By Sumit Saxena
New Delhi, July 8 (IANS) The Supreme Court has issued notice to the country's leading real estate developer Niranjan Lakhumal Hiranandani and 25 others in a case of criminal conspiracy to allegedly cheat the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) by not depositing provident fund dues of the company's employees amounting to Rs 9 crore.
The order came on an appeal filed by the CBI challenging an April 2018 Bombay High Court order that quashed the case against Hiranandani and other accused.
The CBI claims Hiranandani colluded with top-level regional EPFO officials to submit a forged list of employees and their documents with the retirement fund body.
The agency's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had in 2008 filed an FIR against Hiranandani for not depositing provident funds of the employees of his group to the tune of Rs 9 crore.
In its charge sheet filed in 2010, the ACB accused the realtor of cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy.
The charge sheet alleged that 137 employees of the Hiranandani group were not enrolled under the EPF Act, and "revealed a large scale evasion of provident fund dues, causing wrongful loss to the Department and wrongful gain to directors of the company".
The High Court in its 2018 order termed the action by the CBI as "impermissible" and annulled the charge sheet against the 26 accused, including Hiranandani.
In its petition filed before the Supreme Court, the CBI said: "A false list of the employees was prepared and false documents were used to cheat the EPFO."
According to the CBI petition: "Investigation revealed that arrears of Rs 2.2 lakh of the Provident Fund for the period between October 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006, were deposited for 48 employees. Surprisingly, these employees were appointed on April 1, 2006."
The petition claimed that the company asked its contractors to prepare false wage records with the intention to mislead the investigation and cheat the EPFO and "deprived the workers of their legitimate pecuniary benefits and social security of insurance and pension and these false records were seized during the search."
The High Court while quashing the CBI charge sheet said no inquiry was conducted under Section 7A of the EPF Act.
The CBI contended that the Section 7A was applicable when the provident fund was not paid and dispute arose in connection with the amount. "It may not be applicable to a case of conspiracy where documents were fabricated and wage records tampered with," it said.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)