1. This tax revision case is filed against the order of the Sales Tax Tribunal dated 31st March, 1980, in T.A. No. 371 of 1979, confirming the order of the Appellate Assistant Commissioner and the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer revising the assessment in exercise of its power under sub-clause (cc) of clause (4) of section 14 of the Andhra Pradesh General Sales Tax Act, 1957, hereinafter called the Act.
2. M/s. The Warangal District Co-operative Marketing Society Limited, Warangal, is the assessee. For the year 1972-73, the society claimed exemption on the turnover of Rs. 6,37,938.81 on the ground that it represented secondary purchase of maize from the Food Corporation of India, Warangal. The assessing authority disallowed the claim in respect of Rs. 86,014.50. The order was made on 15th June, 1976, and the same was served on the assessee shortly thereafter.
3. While so, on 20th March, 1978, the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer served a notice on the assessee proposing to revise the assessment on the ground that exemption was wrongly granted in respect of a sum of Rs. 5,44,536.30 and that the same represented import purchases made by the Food Corporation of India. The assessee was given three days for submitting explanation. As the time was too short, the assessee did not furnish any explanation. As the time was too short, the assessee did not furnish any explanation. On 23rd March, 1978, the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer, the assessing authority, revised the assessment under section 14(4)(cc) of the Act and subjected the entire disputed turnover of Rs. 5,44,536.30 to tax which was assessed at Rs. 12,252.09 holding that the turnover represented sales of maize purchased from the Food Corporation of India, Warangal, who imported it from outside the State and as the assessee is the first purchaser in the State, the goods are taxable in his hands.
4. The assessee carried the matter in appeal to the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. The main contention of the assessee was that the revision of assessment under section 14(4)(cc) was barred by limitation as the assessing authority cannot reopen the assessment for the years 1972-73 beyond 31st March, 1977, i.e., after the expiry of 4 years from the date to which the assessment relates as per the provisions of the Act prior to the amendment of 17th January, 1978. The amended provisions of section 14(4)(cc) and section 14(4-A) have no retrospective operation and they do not apply to cases decided prior to that date and in any event has no application to cases, to assessments that are barred under the provisions of the old Act. Both these contentions were repelled by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. It was held by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner that sections 14(4)(cc) and 14(4-A) were provisions relating to procedure and that as per section 14(4-A) any assessment and can be revised within 4 years from the date of service of the order and since the original order of assessment was in 1976 the revision made in 1978 is well within time and by the time the revised assessment came to be made section 14(4)(cc) was in force and as such section 14(4)(cc) could be applied. In this view, the appeal was dismissed. The matter was carried in a further appeal to the Sales Tax Appellate Tribunal. The Appellate Tribunal, by its order dated 31st March, 1980, confirmed the order of the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. It is against this order of the Appellate Tribunal that the assessee filed the present revision.
5. The principal contention of Mr. P. Venkatarama Reddy, the learned counsel for the petitioner, is that the revised assessment is barred by limitation and section 14(4-A) which came into force on 17th January, 1978, has no retrospective operation and cannot be applied to the present case. It is submitted that prior to the amendment an assessment could be revised under section 14(4) within four years from the date of the expirty of the period to which the assessement relates. Therefore, the reassessment under section 14(4) for the year 1972-73 cannot be done beyond 31st March, 1977, as vested rights have accrued to the parties and the assessment had become final. The amended section 14(4-A) which was operative from 17th January, 1978, cannot be applied retrospectively so as to affect vested rights. This contention is countered by Sri A. Venkataramana, the learned counsel for the department, saying that a provision relating to limitation is procedural in character and a procedural law can always be applied retrospectively. He is also contended that under the unamended law, no rights have accrued to the petitioner and the assessment had not become barred under the unamended law as the period of limitation was six years in a case where the assessing authority reopens the assessment on the ground that the assessee has failed to furnish the correct particulars.
6. Before we deal with the scope and ambit of section 14(4-A) we must first clear the ground relating to the factual aspect, namely, whether the impugned revision was made under section 14(4)(cc) on account of the dealer's failure to furnish correct particulars or due to any other cause. This is necessary because under the unamended section, the period of limitation was six years, in the case of failure to disclose the turnover or correct particulars and four year in any other case. In the present case the notice was issued under section 14(4)(cc) on the ground that the exemption was wrongly allowed. This is not a case where the action was initiated on account of any fault on the part of the petitioner. The show cause notice does not indicate that the case is one which falls under clause (a) of sub-section (4-A) of section 14 prior to its amendment. The Tribunal no doubt made a passing observation that revision was permissible under the old law within a period of 6 years. But this was only by way of statement of law under the unamended provision. None of the authorities including the Tribunal found that the exercise of power was necessitated on account of any lapse on the part of the assessee. The case was mainly on the ground or error of judgment, i.e., that the exemption was granted wrongly. We are, therefore, unable to uphold the contention of the learned counsel for the department that this is a case where the revision was made due to any incorrect particulars furnished by the assessee.
7. The real question for consideration is whether section 14(4-A) has application to the facts of the present case. It is seen that the assessment year being 1972-73 the escaped turnover could have been reassessed under the unamended provision within four years succeeding the year to which the assessment relates. Thus the reassessment in this case could have been made on or before 31st March, 1977. The assessing authority has no right thereafter to revise the assessment. The new section 14(4-A) prescribing a period of 4 years for reassessment from the date of service of the order came into force on 17th January, 1978. By the time this provision is enacted, the assessment under the old provision had become barred. Under the new provision the starting point of limitation is changed. It is not from that year to which the assessment relates, but from the date of service of the original order. The amended provision was not given any retrospective operation expressly. It is the case of the respondent that the law of limitation being procedural in nature, it can always be applied retrospectively. While it is the contention of the petitioner that even if the amended section has retrospective operation, it cannot apply to cases where the assessment had become barred under the unamended law.
8. In Ramakrishna Chetty v. Subbaraya Iyer ILR (1915) Mad 101 it is held that the law of limitation applicable to a suit would be that in force at the time of the institution. The law of limitation is a branch of the law of procedure.
9. This judgment has been approved in a later Full Bench decision in Rajah of Pittapur v. Venkata Subba Row ILR (1916) Mad 645.
10. In Ramanathan Chettiar v. Kandappa Goundan : AIR1951Mad314 the same view that the law of limitation being procedural its provisions operate retrospectively has been affirmed.
11. To the same effect is the Full Bench decision of the Allahabad High Court in Bankey Lal v. Babu : AIR1953All747 .
12. In Ramprasad v. Vijaykumar : AIR1967SC278 , it is laid down that a party has no vested right in the law of procedure.
13. It is useful in this connection to refer to some of the decisions under section 34 of the Income-tax Act, 1922, a provision which is analogous to section 14(4-A) of the Act with which is concerned.
14. In S. C. Prashar v. Vasantsen : 49ITR1(SC) Hidayatullah, J. (as he then was), observed :
'..... Now, we do not think that we can treat the different periods indicated under section 34 as periods of limitation, the expiry of which grant prescriptive title to defaulting taxpayers. It may be said that an assessment once made is final and conclusive except for the provisions of sections 34 and 35 but it is quite a different matter to say that a 'vested right' arises in the assessee. On the expiry of the period the assessments, if any, may also become final and conclusive, but only so long as then law is not altered retrospectively. Under the scheme of the Income-tax Act a liability to pay tax in incurred when according to the Finance Act in force the amount of income, profits or gains is above the exempted. That liability to the State is independent of any consideration of time, and in the absence of any provision restricting action by a time-limit, it can be enforced at any time. What the law does is to prevent harassment of assesses to the end of time by prescribing a limit of time for its own officers to take action. This limit of time is binding upon the officers, but the liability under the charging section can only be said to be unenforceasable after the expiry of the period under the law as it stands ......'
15. Coming to the decisions of our High Court, in Munaga Peraiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh  13 STC 26 a Division Bench of this Court had to consider the question whether section 14(4) is prospective or retrospective. The contention that it is prospective was repelled holding that what is essential to consider is whether the period prescribed under rule 17(1) had expired before the coming into effect of section 14(4). IT was held that where the period of limitation was enlarged before the right of the assessing authority to reassess was barred, it is the amended law that determined the liability of the assessee.
16. To the same effect is the judgment of Satyanarayana Raju and Venkatesam, JJ., in Ramakrishnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh  13 STC 914.
17. In Government of Andhra v. K. Rajaiah & Co.  8 STC 164 and Lakshminarayana Chetty v. Additional Income-tax Officer : 29ITR419(AP) it is held that where the rule was amended after the expiry of the limitation prescribed under the old rule, the reassessment could not be done as the assessment had become final before the amendment.
18. In Venkateswara Rao v. Deputy Commission of Commercial Taxes  10 STC 162 and Syed Mohammed Ravoother v. Deputy Commercial Tax Officer  9 STC 1 it was held that the provisions of the amended rule would apply to a cause of action that arose before the amendment and where the period of limitation prescribed by law was enlarged before the right of the assessing authority was barred, it is the amended law that determined the liability of the assessee.
19. In Khadar Mohiuddin v. State of Andhra Pradesh  21 STC 45 it was held that where the period of limitation is enlarged before the right of the assessing authority to reassess is barred, it is the amended law that determines the liability of the assessee. Applying that principle it was held that since the old period of three years had not expired when section 14(4-A) came into force, the assessing authority was well within its right in making the additional assessment within the enlarged period.
20. In Raghava Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh  28 STC 204 ; (1970) 1 A WR 393 a Division Bench consisting of Gopal Rao Ekbote and Parthasarathi, JJ., held that there was a fetter on the power of jurisdiction of the assessing authority to reassess under rule 17 made under the repealed Act within 3 years and if the right of the department was barred when the repealing Act came into force, then the four or six years period provided in the new Act would not revive the last right.
21. In Allied Exports & Imports v. State of Andhra Pradesh  28 STC 175 a Full Bench of our High Court held that if the period prescribed by the unamended law had not expired and before the expiration of the period of limitation is enlarged, the new provision would apply.
22. What emerges from these decisions is that where the right to revise was lost under the unamended law the amended provision could not revive that right. If the assessment had become final in the hands of the assessing authority, before the amended provision came into force, it cannot be reopended under the amended provision. Rights dead cannot be revived. Assessments finalised cannot be reopened. The case on hand relates to the year 1972-73 ending by 31st March, 1973. Under the unamended section, the assessing authority was entitled to reopen the assessment within 4 years next succeeding assessment (year) i.e., before 31st March, 1977. Beyond that period the reassessment was barred. Section 14(4) was amended and the new section 14(4-A) was brought into effect on 17th January, 1978, prescribing a different period of limitation. Since the assessment had become barred under the old provision and the right of the assessing authority to revise was extinguished the new section 14(4-A) does not govern the case. The decisions of the Supreme Court as well as the decisions of this Court referred to above clearly recognise the principle that the time-limit placed is a fetter on the power or jurisdiction of the assessing authority and that if before the expiry of the period prescribed the fetter is relaxed or removed by the Legislature by the amending Act it is the period prescribed by the amending provision that would apply, but not otherwise. Thus, we are of the clear view that where the assessment had become final at the hands of the assessing authority and reassessment was barred under the unamended provision, the amended provision has no application. Applying this test, the exercise of the power under section 14(4) by issuing a notice of reassessment in March, 1978, is wholly illegal. Since we are quashing the reassessment proceedings on this ground, it is unnecessary to go into the question whether this is a case covered by section 14(4)(cc) of the Act.
23. Before parting we must observe that the opportunity given in this case is appallingly inadequate. The assessment is sought to be revived after a period of 4 years. The original assessment relates to 1972-73. The assessment was made in June, 1976. The notice of reassessment was given in March, 1978, giving only 3 days time for submitting the explanation. The opportunity contemplated under section 14(4) is a reasonable opportunity and 3 days can hardly be said to be a reasonable time in the circumstances of the case. Even on this ground, the impugned orders are liable to be set aside. Since we have quashed the assessment on the ground of limitation, there is no necessity to send them back for giving a reasonable opportunity.
24. In the result, the tax revision case is allowed. No costs. Advocate's fee Rs. 250.