New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has sought to know whether the adjudicating authority under the new benami law has passed any order on Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain’s plea to cross-examine witnesses in connection with the alleged benami case against him.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher issued the direction on Jain’s plea seeking a stay on the proceedings before the adjudicating authority on the grounds that the Initiating Officer’s order to provisionally attach the assets allegedly belonging to him was passed without allowing him to cross-examine witnesses.
Advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, appearing for Jain, submitted he has not been given any opportunity of cross-examination of witnesses, whose statements have been blindly relied upon to arrive at the findings.
“The entire proceedings before the adjudicating authority were illegal as various witness testimonies that have been recorded are not being provided to the petitioner.
“It is trite law that fair hearing includes supply of all documents, whether they have been relied upon or not, at the time of final adjudication,” the minister has said in his plea.
He contended that the “denial of an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses, on whose statements reliance has been placed, is contrary to all canons and principles of natural justice and fair play”.
The counsel also claimed that his application before the adjudicating authority to cross-examine the witnesses has neither been allowed nor dismissed.
Opposing the minister’s contention, the counsel for the authorities said that once the adjudicating authority passes the order, the minister will have an opportunity to appeal against it.
However, the bench observed that “how can it be that the adjudicating authority neither accepted the application for cross-examination of the witnesses, nor decided it”.
“Prima facie it seems to be very odd,” the court said and fixed the matter for further hearing on February 21.
According to Jain, the alleged benami transactions, from the proceeds of which the attached assets were claimed to have been purchased, took place between 2011 to March 31, 2016 and hence, the amendment which came into effect in November 2016 would not apply.
His lawyers sought that either the proceedings under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act be stayed or the adjudicating authority be directed not to pass a final order till his petition in the high court is finally decided.
Hundreds of bighas of land and other assets worth over Rs 30 crore, allegedly purchased in and around Delhi by four firms, have been provisionally attached by the department under the new benami law which carries a maximum punishment of up to seven years of rigorous jail term and a hefty penalty.
Under the Act, an Initiating Officer have been notified to conduct an inquiry or investigation regarding benami transactions.
The Initiating Officer will refer the case to the Adjudicating Authority which will examine all documents and evidence relating to the matter and then pass an order on whether or not to hold the property as benami.