Published On : Wed, Aug 10th, 2016

“Don’t rob the poor to benefit the super-rich” pleads Talathi Khobragade. But who is listening?

IMG_8255-3Nagpur: “He is a crackpot. Don’t take him seriously!” Warn many people, including very senior IAS officers. And then they add ” the matter is in the highest Court” ( and many lower courts as well) “let law take its course.”

Nagpur Today is curious. If this man Khobragade is a crackpot, how come the courts have taken his petitions seriously? How come a five member bench of the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court, is deliberating upon his Public interest litigation, filed on behalf of ALL common citizens of India?

This lean, thin and very ordinary looking man has a very logical question, which is at the bottom of his long legal campaign of 20+ years.

“If the poorest Indian, even a Coolie pays taxes when he buys even a water pouch, why are the richest in the land, BIG Companies like GMR who are running Delhi and Banglore airports, the Birlas owning Manekgadh Cement and L&T and many others evading thousands of crores in taxes?”

At last count, just one Company Karnataka Emta , owes 90,000 crores on coal it has mined illegally. In numericals 90,000 crores is – Rs. 90,00,00,00,000…. a figure that even a calculator will not take.

How and why this illegal mining has occured we have written about earlier.  ( Read : 90,000 crores and counting – how the loot and plunder of Chandrapur continues unabated in Fadnavis Govt, too? )

What we want to focus on today is what a long and solo battle this Talathi has been carrying on ever since he was recruited as a junior Talathi over two decades ago.

IMG_20160809_134320Since he was a Revenue officer he knew all the activities that went on in his area- when MIDC acquired land under Land Acquisition Act without making a ‘saat baara’, when they sold land they had bought for just Rs. 1500 per acre from farmers at prices between Rs. 50 – 60 lakhs to Corporates without the farmers getting any compensations or ‘Project affected people’ status.

And since even this deal is not formalized, on paper it is still the farmer who is owner of the land, so the Mining Company or the Power Company ( Wardha Power Company) has paid none of the taxes like land revenue, Zillah Parishad tax, Gram Panchayat tax, Wadhiv tax, Surface rate tax, Mining tax and over it all the penalty for having avoided taxes all these years.

And since they are not legal owners of the lands they are mining, they pay no taxes on the coal they are mining and selling at good prices.

Talathi Khobragade was very disturbed at these evasions and ‘tax chori’. He first tried to bring it to the notice of his superiors like District Collector, Police officers and others. They paid no attention and asked him to ‘ignore’ it too.

Unable to do so, Khobragade did some seizures on his own. He apprehended trucks loaded with coal/ soil/ sand etc. from time to time and fined the companies in lakhs. They paid up.

This way this Talathi acting on his own ‘earned’ at least a crore in missed revenues for his district in a few years. How was he rewarded for this? He was suspended from duty – without any notice or citing any reason! On 13.7.2012 Khobragade was suspended by SDO Warora when some local press carried reports of the ‘tax chori’ by getting information about it through RTI. Khobragade was suspected of leaking the incriminating information since he was the only one making a hue and cry about it.

On 23rd July 2012, Khobragade got an audience with the then C.M. Prithviraj Chauhan and Finance Minister Thorat to defend himself against the suspension. They found him blameless and revoked his suspension with a written order immediately.

Ironically, on the same day, a V.P. of Emta mining wrote a letter congratulating the District Collector for taking the ‘bold step’ of suspending Khobragade since they blamed him for spreading “malicious rumours” about them in the press. They tried to sue him for defamation but their case was turned down by the courts as baseless.

By now Khobragade had realized that none of his superiors were interested in curbing or controlling the illegal mining and collecting taxes due to the government so he began approaching various courts on his own.

The first time he faced a Magistrate he was asked “why is a Talathi fighting such an important case? Why not any of your Superiors?”

Khobragade replied that if not as a Revenue officer, even as an ordinary citizen of the country he has the right to approach a Magistrate (JMFC) under Cr PC 190 (C) if he finds any wrong doing by anyone that is harming the country’s interest. The Magistrate had to admit the case.

Thus Khobragade kept taking up the issue through successive courts till he reached the Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench. As a consequence of his actions finally on 10.3.2014 Wardha Mining Company was fined Rs. 32,99,70,390/ for evasion of taxes FOR JUST ONE SINGLE YEAR.

But even this court did not take suo moto notice of the ‘tax chori’ of all the preceeding years and fine Wardha Mining and others as they should have been.

Through it all, Khobragade learnt not to place faith even in Advocates appointed by him. (One chap he had appointed by paying him Rs. 40,000 by taking out a loan against his PF ditched him at the last minute after he was ‘seduced’ by big lucre by the big boys!) So he became a lawyer himself.

Not quite satisfied by the reactions of the High Court, Khobragade finally decided to move the Supreme Court. He did not know anyone to approach so he went to Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was then with AAP. He refused to take the case making the excuse that he was very busy.

Then Khobragade happened to meet Advocate Manoj Gorkhela from Uttarakhand who got other lawyers on board like Mrudula Bhardwaj, Nagendra Rai, former Justice of Patna High Court, Gupta, former Justice of Rajasthan High Court and Rakesh Kumar of Bihar. All these senior lawyers are fighting the case pro bono and have succeeded in reducing court fees and other expenses seeing the national significance of the case.

As we mentioned earlier a five member bench of the Supreme court is hearing this landmark case which will surely go down in the annals of Indian history as a landmark one.

Since this is the first time that a common citizen has submitted a Special Leave petition against the Principal Secretary of the Country and the Govt of India for huge losses suffered by the people of India when big corporates did not pay taxes to the tune of Rs. 90,000 crores + +

Khobragade rues the fact that subsequent governments of UPA and then NDA are both siding with and shielding the wrong doers equally.

After illegal mining done by Emta has been proved and it has been blacklisted on former orders of the SC ( in another criminal case against the Mining mafia) Energy Minister Piyush Goyal still gave fresh mining Contracts to the company, under another name.

An important and startling fact –

Maharashtra State today is burdened with loans of Rs.3,57,000 crores where interest paid per day is Rs. 78/ crores. This makes the burden per citizen of Maharashtra at Rs. 44,000/ per year.

Why are we repaying this loan which we had no hand in applying for and benefiting from?

And, on the other hand, why are very rich Corporates getting away with Tax chori of thousands of crores?

Whose country is it anyway???

Sunita Mudliyar ( Associate Editor )
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