1. The case was heard on 8-2-1983. The appellants imported the following three machines in two separate consignments :- (2) (i) One number Sorting machine SSO 103. (ii) One number Coating line COT 200.
They sought the benefit of lower rate of duty under entry 58 of notification No. 118/80-Cus. This entry reads as under :- "(58) Automatic lead welding, lacquering, testing, colour coating, sorting and packing machine for resistors." The Appellate Collector held that between them the machines imported by the appellants could do all the jobs enumerated in the aforesaid entry 58 but each machine separately could not do all the jobs. The Appellate Collector then recorded his order as under :- "There seems no doubt at all that there is a slip-up in issuing original notification. However executive and quasi-judicial authorities can only interpret the law as it stands and not read it corrected as per intentions which remained unreflected in the text of notification. There is no doubt that the notification as originally issued contemplated a single machine doing all the jobs.
Appeals are rejected." 2. The appellants then filed a revision application to the Central Government which, on transfer to this Tribunal, has been taken upas the subject appeal. Along with their revision application, the appellants produced a letter dated 29-11-80 from the Department of Electronics in which it is stated that the intention of the said Department at the time of recommending the equipment for concessional duty was to allow the benefit both to the autotmatic lead welding, colour coating, lacquering, testing, sorting and packing machines for resistors when imported as a complete plant or as separate machines. During the hearing before us, the appellants produced a further letter dated 7-2-83 from the Electronics Directorate of the D.G.T.D. which is in the following terms :- "In this connection it is clarified that no single unit of machine can perform all the functions namely, lead welding, lacquering, testing, colour coating, sorting and packing. Keeping this in view item No. 58 of Ministry of Finance Notification No. 118/80, dated 19-6-80 has been amended vide Notification No. 33/81, dated 1-3-81 to read as under : Automatic machines for resistors with one or more of the following functions, namely, The appellants stated that the original entry 58 of the notification was meaningless as no single machine could perform all the functions enumerated in the entry. Hence, entry 58 as worded in singular, i.e., as "machine" instead of as "machines" was a slip up and the same had been rectified by the Government by an amending notification providing clearly that any one single automatic machine could perform only one or more of the aforesaid functions. In the light of this, the appellants urged that the subsequent amendment may be treated as clarificatory and the benefit thereof should be given to them or the original entry 58 should be construed in a manner so as to give a reasonable meaning.
3. The Department's representative maintained that since the subject machines had been imported separately, they had to be considered in the light of the wording of the entry 58 as it then existed and that this Tribunal could not correct any drafting error in the original entry.
However, he wanted time to check up the position regarding the DGTD's letter dated 7-2-83 produced by the appellants. His request Was granted. The Department's representative subsequently sent a letter dated 2-5-83 to the Registry in which he stated that he had verified the correctness of the DGTD's certificate and that there could be no objection to the matter being decided on merits in the light of DGTD's certificate (i.e. the DGTD's letter dated 7-2-83).
4. We have given our careful consideration to the matter. It is by now well settled that an interpretation which makes a piece of legislation meaningless has to be discarded. We have heard the Department's representative often repeating the well-known dictum of our Supreme Court that grammar is a good guide to meaning but is a bad master to dictate. We find further that the book "Words and Phrases Legally Defined", Volume 4, states on the strength of Australian authorities that "if the general scheme of an Act of Parliament obviously calls for 'and' to be read as 'or' or 'or' as 'and', the court is free to take the very important step of altering the verbiage of that Act". We find also that section 13 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 provides that in all Central Acts and Regulations, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context, words in the singular shall include the plural, and vice-versa. In the light of these authorities and provision, there could be no objection to the word "and" in the original entry 58 being read as "or" or the word "machine" in the same entry being read as "machines" if these variations can give a reasonable meaning to the entry. By so doing, the entry covered an automatic machine which could perform one or more of the functions enumerated in the entry. In view of this, we find merit in the appellants' claim. Accordingly we allow their appeal with consequential relief.
5. We are dealing here not with any interpretation of a piece of legislation but with the plain words in the notification on which will depend whether the exemption can be extended to the machines or not.
The original entry 58 of the notification spoke of machine; this was found to have been a mistake and the correct word should have been machines. The Government, therefore, amended the notification so that it could cover any automatic machine which performs all or any of the functions. At the time the importation of the three machines was made by United Electrical Industries, the entry had not been amended and the machines were not entitled to the exemption. To extend an exemption because of the subsequent amendment would not be permissible because an exemption notification must be read strictly. Nor can an amending notification be given retrospective effect in order to cover or rectify a defect of the amended notification. It is true perhaps that as originally worded the notification was meaningless but the Tribunal cannot take upon itself the authority to read or interpret the notification in order to give it a meaning it should have had but does not have. To extend an exemption beyond its plain words cannot be done by anybody, not even by the exemption giving authority. If a wider exemption is to be given, it must be done so in specific terms but this will still not mean that the wider exemption would take the place of the narrower exemption before it (wider exemption) came into operation.