Assistant commissioner suspended, deputy commissioner transferred after former allegedly asked businessman for money on latter’s behalf
Goods and Services Tax Bhavan, Mazagaon. Pic/Ashish Raje
Days after a scam worth Rs 150 crore was exposed in the state’s GST department, a case of bribery has emerged. An assistant commissioner was suspended for allegedly demanding Rs 1 crore in cash for his superior from a businessman to settle a case of pending tax. After the bribe demand, the businessman filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court against Assistant Commissioner Arjun Suryawanshi and his superior, Deputy Commissioner Mohan Bagde, who work at GST Bhavan, Mazagaon.
The case involves Dhiraj Pandey, who owns Dhiraj Petrochemical, a company with an office in Navi Mumbai. According to sources in the GST department, the company had an outstanding tax of up to Rs 24 crore. Towards the end of July, the GST department raided the company’s office and seized documents.
Despite several reminders to pay the outstanding tax at the earliest, Pandey allegedly ignored calls and messages from officials and refused to budge. GST officials consistently visited Dhiraj Petrochemical office and Pandey’s home. They then allegedly passed on a message to Pandey that until he came to the table for a ‘solution’, the raids would continue. Pandey finally asked the officials what they expected
In the first week of September, Suryawanshi, assistant commissioner of tax, allegedly demanded R1 crore from Pandey through a WhatsApp message. Suryawanshi’s message allegedly reads, “R1 crore cash Sir ko”. The ‘Sir’ in the message allegedly alludes to, Bagde. The message prompted Pandey to approach the HC with a writ petition against the GST officials.
High court’s orders
The first hearing, in the courtroom of Justices Jitendra Jain and G S Kulkarni, took place on September 12, wherein the court observed, “This is a gross case of abuse of powers and the authority vested with Assistant Commissioner of State Tax, Investigation Branch (C), in collusion with Deputy Commissioner of State Tax, Investigation Branch (C). We have been pointed out the mobile/WhatsApp exchange of messages where openly Assistant Commissioner has demanded an amount of R1 crore from the petitioners. This is something which would shock our conscience.”
“Prima facie the material as shown to us appears to be quite glaring, if this be so, it is for the Head of the Department or the Secretary of the concerned department to act with utmost expediency. In our prima facie opinion, the exchanges of messages are of the nature amounting to sufficient material for an offence being committed by a public servant, attracting the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988,” the court observed.
“We expect an appropriate position to be taken against the concerned officers, on verification of such material,” the HC said in its order. Following the hearing, Suryawanshi was suspended on September 12, Bagde was transferred to another department, and an investigation into the alleged demand for bribe was tasked with the joint commissioner (investigation, B wing). The court also ordered a scrutiny of the officers’ past conduct by the vigilance department. Pandey, and his advocate Aniketh Poojari, refused to comment, saying the matter is pending in court. The case will be heard next on October 3.
Nitin Patil, special commissioner, GST, said, “We have submitted our response and action has been taken by the department as per the HC order. An investigation is in progress under the observation of the HC.”
Rs 24 cr
Dhiraj Petrochemical’s pending GST