguments regarding the question of recovery of damages for the destruction of property in Haryana and Punjab following the conviction of Dera chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case on August 25 in 2017.
Last month, the I-T department had sought court’s permission to recover the dues as recoverable under the Income Tax Act from the Dera and its associate entities. The court had been informed that the main issues, which have been found during their audit of the Dera entities include purchase of land and luxury vehicles, unexplained credit balances in the bank, cash deposits and commercial activities in the Dera. In August 2017, HC had stayed the sale, transfer, alienation or encumbrance of the Dera properties after it said that a decision will be taken whether damages can be recovered from the Dera for the arson caused by its followers.
During the hearing, the bench also asked Haryana regarding the source of income of Dera. “How are they thriving and then posing a threat to the society,” asked the bench, adding it wants rough estimates of Dera’s property. Haryana government Friday told the court that about Rs 18 crore in damages have been claimed by private citizens and the state also has estimated its loss to be above Rs 100 crore.
On Friday, Senior Advocate and amicus curiae Anupam Gupta resumed his arguments in the case regarding the law laid down for recovery of the damages - that whether it can be recovered from the Dera. During the hearing, heated arguments were witnessed between Gupta and one of the judges as the amicus at one time was asked to come to facts of the case and the attracted principles in the matter. Gupta refused and submitted he cannot answer in one lines instead of delving into the evolution of principles and citing different judgments.
Gupta during the hearing almost recused from the case as an amicus and while addressing one of the judges remarked that a “deplorable lack of patience” was being shown. However, bench was soon able to convince Gupta to resume his arguments as he was asked: “Give us new principles. You have the capacity and intellectual acumen. Take us from darkness to light...” The hearing continued amicably later. The arguments are likely to conclude next week.
The full bench also asked amicus to address it regarding the applicability of Article 215, which pertains to contempt of court proceedings, in the case after it asked whether the violence in Panchkula outside the court complex would also amount to obstruction of justice. The court also asked whether the principle of compensatory damages can be applied in the case or punitive or exemplary damages.
The question regarding the loss of lives on August 25 in Panchkula and Sirsa again was raised on Friday as the bench asked whether any legal heirs had made any representation in the case or to the state regarding any compensation. During the previous hearing also, the court had asked about the 36 deaths and observed that most of the time people who are part of the mob are unaware about the reason behind such a gathering.
Punjab AG asked to assist on next hearing
During the hearing, an Assistant Advocate General of Punjab was unable to answer a court query regarding the impact of violence in Punjab and sought time to assist the court. The Bench said the case is a serious matter and called for a senior counsel from Punjab to appear instead. Later, the court asked an Additional Advocate General, who appeared in place of the Assistant AG, to ask the AG to remain present on the next date of hearing.