Centre moves Supreme Court over clarification on arrest powers of GST officers

Centre moves Supreme Court over clarification on arrest powers of GST officers

Shruti Mahajan

The Central government has moved the Supreme Court seeking a clarification on the powers of the officers under the Central Goods and Service Tax Act (GST Act) to arrest accused persons without the filing of First Information Report (FIR).

In two Special Leave Petitions, the Central government has challenged the orders of the Bombay High Court in this regard. The High Court had held that an accused cannot be arrested without following the procedure as laid down under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), especially the requirement of registration of an FIR. The accused persons in the concerned cases were, therefore, granted interim relief by the High Court. The same has now been challenged by the Centre in Supreme Court.

It has been contended that a trend has emerged wherein persons accused in economic offences challenge the Constitutional validity of the statutory provisions under which they are charged.

“The UOI has observed that there is a growing tendency and a practice of short-circuiting the procedure established by law by individuals being investigated for economic offences by filing writ petitions, challenging the constitutional validity of each every provision, they being investigated under and seeking either regular bail or a custodial bail.”

However, there exists a difference of opinion on this issue among the High Courts, the petition points out. When relief was sought by one PV Ramana Reddy before the Telangana High Court while challenging the provisions relating to power to arrest under the CGST Act, the High Court had upheld the authority of the Commissioner of GST to make such arrests and had refused to grant any interim relief. The petition thus states,

“Therefore, it is clear that there is a difference of opinion between various High Court in the country, and it is imperative for this Hon’ble Court, to hear the present matter.

The Centre has also contended that the provisions under the CrPC, especially those under Sections 154 to 157, and Section 172 would not apply to officers of the GST as these Sections specifically use the word “Police”. It is submitted that officers under the CGST Act are officers of the Revenue as held by the Supreme Court in various other cases, and are not Police officers.

The assailed orders of the Bombay High Court have the effect of “re-writing the provision as contained in Section 69 of the CGST Act, 2017”, the petition states. The directions of the High Court have rendered the statutory provisions under CGST Act “ineffective, nugatory and meaningless”, the Central government contends.

The Court is scheduled to hear this matter on Wednesday, May 29. In a boost to the Centre on this subject, the Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Aniruddha Bose dismissed the petition filed by PV Ramana Reddy challenging the decision of the Telangana High Court which had upheld the power of the Commissioner of CGST to make arrests.

Read the Order:

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