Jaganmohan Reddy, J.
1. This petition is directed against the action of the Sales Tax Department in keeping a continuous watch over the business of the hotels of the petitioners. The petitioners, who are carrying on business of running hotels in the town of Vijayawada, complain that the respondents who belong to the Special Evasions Circle of the Sales Tax Department embarked upon a whole-time supervision of the actual business activity of the hotels. It is said that respondents 3 to 5 visited the hotels in the early hours of the morning on 22nd November, 1960, and went round all the rooms in the hotel including the kitchen and directed two of the respondents to sit at the counter by the side of the cashier while the other respondents were going round all the rooms and keeping watch and enquiring about the articles of food supplied to the customers, that when the customers came to pay the bill, one of the respondents takes the bill, inquires the customer what articles were consumed by him and then reads out the bill and directs the other to note down the amount of the bill on a paper, and that thereafter the respondents would keep the bill in their custody till the close of the day. This process would continue until the closure of the hotel at 10 p.m. After the end of the day, the respondents would prepare a statement of the amounts of the bills and would coerce the cashier or the accountant, whoever is at the counter, to sign the statement, threatening and intimidating them, in spite of protests by them. It was further stated that,; while the customers were taking tiffin or meals, the respondents also keep going round the rooms inquiring the customers as to what menu they were being supplied. The petitioners contend that, in spite of protests in 1958, the same procedure was continued in 1959 from nth April, 1959, to 17th April, 1959, and from 27th April, 1959, to 7th May, 1959, and that the statements signed by the representatives of the petitioners were got signed by them and were taken away and they would not even furnish copies thereof to them. It is stated that just before the filing of the petition the respondents have again started this method of supervision by visiting at 5 a.m. and sitting the whole day. In the circumstances, it is prayed that a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ, direction or order be issued to the respondents to forbear from carrying on the continuous supervision of the sales and supplies or other business activities of the petitioners in the three hotels, namely, Welcome Hotel at Gandhinagar, Welcome Hotel at Samarangam Chowk and Welcome Coffee Club at Gandhinagar, Vijayawada town.
2. In the counter filed by the Special Commercial Tax Officer (Evasions), Vijayawada, it was admitted that the sales of these hotels were 'intensively' watched on 22nd November, 1960, by the Inspectors named therein in obedience to the programme issued by the Special Assistant Commercial Tax Officer (Evasions) for shop-watch, Sri J. B. Raja Rao. It is stated that the turnover returned by the dealer for 1958-59 was not accepted and the assessment was enhanced, and similarly suppression by way of not accounting certain purchases was noticed for the year 1959-60, during cross-check verification and the assessment for the year is pending finalisation. It was stated that the dealer suppressed his sales during the days of shop-watch, by reducing the preparations and canvassing against the customers entering the hotel, and that if this was taken into consideration the turnover of the dealer would be far more than the sales noticed during the shop-watch. It is contended that this intensive watch or shop-watch was undertaken, 'in consonance with the provisions of Section 28(2) of the Andhra Pradesh General Sales Tax Act and in order to have effective watch over sales in hotels, shops, etc., a special squad of C. T. Inspectors was formed to intensively watch the sales in them with a view to arrive at the correct turnover of the dealers. The present practice is to watch the sales of the shops and hotels during different days and in different seasons, sometimes for the whole day and at other times for a part of a day. The results achieved so far as a result of shop-watch in respect of hotels are spectacularly high when compared with the sales that were being recorded by the dealers.
3. Again, it is stated that respondents 3 to 5 who were allotted to Welcome Hotel started watching the shop at 4-30 a.m. and not from 5 a.m. as stated in the affidavit of the petitioners, and that as the watch of the hotels had to be conducted from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. (i.e., for a continuous period of 17 hours in a day), only two of them watched the hotel and adjusted their timings according to their convenience and allowed one man to go out for food, coffee and to take rest. It is therefore seen that virtually two of the C. T. Inspectors were watching the shop throughout the day. With respect to the allegation that the C. T. Inspectors remained at the counter, the deponent admitted that the C. T. Inspectors remained at the counter, but stated that they caused no hindrance to the customers. But the allegation that the C. T. Inspector takes the bill, enquires the customers as to what articles they have consumed and then reads out the bills and directs the other to note down the amount of the bill on a paper, has been denied. So was the allegation that the statements were taken from the petitioners forcibly. It was contended that these statements were given voluntarily by the petitioners. To quote the words in the counter :
In the present instance, the C. T. Inspectors obtained a statement from the cashiers of all the four hotels who were managing the hotels at that time in their own hand duly appending their signature voluntarily after verification of the cash. The version of the petitioner that the respondents prepared a statement of the amount of the bills and coerced the cashier or accountant to sign the statement in spite of protests by them is false as is evidenced by the statements given by them in their own hand'.
4. The respondents also denied the allegation that their shop-watch interfered with the business or that it created a scene.
5. It is clear from the affidavit of the petitioners and the counter that the respondents, officers of the Sales Tax Department, were keeping a continual, intensive watch over these hotels for several days, that this watch continued from 4-30 in the morning to 10 in the night and was undertaken in relays by the respondents. Almost all the allegations made in the petition were accepted, except those relating to the statements of the petitioners being taken under coercion or threat and the allegation that their inspection caused a scene or disturbance in the conduct of the business. The Sales Tax Officer also claimed a right to supervise the business of the hotels.
6. The short question which falls for determination is, whether the Sales Tax Authorities are justified under the provisions of Section 28(2) of the Andhra Pradesh General Sales Tax Act (VI of 1957) to keep a continuous watch on the hotels of the petitioners and to supervise the same. Section 28(2) is in the following terms :-
All accounts, registers and other documents maintained by a dealer in the course of his business, the goods in his possession, and his offices, shops, godowns, vessels or vehicles shall be open to inspection at all reasonable times by such officer.
7. It is contended on behalf of the petitioners that this section merely authorises the Sales Tax Authorities to inspect all accounts, registers and documents maintained by the dealer in the course of his business and the goods in his possession or his offices, shops or godowns ; and secondly, they are only authorised to inspect and not to keep a watch. The Government Pleader, however, submits that the Department is entitled to inspect not merely the goods in the offices, shops and godowns, but the offices, shops and godowns themselves, and to observe the manner in which business is being conducted provided the same is done at a reasonable time during the day, and that what was in fact done by the Sales Tax Authorities was only an inspection and nothing more. It appears to us that the first contention of the learned Advocate for the petitioners that the section merely authorises the inspection of the goods in possession of the dealer or in his offices, shops and godowns is untenable because the word used is not 'or' but 'and'. Consequently, not only have the Sales Tax Authorities power to inspect all accounts and registers and other documents and goods in the possession of the dealer, but also inspect his offices, shops, godowns, vessels and vehicles. The inspection of offices, shops and godowns, etc., is quite independent from the inspection of goods in his possession. The goods in his offices, shops and godowns are certainly goods in his possession and if the Legislature merely wanted to confine the inspection only to the inspection of goods, there was no necessity to indicate inspection of offices, shops and godowns, nor would the addition of vessels or vehicles be relevant in the context of the contention of the learned Advocate. What was intended was to give power to inspect offices, shops, godowns, vessels and vehicles apart from the goods in the possession of the dealer. We have no hesitation in rejecting that contention of the learned Advocate. But at the same time, we cannot accept the contention of the learned Government Pleader that there is no difference between inspection and keeping a watch, and that the section authorises the continuous watching of the business on the premises of the dealer from the time the business commences to the time it ends. Apart from the question that the words 'inspection' and 'watch' connote different meanings, the words 'at all reasonable times' would indicate not a continuous process throughout the entire day, but only at certain times which, in the circumstances' of the particular case, are reasonable. The antithesis of 'reasonable time' would be 'unreasonable time'; so that, if 'at all reasonable times' comprehends the period from 4-30 in the morning to 10 in the night, the unreasonable time would only be confined to the period between 10 p.m. and 4-30 a.m., when the establishment is closed. To our mind, 'reasonable time' must have some relation to the nature of the business, and to the time of the day in relation to the working hours, so as to enable an inspection to be made for such period or periods during the day conveniently as the circumstances will permit.
8. Secondly, the words 'inspection' and 'watch' connote two different meanings. A reference to the Oxford Dictionary would show that 'inspection' means the action of inspecting, looking narrowly into, careful scrutiny or survey, close or critical examination; while 'watch' would indicate that it is an alert state, being on the look out, vigilant, constant observation, attention to what may come. 'Inspection' and 'watch' connote two different ideas. A scrutiny for the purpose of inspection may require a reasonable or sufficient time, while a watch would indicate a constant observation irrespective of the time required for careful scrutiny of the particular object to be achieved. What the Sales Tax Authorities had undertaken, on their own admission, is not ah inspection, but a continual and close watch, as would amount to surveillance and harassment of the hotels. It is not denied that the Sales Tax Authorities have every right to go into the kitchen and other branches of the hotel and inspect the same at reasonable time or times, but not to be continually watching the hotel and its business from the moment it starts early morning till the whole day for several days. If this course of conduct is permitted, it would seriously interfere with the business of the petitioners and is calculated to cause them loss. The Department has every right to visit the premises for such period or periods as the circumstances would permit during the day but not. to keep a continual watch as is being done or to exercise supervision over their business.
9. We accordingly allow the petition with the aforesaid directions but, in the circumstances make no order as to costs.