VG Siddhartha’s Suicide: Need for a Deeper Analysis

Reading time: 2-3 minutes.

The clouds of uncertainty were hovering over Netravati bridge, whilst the police kept their search and rescue efforts ablaze. V.G. Siddhartha, founder of Café Coffee Day (CCD) and son-in-law of former CM of Karnataka S.M. Krishna went missing this Monday. Ambiguity surrounding his whereabouts cleared when the police recovered the billionaire’s body from Netravati river in Karnataka.

A wave of grief swept the nation. Condolences poured in from around the world. The investigating agency also found an intriguing letter written by the coffee tycoon addressed to his board of directors and more than 50,000 employees of his company.

This three-hundred-word letter has opened up a Pandora’s box. Therein, he has enunciated his inability to deliver in the capacity of a business leader. Further, he also made some serious allegations against the income tax authorities. In a bid to clear the air, this post will analyse the salient aspects of this fiasco.

What is the legal sanctity of dying declaration?

Under section 32(1) of Indian Evidence Act (IEA) of 1872, dying declaration has been referred to as statement (verbal or written) of relevant facts made by a person who is dead. In the instant case, the letter was written few weeks ago. Henceforth, the question that surfaces is whether dying declaration will lose its significance on the ground that deceased survived long after making his declaration?

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, to clarify this issue, observed that dying declaration cannot be abrogated on such ground. The court further stated that section 32(1) of IEA is also applicable to suicide cases. Therefore, the letter written by Mr. Siddhartha can be treated as a dying declaration, provided its authenticity is beyond doubt.

Ease of doing business in India

Mr. Siddhartha’s letter clearly implies that he was finding it very hard to conduct his business in India. If this was the condition of a billionaire coming from a politically connected family who created over 50,000 jobs, we must wonder about the situation of average Indian businessmen.

Latest ‘Ease of Doing Business Report’ by World Bank ranks India poorly at 77th position among 190 countries. Even this rank is an improvement by 23 positions since last such report. However, economists have submitted that this improvement in ranking does not represent change in ground realities.

This is because the index, while deciding ranks, assumes that the stated business norms are applied as they are written. This is clearly not the case in India as a huge gap is observed between the law and its implementation. The statement lends credence to the fact that indeed, India flunks when it comes to ease of doing business.

What is this notion of “Tax Terrorism”?

The term ‘Tax Terrorism’ in common parlance, refers to a situation where the taxman uses its power to fleece tax—extracting more than what is due—from an honest taxpayer.

The letter recovered by the investigating agency finds an indirect mention of “Tax Terrorism”. Mr. Siddhartha has made some serious allegation against the IT department in the letter, articulating the ‘harassment’ faced by him from the Income Tax authorities.

In conclusion…

The unfolding of Mr. Siddhartha’ ordeal paints a grim picture of our business sector. Perhaps, the chest-thumping ensuing from government’s “ease of doing business” narrative isn’t exactly proving per se in the real world.

If a self-made billionaire himself is unable to function in his own backyard, then possibly the Union government should rather focus on implementing the laws because good laws on paper are just like fables which do not exist in reality.