Leonard Stone, Kt., C.J.
1. This is a reference under Section 66(1) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922. The point is a short one raising the question whether a notice given under Section 22(2) of the Act is a valid notice or not. That sub-section is as follows:
In the case of any person whose total income is, in the Income-tax Officer's opinion, of such an amount as to render such person liable to income-tax, the Income-tax Officer may serve a notice upon him requiring him to furnish within such period, not being less than thirty days, as may be specified in the notice, a return in the prescribed form and verified in the prescribed manner setting forth (along with such other particulars as may be provided for in the notice) his total income and total world income during the previous year.
The important words to note are 'within such period, not being less than thirty days.' In fact what happened was this : A notice which is dated July 22, 1942, was served on August 24, 1942, and is in these terms:
In pursuance of the provisions of Section 22(2) of the Indian Income-tax Act, ,1922, you are hereby required to prepare a true and correct statement of total income and your total world income during the previous year in the attached form (along with such other particulars as are required to complete the form) and to deliver it to me at my office duly signed by you within thirty days of the receipt of the notice (should the former date be less than 30 days after the receipt of the notice.)
Now clearly the words in the final parenthesis are meaningless, but they are printed on the form because immediately before the words 'within thirty days of the receipt of the notice' there are certain words in print which have been struck out, those words being 'on or before or'. So the notice depends for its validity on the words, '...in the attached form...duly signed by you within thirty days of the receipt of the notice.' The Appellate Tribunal by its judgment, after referring to certain passages from Maxwell on 'Interpretation of Statutes', 8th Edn., stated as follows:
The learned author proceeds to observe that where 'not less than' or such other expression is used specifying the time for doing an act the ending terminal must also be excluded from the computation. Section 22(2) clearly lays down that an assessee must be given a period of 'not less than 30 days' from the receipt of the notice to furnish the return of his total income. It would, therefore, follow that he must have thirty clear days and the thirty days must be excluded from the computation. In the present case as we have already pointed out the assessee was asked to furnish the return within 30 days. Such a requirement did not amount to giving him 30 clear days for the purpose. We therefore think that the notice in this case is illegal. The fact that the assessee submitted a return later or that it was accepted for the purpose of making the assessment does not, in our opinion, cure the defect that initially lay in the notice.
I agree with that statement in the judgment of the Tribunal. Computation of periods of time has given rise to a great many cases, both, in this country, and in England. Time can be infinitely divided. There is no fraction of a second which is so short in duration that it cannot be divided into something smaller. In my judgment expressions 'within thirty days' and 'not less than thirty days' are two quite different things. 'Within thirty days' is within two points of time, one at which the period begins and the other at which it expires. On the other hand, 'not less than thirty days' is outside these two points of time. There must be an interval of not less than thirty days and that means thirty days clear. See In re Railway Sleepers Supply Company (1885) 29 Ch. 204 The period must continue beyond the expiration of the stated time. Whereas 'within' the stated period must mean what it says, something less than the moment of expiration. In my opinion, therefore, the notice is invalid and the question referred to must be answered in the negative. The Commissioner must pay the costs of the reference.
2. I agree. Section 22(2) provides that in the notice given to the assessee to furnish his return a particular period must be given to him. The sub-section further provides for such period 'not being less than thirty days.' Reading the section by itself therefore it clearly means that the period within which the assessee has to send his return must neither at the beginning nor at the end encroach upon the thirty days. To put it in other words thirty clear days must elapse before his obligation to send the return becomes effective. The notice given in the case is to send the return 'within thirty days,' that being treated as a period of time given to the assessee to send his return. It seems to me clear that when a party is called upon to do an act 'within' a stated number of days he necessarily cannot get that number of days as 'clear' days. In other words according to the terms of the notice, the assessee does not get thirty clear days' period, before his obligation to send the return arises. I therefore agree that the notice is not in accordance with Section 22(2).
3. It was urged that what was intended to be conveyed by the notice is the same as what was prescribed by the section. We are not concerned with what was intended to be conveyed. The question is, by the words used by the authorities have they carried out their obligation to give to the assessee a period 'not less than thirty days' to furnish his return? The answer is in the negative because the notice calls upon him to send the return 'within' that number of days.