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Introduction

Authority and power to conduct search and seizure operations is strident and caustic power authorized by law to be taken recourse to when the conditions mentioned under different clauses of Section 132 (1) of the Act are satisfied.

The jurisdictional facts that have to be established before a search under Section 132 (1) of the Act can be authorized are that (i) the authority issuing the authorization is in possession of some credible information, other than surmises and conjectures (ii) that the authority has reason to believe that the conditions stipulated in clauses (a), (b) and (c) of Section 132 (1) qua the person searched exist; and (iii) the said information has nexus to such belief.

The law is well settled that a warrant of search and seizure under Section 132(1) can only be issued on the basis of some material or information on which the Commissioner/Director has reason to believe that any person is in possession of money, jewellery or other valuable articles representing wholly or partly income or property which has not been or would not be disclosed, under the IT Act. The satisfaction of the authorities under Section 132 must be on the basis of relevant material or information. The word used in Section 132(1) are "reason to believe" and not "reason to suspect".

Search and seizure provisions in the Income Tax Act, 1961 were introduced by Finance Act, 1964 and have undergone a number of amendments including substantial amendments made by the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Act, 1975 and Direct Tax Laws (Amendment) Act, 1987. Sections 132(1) and 132(1A) of the Act as they exist read as under:-

"132. (1) Where the Principal Director General or Director General or Principal Director or Director or the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner or Additional Director or Additional Commissioner or Joint Director or Joint Commissioner in consequence of information in his possession, has reason to believe that-

Post Income Tax Search and Seizure findings of incriminating material and undisclosed income

(a)

any person to whom a summons under sub-section (1) of section 37 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922 (11 of 1922), or under sub-section (1) of section 131 of this Act, or a notice under sub-section (4) of section 22 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, or under sub-section (1) of section 142 of this Act was issued to produce, or cause to be produced, any books of account or other documents has omitted or failed to produce, or cause to be produced, such books of account or other documents as required by such summons or notice, or

(b)

any person to whom a summons or notice as aforesaid has been or might be issued will not, or would not, produce or cause to be produced, any books of account or other documents which will be useful for, or relevant to, any proceeding under the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922 (11 of 1922), or under this Act, or

(c)

any person is in possession of any money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing and such money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing represents either wholly or partly income or property which has not been, or would not be, disclosed for the purposes of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922 (11 of 1922), or this Act (hereinafter in this section referred to as the undisclosed income or property),

then,-

(A)

the Principal Director General or Director General or Principal Director or Director or the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, as the case may be, may authorize any Additional Director or Additional Commissioner or Joint Director, Joint Commissioner, Assistant Director or Deputy Director, Assistant Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner or Income-tax Officer, or

(B)

such Additional Director or Additional Commissioner or Joint Director, or Joint Commissioner, as the case may be, may authorize any Assistant Director or Deputy Director, Assistant Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner or Income- tax Officer, (the officer so authorized in all cases being hereinafter referred to as the authorized officer) to-

(i) enter and search any building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft where he has reason to suspect that such books of account, other documents, money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing are kept;

(ii) break open the lock of any door, box, locker, safe, almirah or other receptacle for exercising the powers conferred by clause (i) where the keys thereof are not available;

(iia) search any person who has got out of, or is about to get into, or is in, the building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft, if the authorized officer has reason to suspect that such person has secreted about his person any such books of account, other documents, money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing;

(iib) require any person who is found to be in possession or control of any books of account or other documents maintained in the form of electronic record as defined in clause (t) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000), to afford the authorized officer the necessary facility to inspect such books of account or other documents;

(iii) seize any such books of account, other documents, money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing found as a result of such search:

Provided that bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing, being stock-in-trade of the business, found as a result of such search shall not be seized but the authorized officer shall make a note or inventory of such stock-in-trade of the business;

(iv) place marks of identification on any books of account or other documents or make or cause to be made extracts or copies therefrom;

(v) make a note or an inventory of any such money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing :

Provided that where any building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft referred to in clause (i) is within the area of jurisdiction of any Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, but such Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner has no jurisdiction over the person referred to in clause (a) or clause (b) or clause (c), then, notwithstanding anything contained in section 120, it shall be competent for him to exercise the powers under this sub-section in all cases where he has reason to believe that any delay in getting the authorization from the Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner having jurisdiction over such person may be prejudicial to the interests of the revenue :

Provided further that where it is not possible or practicable to take physical possession of any valuable article or thing and remove it to a safe place due to its volume, weight or other physical characteristics or due to its being of a dangerous nature, the authorized officer may serve an order on the owner or the person who is in immediate possession or control thereof that he shall not remove, part with or otherwise deal with it, except with the previous permission of such authorized officer and such action of the authorized officer shall be deemed to be seizure of such valuable article or thing under clause (iii):

Provided also that nothing contained in the second proviso shall apply in case of any valuable article or thing, being stock-in-trade of the business:

Provided also that no authorization shall be issued by the Additional Director or Additional Commissioner or Joint Director or Joint Commissioner on or after the 1st day of October, 2009 unless he has been empowered by the Board to do so.

[Explanation.- For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that the reason to believe, as recorded by the income-tax authority under this sub-section, shall not be disclosed to any person or any authority or the Appellate Tribunal.]

(1A) Where any Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, in consequence of information in his possession, has reason to suspect that any books of account, other documents, money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing in respect of which an officer has been authorised by the Principal Director General or Director General or Principal Director or Director or any other Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner or Additional Director or Additional Commissioner or Joint Director or Joint Commissioner to take action under clauses (i) to (v) of sub-section (1) are or is kept in any building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft not mentioned in the authorisation under sub-section (1), such Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner may, notwithstanding anything contained in section 120, authorise the said officer to take action under any of the clauses aforesaid in respect of such building, place, vessel, vehicle or aircraft.

[Explanation.- For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that the reason to suspect, as recorded by the income-tax authority under this sub-section, shall not be disclosed to any person or any authority or the Appellate Tribunal.]"

The sum, substance and intention of the legislation is though for curbing the menace of black money is a pre-requisite for equity, good governance and the welfare of the state but at the same time search and seizure action cannot be a fishing expedition. Before search is authorized the Director must on the relevant material have reason to believe that the assessee has not or would not disclose his income. It is again reiterated that the in conjecture to the intention of the legislature the courts have held unanimously that the jurisdictional facts that have to be established before a search under Section 132 (1) of the Act can be authorised are that (i) the authority issuing the authorisation is in possession of some credible information, other than surmises and conjectures (ii) that the authority has reason to believe that the conditions stipulated in clauses (a), (b) and (c) of Section 132 (1) of the act qua the person searched exist; and (iii) the said information has nexus to such belief.The word used in Section 132(1) are "reason to believe" and not "reason to suspect".

The aforesaid legal position, viz., on the statutory mandate to record "reasons to believe" and their nexus with the three pre-conditions in clauses (a), (b) and (c) to Section 132 was thereafter emphasized and elucidated by the Supreme Court in DGIT (Investigation) v. Spacewood Furnishers (P.) Ltd. [2015] 57 taxmann.com 292/232 Taxman 131/374 ITR 545 which also refers to an earlier decision of the Supreme Court in ITO v. Seth Bros. [1969] 74 ITR 836 and Partap Singh v. Director of Enforcement Foreign Exchange Regulation [1985] 22 Taxman 30/155 ITR 166 (SC). Spacewood Furnishers (P.) Ltd. (supra) has laid down the following principles:-

"8. The principles that can be deduced from the aforesaid decisions of this Court which continue to hold the field without any departure may be summarised as follows:

8.1. The authority must have information in its possession on the basis of which a reasonable belief can be founded that -

(a) the person concerned has omitted or failed to produce books of account or other documents for production of which summons or notice had been issued Or

such person will not produce such books of account or other documents even if summons or notice is issued to him Or

(b) such person is in possession of any money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article which represents either wholly or partly income or property which has not been or would not be disclosed.

 

8.2. Such information must be in possession of the authorized official before the opinion is formed.

8.3. There must be application of mind to the material and the formation of opinion must be honest and bona fide. Consideration of any extraneous or irrelevant material will vitiate the belief/satisfaction.

8.4. Though Rule 112(2) of the Income Tax Rules which specifically prescribed the necessity of recording of reasons before issuing a warrant of authorisation had been repealed on and from 1-10-1975 the reasons for the belief found should be recorded.

 

8.5. The reasons, however, need not be communicated to the person against whom the warrant is issued at that stage.

8.6 Such reasons, however, may have to be placed before the Court in the event of a challenge to formation of the belief of the authorized official in which event the court (exercising jurisdiction under Article 226) would be entitled to examine the relevance of the reasons for the formation of the belief though not the sufficiency or adequacy thereof."

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