The Gujarat high court on Wednesday condemned state GST officials for camping at a trader’s house for eight days and said that the officers were liable to be punished under the Indian Penal Code. A bench of Justice Harsha Devani and Justice Sangeeta Vishen held that intimidating the trader’s family to extort confessions was tantamount to an offense under section 348 of IPC wrongful confinement to extort confession or compel restoration of the property.
This is punishable with a jail term of up to three years. The matter involved Paresh Chauhan, who is behind bars at present. The goods & services tax officers conducted a search on his premises and stayed at his house from October 10 to October 18, 2019. The stay came to an end only after the HC issued a notice deeming their stay at Chauhan’s house illegal. His relatives were kept under house arrest with SRP guards outside 24X7. His relatives were not permitted to leave home without permission.
This incident shocked the HC and it said, “It would be failing in its duty as a sentinel on the qui vive [meaning ‘on the alert or lookout’] if it were to turn a blind eye to the violation of the legal and fundamental rights of citizens by authoritarianism and remain a mute spectator.” The court said that it passed the order “to curb any further abuse of powers in this manner by the authorities under the GST Acts”. The court opined that the GST officials’ work could have been concluded on Day 1, but they chose to stay for eight days with the SRP outside the house to scare the family. This is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced, the court said. It further said, “No provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, for investigation, search or seizure, empowers a police officer to remain a moment longer at any premises once the search is over.”
The HC said that the officials were trying to extract information from the family members, and not to trace hidden documents. The officials already had information about documents secreted by Chauhan when they talked to his mother and took away her phone, but they did not bother to use the details. The HC observed, “In this case, all statutory requirements are thrown to the winds and in flagrant violation of the powers vested in them, the concerned officers have resided in the residential premises of the petitioner for eight days and confined and intimidated his family members…This is nothing but blatant abuse of powers.”