Govt wants larger SC bench to hear Vodafone case

In what could be seen as an attempt to reopen the controversial Vodafone tax case, the Centre Monday sought a reconsideration of the legal battle it had lost in January when the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian income tax department had no jurisdiction to tax the $11-billion Vodafone-Hutchison offshore deal.

The IT department, while challenging a Gujarat High Court verdict sanctioning the company's plan to transfer passive infrastructure assets from Vodafone Essar Gujarat Ltd and six other associate companies to group firm Vodafone Essar Infrastructure Ltd, expressed its desire that the matter be heard by a larger, five-judge bench.

A three-judge bench, led by the then chief justice S H Kapadia, had in its January 20 verdict held that Vodafone was not liable to pay capital gains tax amounting to about Rs 11,218 crore to Indian revenue authorities for acquiring a 67 per cent stake in Hutchison Essar Ltd's telecom business in India.

However, on Monday, the Centre and the IT department, represented by Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman and Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok, requested a bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir to refer the entire issue to a larger bench since "the principles laid down in the main judgment were liable to be misinterpreted by the high courts across the country".

While leading the special leave petition (SLP) relating to the Gujarat HC order, Nariman claimed that the government's 100-page review petition against the main judgment in the Vodafone case was also not adequately considered by the apex court. He specifically referred to 130 grounds listed in the review petition and contended that the grounds required proper examination by a court.

Referring to the impugned judgment of the HC which had also relied upon the SC verdict in question, Nariman added that several arguments attributed to him in the judgment were never stated by him and thus the impugned judgment was liable to be heard again so as to "clarify" and settle the principles enunciated in it.

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