This is not a piece of fiction. This is a true story I have encountered in the course of my work. Of course names have been changed.
I work in the Indian Customs. Posted at Sahar International Airport, I am the Assistant Commissioner in-charge of the Tax Recovery Cell of the AirCargo Customs Commissionerate, among other sections..
Two cases have always struck my imagination. The amounts involved are inconsequential to the story, but I shall mention them nonetheless.
Party- M/s Prachi Overseas. Offence: Undervaluation of knitted garments. Amount involved: 50, 000 Rs (a paltry sum for a commissionerate which churns out revenue in excess of 7500 crores annually.)
Offender : Mr Vikram Ved
My officers had visited his house, a little known lane in Nallasopara East. Later recollecting the visit, my officers spoke thus.
“ Sir. There was absolutely nothing in his house. I don’t even think he has an attached toilet. Except one old Videocon TV, nothing is worth even a second look. His wife is there sir. Old lady with arthritis I think. She can’t even walk properly. Always is in pain. He has a son who works in a call centre. Except for a French beard, that boy doesn’t have any airs of a Call centre employee or a Bombay chap. Vikram Ved is also not doing well. He has had a cataract operation recently and is suffering from some kidney problem it seems. He was thin and frail. But very cooperative sir. He offered us tea and all”
After receiving the demand notice, Mr Vikram Ved turned up at my office three days after the visit. He had asked for a personal appointment to which I agreed instantly.
“Sir. I have nothing to do with Prachi Overseas. It was a friend of mine who was doing this fraud. He gave me five thousand rupees and took my ration card. I didn’t know that he forged my signature, procured an Import –Export Code and was running this smuggling racket. Finally he was arrested and the case was decided. The Commissioner imposed a penalty on me also because the import was carried out on my name. I am innocent sir. Or only guilty to the extent of falling prey to the lure of quick money. I am not a smuggler. I am a respectable man. It was so horrible to have government officers to knock on my doors like this”
“But Mr Ved. The adjudication is final. There is a confirmed penalty of Rs 50,000 against your personal self in this order. We cannot disregard this. Nor can you. You will have to pay this amount. Now tell me. When you can make the payment?”
“Sir. I have nothing. Arrest me if you want. Atleast I shall get food in the jail. I have no money to pay my electricity bills right now.” He paused for a moment and spoke again “ Sir. Can I pay it in installments?”
My officer looked at me and conveyed it through his eyes that there was no provision for installments. “But there is a provision for part payments”, I smiled as I spoke.
My officer speaks up, “That circular says that a maximum of three payments are allowed.” “I know. I have read the bloody law before sitting in this chair. I have not jumped over the wall to come here.” I bark impatiently.
“Saab. I am leaving for Vapi tomorrow. I have got a small job there. I shall be earning enough to run my household. I shall make a payment everymonth. My son shall deposit it on the 5th without fail. I shall clear my dues to the Government. I am an honest citizen.”
“How much can you pay every month.?”
“Two thousand five hundred.” “ Deal”
My officer is riled and interjects, “ Sir. This is not an angaadiya where we can make such deals with offenders and make adjustments. This is not acceptable sir”
“Jaiswal. You can do as you wish when you sit in my chair. Not now. Go do your work. Where is that letter you were supposed to put up for approval? Is it hatching eggs?” I angrily throw a file into the outbox and a sepoy scurries in to carry it out.
It has been five months and I have received five payments.
Party: M/s Excelsior Engineering Amount Involved : Rs 40. 52 crores Offence: Illegal exemption on ATM parts
Offender : Jitender Seth
My officers dutifully visited the premises of the defaulting party. As my preventive officer later recollected
“ Sir. It is a big four storeyed commercial complex in Tardeo, near AC market. There are almost 20 offices there. A big name board outside reads several names sir. Jitender Marketing. Jitender Foundation, Jitender Financial Services, Jitender Real Estate”, he continued to read on as he looked at his notebook.
“As per our records, Jitender Seth is the Director of Excelsior Engineering. He owns the building sir. There are CCTVs everywhere. Clean and beautifully done lobby with artworks and all sir. You have to swipe a card to go inside sir. Full security. Wonderful building and a pretty receptionist also.
“Can you stop drooling over the building and tell me details useful for us.? Did you get the deed of the building? Ownership agreement.? Atleast an electricity bill?”
“They were not very cooperative. Everyone knows Jitender owns the building but no one will admit it. They didn’t even let us inside until you had spoken to the manager and threatened that non-cooperation with a government officer is an offence. They wouldn’t give any documents sir.”
“So basically, you took the departmental car and drove around Girgaum and came back?”
“No sir. We went to Jitender Seth’s apartment on Napean Sea Road. Huge building. Beautifully decorated gardens, three floor parking spaces and even a fountain inside sir.” “ Cant you stop showing me NDTV Lifestyle please?” “Sorry sir. Jitender’s manager came out and met us. He promised to give us all the documents in three days.
Two weeks later. I am on the phone with his manager. “ Mr Bhatt!! This delay in not condonable. I shall issue a summons to Mr Seth.! I am not joking. I don’t care if you have the case pending in the tribunal. You don’t have an operative stay. I can recover the money. I don’t mind selling all the property to recover government dues. I am issuing a summons right now!”
The next day, Mr Bhatt is in front of me with the bank statement of Excelsior Engineering from a bank in Thakurdwar. I utter my first mother-sister abuse of the day at him. “Six Hundred Rupees!! Are you fucking kidding me. Your company has defrauded the exchequer of 40 crores and your bank account has 600 rupees. What sort of an idiot do you think I am?”
“Jitender saab was trapped in this sir. He is innocent. He runs schools and colleges and hospitals and charities.” “ Any proof?” Silence.
“Trapped.? I have read the file. Imports were staggered over 8 months and three airports. Three clearing agents were changed. You tried to illegally clear consignments without Customs punch seal. This isn’t entrapment. This is outright smuggling. I was not taught the law yesterday. I want the deed to the Napean Sea Road house tomorrow. I am anyway issuing a summons.”
The next day I receive a call. “Karlapu saab.” “ don’t call me Karlapu. Call me Kiran Kumar.”
“ I am Jitender Seth. What is your vengeance against me? I am a Gandhian, believer in the principles of the Mahatma” “ Where did Bapu teach us to evade Customs Duty?”
“ That is in the court sir. Why are you in such a hurry? Mistakes happen. We all do them. Cool down.” “ Forty crores isn’t a mistake sir.” “ Do you Mr Rajesh Krishnan, retired Commissioner? He is my advocate in this matter. He would certainly love to meet you once. Bhatt says you are young and hardworking. Krishnan would be impressed. Come over to Cricket Club on Sunday na. We can all talk it out comfortably. He is also from the south. Tamil just like you.”
“That’s it! No one confuses me with a Tamil..” I disconnect the phone and start perusing through the draft summons. I call my officer on the intercom “ What is this? SHRI Jitender Seth? Is he your father in law? He is a fraudster. Remember that. Correct it. Write Mister.”
A week later we receive a letter from his advocate. My officer reads it while I sit, fists folded beneath my chin, as if in deep thought “Sir. You are accused of causing mental trauma to the defendant and we are accused of manhandling his staff. He blames you for the deteriorating health of his client, who after being bit by a mosquito has contracted malaria it seems sir.”
“Malaria in December.? Super!” “So he is not in a condition to honour our summons. The advocate also threatens to complain to Delhi for our high handed action and extra lawful activities. The language looks scary sir. What do we do?”
“File it and forget it” . We are still fighting this case