The Haryana government has given Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa and his family members a clean chit in a case of alleged stamp duty evasion, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. The case was referred to it by the Income Tax Department. Haryana is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Income Tax Department had asked the state government to further investigate the allegations of stamp duty evasion by Lavasa’s wife. Novel Lavasa was accused of not paying the stamp duty while transferring an apartment in Gurgaon to her sister-in-law Shakuntala Lavasa. The department had 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 Dhanpat Singh and the deputy commissioner of Gurugram clarified that Rs 10.42 lakh had been paid as stamp duty through a supplementary deed on September 16, 2019. “After payment of Rs 10,42,200 as duty…there is no evasion of stamp duty,” read the letter sent by the office of revenue commissioner of Haryana to the IT Department in December.

According to the I-T department, Novel Lavasa’s returns showed 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 had 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 of 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.

The supplementary deed stated that Novel Lavasa sold the Gurugram property to Shakuntala Lavasa for Rs 1.73 crore and the same was not shown in the transfer deeds on December 27, 2018, and January 21,2019. “To rectify this ‘error and omission’ and to ‘avoid all disputes about the ownership’ of the property, stamp duty of Rs 10,42,200 was paid on September 16, 2019,” read the supplementary deed, which has been accessed by The Indian Express.

Lavasa’s family had always denied the allegations. Shakuntala Lavasa had 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.”

In response to the clean chit, the IT Department has now asked the state government to clarify if such “corrections and rectification” are allowed under the law. The Haryana government has also been asked to provide a copy of the supporting documents submitted by Lavasa’s family.

Lavasa’s ‘minority decisions’ and the action that followed

Lavasa was appointed election commissioner on January 23, 2018, a year after he retired as Union finance secretary. Multiple reports in the last six months have shown that Lavasa and his family members have come under the scanner of the Income Tax Department for certain transactions.

The latest in a series of allegations made by the department against Lavasa’s family members came to light on Wednesday. The Income Tax Department has accused members of Lavasa’s family of using unaccounted cash to get a house built in Gurugram and of having cash deposits worth nearly Rs 5 lakh in bank accounts after demonetisation.

In the run-up to the General Elections last year, he disagreed, on five occasions, with the decisions of his fellow Election Commissioners to clear Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah in complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations made against them.

The commission cleared Modi in six such cases but Lavasa’s dissent was reportedly not noted in the poll panel’s orders. The rift in the poll body came into the open after Lavasa wrote an explosive letter saying he would stay away from the commissioners’ meetings since “minority decisions” were not being recorded.

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