No Compulsion shall be put on Individuals to give evidence after Office Hours in GST Cases: Jharkhand HC [Read Order]

It was noted that a person called for giving evidence or to produce a document or any other thing in any inquiry is under a duty to speak truth.

Recently, a Division Bench of the Jharkhand High Court has ruled that Goods and Services Tax officers should not compel individuals summoned under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act to give statements after office hours. Salona Mittal, the petitioner’s counsel, referenced Section 50 of the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act, 2002, which is similar to Section 70 of the Goods and Services Tax. Mittal cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Vijay Madanlal Choudhary v. Union of India, where it was determined that officers under the PMLA are not police officers and do not exercise powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Supreme Court concluded that a person summoned under Section 50 is not considered an accused, and their statements do not count as confessions, thus not protected by Article 20(3) of the Constitution. Mittal also mentioned the FAQs on Goods and Services Tax on the CBIC website, which outline the guidelines for issuing summons and the precautions to be taken. Additionally, the Goods and Services Tax Intelligence and Investigation Manual, 2023, details procedures for interrogation and recording statements, emphasising that such statements should be recorded during office hours. The Court, in line with the instruction outlined in the manual, which specifies that statements should be recorded during office hours, noted that  the GST officers should follow the guidelines and instructions issued by the Commissioner (GST-Investigation) and the CBIC while summoning a person by exercising the powers under Section 70 of the Goods and Services Tax Act.  However, the Court noted that the Commissioner (GST-Investigation) has interpreted the “exception” in clause (iv) to permit after-hours statements in cases where there is a risk of individuals absconding or where arrests may occur. The division bench, including Acting Chief Justice Shree Chandrashekhar and Justice Navneet Kumar, stated, “In our opinion, the proper officer under the Goods and Services Tax should not be requiring or forcing or coercing a person so summoned to give a statement after the office hours.” Ultimately, the Court directed Goods and Services Tax officers to follow the guidelines and instructions from the Commissioner (Goods and Services Tax-Investigation) and the CBIC when summoning individuals under Section 70 of the Goods and Services Tax Act.

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