Official documents in this country are both a pain and a pleasure to wade through. They are a pain because they are verbose, repetitive, often replete with mistakes and written in a language which often makes no sense as if the main purpose was to discourage people from reading them. But they can also be a pleasure because if one perseveres, they often provide you with nuggets of information and even wisdom.
Of late, I have been struggling to read through the 50-page order of the Income Tax Settlement Commission (ITSC) which was approached by Sahara India Ltd against the Income Tax Department. The later had raided Sahara’s premises in GK-1 and Noida in November 2014 and in January 2015, and seized computers, printouts, loose papers, pen drives, hard discs etc along with ₹137 crore in cash and bullion and jewellery worth ₹86 lakh.
As has been reported earlier, the ITSC accepted the company’s contention that loose papers etc. which indicated it had disbursed ₹113 crore in cash to over 100 politicians of several political parties during 2013-14 ahead of the general election were fabricated by an employee, Sachin Pawar and should not be taken seriously.
In a delightful passage, the order records what Sahara Group Chairman Subrata Roy told the Income Tax Department when it approached him in Tihar Jail in 2015 to record his statement. “As I have already stated that neither M/S Sahara India nor any other entity of the Sahara Group indulges in unaccounted cash transactions; why Sri Sachin Pawar made this record is better known to him.”
The disclaimer is delightful because the Group’s ledgers and account books submitted to the Income Tax Department revealed that the Group had transferred as much as ₹318 crore as cash imprest to its Delhi offices between 2009-10 and 2015-16, much of it handled by Sachin Pawar.
Year after year the employees including Pawar, Ajay Johri and others seem to have received astronomical amounts in cash to meet contingencies. But at the end of each financial year, the ledgers revealed, they would return the entire cash imprest to the Group’s head office in Lucknow
That is not all. Year after year the employees including Pawar, Ajay Johri and others seem to have received astronomical amounts in cash to meet contingencies. But at the end of each financial year, the ledgers revealed, they would return the entire cash imprest to the Group’s head office in Lucknow. Pawar for example received ₹14.22 crore in cash under Imprest account between April 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011; but the entire amount was returned without incurring any expenditure, the Group claimed.
In the year 2013-14, however, Pawar was given an even higher amount in cash, ₹52.30 crore in fact records the order. And while much of it tallied with the payoffs to politicians mentioned in the papers seized, the Group claimed that the entire money had been returned by him at the end of the year without incurring any expenditure whatsoever!
The importance of Sachin Pawar to the Sahara Group can also be seen in the number of mobile handsets at his disposal, eight of them as opposed to seven with VS Dogra who he was reporting to ! Now the loose papers, Excel sheets etc seized by the Income Tax Department were all said to have been prepared by Pawar to “implicate and expose” Dogra who was allegedly ill-treating him and others by making them work “ for long and odd hours which was affecting their family life”.
Sahara wanted the ITSC to believe that papers which showed that the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was delivered cash worth over ₹40 crore on nine different occasions was meant to ‘expose’ either Dogra or his driver Dara Singh or his personal assistant Jaiswalji who had apparently delivered the amounts on different occasions to ‘Modi Ji’
So the company wanted the ITSC to believe that papers which showed that the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was delivered cash worth over ₹40 crore on nine different occasions was meant to ‘expose’ either Dogra or his driver Dara Singh or his personal assistant Jaiswalji who had apparently delivered the amounts on different occasions to ‘Modi Ji’. Or to one ‘Jain Ji’ at the BJP office on Ashoka Road to whom an amount of Rupees five crore was said to have been delivered. This was fabricated by Pawar to settle scores and ensure that Dogra and others are given marching orders by the company, it claimed.
What’s still not clear is how Dogra could be implicated by details of payoffs which date back to October, 2013 and end in April, 2014. The counting of votes of the 2014 General Elections was, of course, done on May 16. And if claims made by Sahara is to be believed, the Excel sheets were prepared on a single day, April 24, 2014 by Pawar, seven months before they were seized by Income Tax.
While Common Cause lawyer Prashant Bhushan has been demanding that location of people named in the papers be reconciled with the dates of delivery mentioned in the loose papers, it is doubtful if the compromised people and even the phones or call detail records will be found.
The order has several other revealing insights. But what is possibly most intriguing is the Commission’s inability to decide whether the seizure was made from B-41, Greater Kailash-1, New Delhi or from B-14. Both these addresses are mentioned in a number of separate paragraphs. Could it just indicate merely a shoddy job or is there more to it than meets the eye?
Uttam Sengupta is Executive Editor of National Herald. He tweets at @chatukhor