Dated this the 17th day of September, 2020 Vinod Chandran, J An investigation was ordered and commenced into the affairs of a group concern going under the Family name of “Chungath” all engaged in jewellery business. The appellants refute the allegation that all concerns are related since different members of a large family are carrying on separate entities. Be that as it may, the State Tax Officer at Ernakulam was entrusted with the continuation of proceedings after raids were conducted in various business premises of the group by State Tax Officers of the Investigation Wing stationed at the respective locations.
2. The petitioners, two in number in the three writ petitions have registrations respectively in the name of Rajive & Company and Rajive Paul. C, the second of whom is the Managing Partner of the first. As far as these petitioners are concerned, Rajive and Company has its Head Office at Karunagapally and branch at Thiruvananthapuram and Rajeev Paul C has its Head Office at Kollam and branch at Ernakulam. The entire accounts are handled by the Head Office which is within Kollam District. It is the prayer of the petitioners that the investigation with respect to them may be carried out by an officer at Kollam especially due to the COVID situation as also due to the voluminous documents which would have to be transported to Ernakulam. It is also submitted that two officers stationed at Thrissur are handling another set of cases, again of businesses going under the family name “Chungath” .
3. We see from the impugned common judgment that the learned Single Judge has specifically referred to the statement filed by the respondent. It is stated that at the time of inspection huge variation of stock of gold jewellery were noticed at the branch in Ernakulam and hence the books of accounts were called for. It is also specifically stated that the major volume of business was found in the branch at Ernakulam. As far as the contention that the books of accounts are maintained at the Head Office, the statement specifically relies on Section 35 of the CGST and KsGST Act, 2017 which provides for maintenance of books of accounts in the business premises itself. It is also stated that a total of 16 places of business falling under eight registrations were inspected. Of which, 11 businesses were located at Ernakulam and Thrissur District coming under the Ernakulam zone of SGST Department. The Department also submits that books of accounts being maintained in a digital format the specific ground raised by the petitioner cannot at all be countenanced. The learned Single Judge noticing these averments made on behalf of the Department declined exercise of discretion under Article 226.
4. Before us also Sri Harisankar V Menon argued on the same lines. It was also submitted that the lawyer who deals with the affairs of the petitioner’s also is located at Kollam. We do not think any of these grounds raised as negatived by the learned Single Judge or that now raised before us with respect to the location of the lawyer would advance the case of the petitioner for a transfer of the proceedings to an officer at Kollam. The officer at Ernakulam has been authorised to look into the matter specifically on the grounds stated in the statement. We do not think that the location of the lawyer can at all be a reason for the department to carry out proceedings in a particular place.
5. It is also for the Department to decide, which of its officers should continue the proceedings. The assessee cannot have a choice in the matter. The learned Counsel for the appellants would then submit that the very same officer at Ernakulam could hold sitting at Kollam and the assessee would bear the expenses. The Officer cannot be independently asked to concentrate on the investigation against the petitioners since he would have other work at his office in Ernakulam. Further the officer requires the assistance of his staff and there cannot be shifting of the office as such to Kollam.
6. In the above circumstances we do not find any reason to interfere with the refusal of the Single Judge, to exercise jurisdiction under Article 226. For production of books of accounts a month’s time shall be granted from today which can also be in the digital mode. As far as the supply of copies of documents seized and intended to be relied on, the learned Single Judge has made sufficient safety measures which though not challenged, we reiterate and re-affirm.
Writ Appeals would stand dismissed in limine.