The Income Tax Department has asked the Haryana government to further investigate the allegations of stamp duty evasion by Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s wife, The Indian Express reported on Friday. Novel Lavasa had allegedly not paid the stamp duty while transferring an apartment in Gurgaon to her sister-in-law Shakuntala Lavasa.
The department has flagged “discrepancies” between the income tax returns of Novel Lavasa for the financial year 2017-’18 and the registered transfer deed of the Gurgaon property on November 27, Haryana’s Financial Commissioner of Revenue and Disaster Management Dhanpat Singh confirmed to The Indian Express. “The communication was shared with the deputy commissioner of Gurugram on December 9,” he said. “We haven’t received his reply yet. We have reminded him to apprise IT department and also my office.”
According to the I-T department, Novel Lavasa’s returns show that she sold the first floor of the four-storey building in Gurugram to Shakuntala Lavasa for Rs 1.73 crore. “Deduction under relevant section of Income Tax Act has been claimed on the capital gains arising on this transaction in ITR by Mrs Novel Lavasa and no tax has been paid,” the department said in its report, which has been accessed by the newspaper.
However, the registered transfer deeds show that Novel Lavasa had gifted the property to her husband in December 2018. Ashok Lavasa, in turn, gifted the same property to Shakuntala Lavasa in January 2019. The registered deeds state that the above transfers are “on account natural love and affection” and hence are exempt from stamp duty, said the I-T department.
Any sale of property in urban areas of Haryana attracts a stamp duty at 5%. However, gift of immovable property between spouses and among relatives does not attract stamp duty in Haryana.
“Prima facie, this appears to be a case of stamp duty evasion by Mrs Novel Lavasa and Dr Shakuntala Lavasa,” said the I-T department in its report. “The “sale” transaction between Mrs. Novel Lavasa and Dr. Shakuntala Lavasa has been camouflaged as “gift” of immovable property in a circuitous manner — first by Mrs Novel Lavasa to Sh Ashok Lavasa [spouse of Mrs Novel Lavasa] and then by Sh Ashok Lavasa to Dr Shakuntala Lavasa [sister of Ashok lavasa].”
Lavasa’s family, however, has denied the allegations. “There is no evasion of stamp duty, which has been paid as per applicable rates by the person liable to do it,” Ashok Lavasa told the newspaper. “It is for the department to ascertain the facts and not indulge in selective leaks.”
Shakuntala Lavasa also said that she has paid “stamp duty of Rs 10,42,220 as per law”. Novel Lavasa alleged that these “roving inquiries” were meant to “humiliate and malign me and my family’s reputation.”
Lavasa’s ‘minority decisions’ and the action that followed
Lavasa made headlines in May when he had opposed five clearances that the Election Commission gave to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party National President Amit Shah in complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations during the election campaign. The commission cleared Modi in six such cases but Lavasa’s dissent was reportedly not noted in the poll panel’s orders. The rift within the three-member Election Commission came into the open after Lavasa wrote an explosive letter , in which he said he was staying away from the meetings since “minority decisions” such as his were not being recorded.
Lavasa came back into the spotlight in September when newspapers reported that the Income Tax department had issued notices to his wife Novel Singhal Lavasa, inquiring into alleged discrepancies in her returns. The department is apparently examining the income she received from her position as a director in several companies.
Days later, it was reported that other members of Lavasa’s family are also under the income tax scanner. This included his sister Shakuntala Lavasa and the books of a company in which Abir Lavasa is a shareholder. Some of the transactions pursued belong to 2008-’10 financial years. The family has maintained that they have complied with all legal requirements and are cooperating with the authorities.
In November, it came to light that the Indian government wrote to 11 public sector undertakings asking them to verify their records to check if Ashok Lavasa had exercised “undue influence” during his tenure as special secretary in the Ministry of Power between 2009 and 2013.
Later in November, there were reports that Ashok Lavasa’s son Abir Lavasa and a company in which he is a director are being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate under the Foreign Exchange Management Act. The Enforcement Directorate is probing the Rs 7.25 crore raised by Nourish Organic Foods Pvt Ltd in March from Mauritius-based investor Saama Capital.