D.S. Mathur, J.
1. This is a petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India by Mohammad Irfan Khan for quashing the orders passed by the Superintendent, Central Excise. Moradabad, respondent No. I, and the Deputy Collector, Central Excise, Allahabad, respondent No. 2, and for the grant of a writ of mandamus or any other consequential writ, order or direction which may be necessary in the circumstances of the case.
2. The petitioner is one of the three partners of the registered firm by the name of Messrs AliMohammad Khan alias Chhidda Khan which carries on the business of making tobacco products such as chewing and smoking tobacco from tobacco in raw form, at Moradabad. The firm purchases tobacco in the form of tobacco leaf, tobacco stems, stalks and dust. On 13-4-1955, the firm received two consignments under Transport permits in Form II and numbered as 584517 and 584518, weighing 146 maunds in all, contained in 128 bags.
These bags of tobacco were despatched by Khan Mohammad of Laharpur in the district of Sitapur. The consignor described the contents of the bags as 'crushed leaf (dana)'. The bags were stocked in the godown of the petitioner. On 9-9-1955, Sri C.L. Sawhney, the then Superintendent of Central Excise at Moradabad, visited the godown and detained 16 bags weighing 18 maunds on the ground that tobacco stems had been substituted for tobacco leaves. He opened 3 or 4 bags only. He directed the clerk in-charge of the godown not to remove the bags until they had been properly checked. The petitioner's case is that the bags were in the same condition in which they had been received from Laharpur.
3. Thereafter the Superintendent served a show cause notice Annexure 'A', to the counter-affidavit, wherein it was alleged that the petitioner's firm had contravened Rules 151(c) and 160 of the Central Excise Rules, 1944 inasmuch as the contents of 18 maunds of crushed leaves (dana) had been substituted by stems. The petitioner claims that the show cause notice is vague but a perusal thereof will clearly show that all the material information was entered therein though not full details, for example, weight, etc. After the conclusion of the enquiry, the Superintendent passed the order dated 1-3-58 contained in Annexure 'A' to the petitioner's affidavit. A penalty of Rs. 30/- was imposed and the goods were confiscated under Rule 151(c) of the Central Excise Rules, 1944, redeemable on payment of redemption fine of Rs. 20/- and duty, as and when 18 maunds stems were cleared from the warehouse. A duty was also imposed under Rule 161 on 18 maunds crushed leaves (dana) at the rate of -/6/- annas per maund.
4. The petitioner preferred an appeal against this order before the Collector of Central Excise, Allahabad, (vide Annexure 'B' to the petitioner's affidavit). The appeal was heard by Sri Mazumdar, Deputy Collector, but before he could pronounce his judgment, he was transferred and was succeeded by Sri R.C. Mehra. Sri R.C. Mehra dismissed the appeal on 7-11-1956, vide his order Annexure 'D', without hearing the petitioner afresh on the merits of the appeal.
5. The petitioner is challenging the order of the Superintendent and also of the Deputy Collector on various grounds, the order of the Superintendent on the ground that he was disqualified from'' holding the enquiry and also because he did not give a reasonable opportunity to the petitioner to meet the facts used against him including the report after enquiry of the Inspector. The order of the appellate authority is challenged on the ground that the petitioner was not heard before Sri Mehra passed the order, nor were the points raised by the petitioner considered while deciding the appeal. In other words, it is contended that the appellate authority acted arbitrarily when it dismissed the appeal in a few words contained in four line type-written order of 7-11-56.
6. The case of the respondents in brief, is that! Sri C.L. Sawhney had merely detected the crime, meaning thereby that he suspected the substitution to tobacco, and that the main enquiry was conducted by the Inspector, Sri R.N. Jauhri. It was thus contended that the Superintendent, Central Excise, did not have such a personal knowledge of the present crime, that he was disqualified to hold an enquiry and to impose penalty etc. It is of course denied that the petitioner was not given a proper hearing and it was not indicated to him what material existed and would be used against him. The respondents have also made an attempt to support the propriety of the order of the Deputy Collector, respondent No. 2. In addition a preliminary objection was raised that the present writ was not maintainable in view of the fact that the petitioner had already moved the Central Government under Section 36 of the Central Excise and Salt Act, 1944.
7. In the present case, the property of the petitioner firm has been confiscated and if such confiscation is unlawful, there would be a restriction in the exercise of the fundamental right given to the citizens of India under Article 19 of the Constitution to hold property and to carry on any trade or business, Consequently, High Courts can take cognizance of the present petition even though all the remedies available to the petitioner have not been availed of. Further, while exercising the power of revision under Section 36, it is doubtful whether the Central Government would hear the petitioner on the facts of the case. Revisions are invariably disposed of on questions of law and a finding of fact unless perverse is not interfered with. Consequently, a right to move a revision before the Central Government cannot be placed in the same category as a right of appeal and this would be another ground to justify interference by this court, if it is found that the appeal was wrongly dismissed by respondent No. 2. (8) The petitioner had alleged in paras 14 and 15 of the affidavit, that the appeal was originally heard by Sri B.B. Mazumdar Deputy Collector of Central Excise, on August 11, 1956; that the learned Deputy Collector expressed an opinion that the case should be sent back for retrial whereupon the petitioner moved an application which is annexure 'C' to the affidavit pointing out that the case was so hopeless that no useful purpose would be served by a retrial; that on 10th November, 1956, the petitioner received an order passed by Sri R.C. Mehra, Deputy Collector of Central Excise, whereby the appeal was dismissed and that the order of dismissal was passed without hearing the petitioner.
These assertions have not in substance been-controverted by the respondents and can be considered as correct. In other words, Sri R.C. Mehra, Deputy Collector of Central Excise, does not deny to have disposed of the appeal without hearing the petitioner. He does not also appear to have applied his mind to the merits of the case and to the points raised in the memorandum of appeal. It will be found that in the memorandum of appeal, Annexure 'B' to the petitioner's affidavit seven points were raised by way of introduction and eight points in the grounds of appeal.
Some of the points were questions of law affecting the jurisdiction of the Superintendent and the punishment which he had awarded in the case. In ground No. 2 it was clearly mentioned that the goods confiscated were of a valuation exceeding Rs. 500/- and the adjudication was beyond the jurisdiction of the Superintendent. Reliance was apparently placed upon Section 33(b) of the Central Excise and Salt Act, 1944, wherein it is clearly mentioned that an officer of the Central Excise below the rank of at Collector can confiscate goods of a value not exceeding Rs. 500/-. In the present case, the valuation of the goods is alleged to be more than Rs. 500/-.
9. Sri R.C. Mehra disposed of the appeal by passing the following order:
'Having regard to all the circumstances of the case and having carefully considered all the pleas made by die appellant, I find that the order passed by the Superintendent is correct in law and based on facts. The appeal is rejected.'
It will be found that there is virtually no discussion of law and facts and the observations made are of a general nature. They can be considered to be vague and arbitrary. It would not be possible to decide a question or law and facts unless one applies his mind to the provisions of the Act and the rules framed thereunder, and also to the material on the basis of which the Superintendent imposed the penalty and passed the order. In other words, while dismissing the appeal, respondent No. 2 gave no reasonable opportunity to the petitioner tochallenge the order of the Superintendent, nor did respondent No. 2 apply his mind to the various pleasraised in the grounds of appeal. The order is defective and High Courts can, in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226, rectify the error which is apparent on the face of the record. The order of respondent No. 2 is one which must be set aside and the appeal sent back for a fresh hearing.
10. It is with regard to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Superintendent that many important questions were raised by the petitioner. One of these questions is that the present offence was detected by the same officer and a prosecutor could not be a judge of facts on which the prosecution was based. It was thus contended that the Superintendent who passed the order in question was biased in the sense that he could not do justice in the case and must have been moved by the crime which he had himself detected.
11. It is a well settled rule that the trial or I judicial proceeding should not be conducted by a I person who is interested in the trial or proceeding. The prosecutor or detector of a crime is one who is interested in the result of the judicial proceeding. Consequently, if it appears that the Superintendent had in substance detected the crime and was responsible for the proceedings being taken against the petitioner, he would be disqualified from conducting the enquiry.
12. In Section 14 of the Central Excise and Salt Act, powers of an officer conducting an enquiry have been specified and in Sub-section (3) thereof it is mentioned that evrey such enquiry as aforesaid shall be deemed to be judicial enquiry within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 I.P.C. Section 33 of the Act also contemplates an adjudication which would be as in a judicial proceeding. In case the penalty could be imposed after a summary enquiry by an administrative officer, the word 'adjudication' would not have been used and in fact the section would have been so drafted as to indicate that the act was an administrative one, not to be treated at par with a trial or judicial proceeding. Rule 151 of the Central Excise Rules, 1944, will also lead us to the same inference. It lays down the circumstances in which a penalty can be imposed for contravention of the provisions of the Act and the rules. The contravention of the provisions of the Act or the rules has been termed as commission of an offence.
In other words, a penalty is imposed for commission of an offence, for which the offender could also be criminally prosecuted under Section 9 of the Act. When a penalty is imposed for committing an offence, the enquiry to be conducted before deciding whether such a penalty be imposed Or not would be and shall be treated to be of the form of a judicial proceeding. For conducting such a proceeding, the Presiding Officer should not be one who is interested in the case or one who is in sub-stance responsible for the prosecution of the offence.
13. The learned counsel for the petitioner has strongly urged that because the crime was detected and in fact the official machinery was put into motion at the instance of the Superintendent, he should be deemed to be one who is interested in the prosecution and consequently not qualified himself to hold the enquiry. The complication has come into existence on account of both administrative and quasi-judicial powers being conferred on the same class of officers. In taxation matters both the powers have to be conferred on the same officer. For example, an Income Tax Officer cannot only take steps for detecting an evasion o payment of income tax but he can also assess income tax and impose a penalty wherever necessary.
Such officers will always be interested in any prosecution launched by persons belonging to their department. In these circumstances, it will not be proper to take such a strict view as can often be taken with regard to regular courts of law. In fact, in the case of Magistrate holding both administrative and judicial posts certain latitude has to be granted. What is necessary is that the Presiding Officer should not be moved by any extraneous matter he had heard or had come to know outside the enquiry, he would be deemed to have been disqualified from holding the enquiry.
14. The learned counsel for the petitioner also urged that as the Superintendent, Central Excise, who had conducted the enquiry, was aware of certain facts it would be necessary for the petitioner to cross-examine him with regard to facts which were within his knowledge, and for this reason an enquiry conducted by such an officer would be vitiated and should be set aside by this Court. In case the Superintendent had conducted a major part of the investigation, I would have been inclined to accept this contention. If the Presiding Officer is personally acquainted with the facts of the case and has to give evidence on oath or otherwise, he is not likely to take a detached and impartial view. But it will be wrong to apply this rule to administrative officers where they merely had an occasion to start the proceeding but had no personal or direct knowledge of the material points which would be involved in the case.
15. Coming to the facts of the present case, it will be found that the Superintendent, respondent No. 1, had not made a detailed investigation leading to the judicial inquiry and imposition of the penalty. In paras 7 and 10 of the affidavit, the petitioner himself mentioned that on 9-8-55 Sri C.L. Sawhney, the then Superintendent of Central Excise at Moradabad, had visited the godown of the petitioner's firm and opened two or three bags out of the consignment of 16 bags and thereafter directed that the bags be not removed from the godown until they had been checked.
In case the Superintendent had completed the checking and inspection of the bags, he could have had a firm ground to proceed on. By inspecting 2 or 3 bags only he could merely suspect that the contents of the bags had been substituted. This is virtually what the respondents have mentioned in their counter-affidavit. In para 4 of the counter affidavit, it was mentioned that when the Superintendent visited the warehouse of the petitioner on 9th August, 1956, he detected a case of substitution of the original stuff in 16 bags which had been transported under T.P. 2 No. 584518; and that he entrusted further enquiry into the matter to Sri R.N. Johari, Inspector, posted at Moradabad, as there was a prima fade case of substitution of tobacco. It was similarly mentioned in para 7 that the formal offence against the licensee was made out after requisite enquiries were made and not immediately after 9-8-55. The petitioner filed a rejoinder affidavit but did not challenge these assertions. They can, therefore, be accepted as correct.
16. The above will make it dear that the Superintendent had merely set the ball rolling and the main investigation was conducted by the Inspector, Sri R.N. Jauhari. Mere detection of the bags with stems of tobacco could not justify the imposition of penalty. The petitioner's case is that the entire stock received by him contained stems of tobacco and not leaves.
Consequently, whatever the Superintendent Observed in the godown has been and is being admitted by the petitioner and there is nothing on which the Superintendent would have been cross-examined during the enquiry and may be cross-examined by the appellate authority, to this connection it may be observed that the charge of substitution would not have been established unless an enquiry was made as to the contents of the bags at the time of their despatch from Laharpur and also at the time of their receipt by the petitioner. It would also have been necessary to ascertain the nature of the labels affixed on the bags and if the petitioner had raised any objection as to the contents thereof on finding that they contained stems and not leaves of tobacco.
All this information could be gathered after detailed enquiry, and such an enquiry was admit-tedly conducted by the Inspector and not by the Superintendent. This would clearly show that only a few preliminary and undisputed facts were in the knowledge of the Superintendent and the remaining investigation was conducted by another official of the same department. The Superintendent cannot, therefore, be considered to be one who had a personal interest in the enquiry being conducted by him. Nor can he be said to be personally aware of the facts under enquiry. Similarly, it cannot be said that the Superintendent was or shall be deemed to have a bias against the petitioner on account of his suspecting substitution of the contents of the bags on the date he visited the godown.
17. The learned counsel for the petitioner placed considerable stress upon the nature of the order passed by the Superintendent. Under the heading 'Brief Facts of the Case', it was mentioned as if the Superintendent had himself noticed clandestine removal and substitution of crushed leaves (dana) by pure neat stems. If the order is read by itself and not in the light of the affidavits filed by the parties, it can be opined that the Superintendent had formed such an opinion or had concluded that part of the enquiry which established the substitution of the contents of the bags.
They are only persons well conversant with the law and experienced with the working of courts who can differentiate between direct and hearsay information. Trained persons will narrate facts in such a way that it would be apparent which facts were within his knowledge and which are based upon information received. They would make no confusion about facts witnessed by them. A less experienced person of the status of the Superintendent is not likely to be so clear in expressing facts. In case the petitioner had pleaded from the beginning and had controverted the assertions contained In the counter-affidavit, the order in question could be taken at its face value.
But as already mentioned above, the petitioner himself mentioned from the very beginning that the Superintendent had opened only 2 or 3 bags out of 16. When the respondents assert that the enquiry was conducted by an Inspector and not by the Superintendent, and such assertions are not challenged, in the rejoinder affidavit they can be accepted as correct. In these circumstances, the present quasi-judicial enquiry conducted by the Superintendent of Central Excise and Salt cannot be said to be beyond his jurisdiction on the ground that on account of the detection of the crime by Mm he was disqualified to hold such an enquiry.
18. The order of the Superintendent is challenged on many other grounds namely, the show cause notice is vague inasmuch as it does not give the particulars of charges levelled against the petitioner-firm, there was no proper evidence before the Superintendent which could justify an inference in favour of the substitution of the contents of the bags, and the report of the Inspector which was used against the petitioner could not be admitted in evidence unless it was made available to the petitioner and he was given an opportunity to give his explanation to meet his case on the allegations made therein. It is true that Sri R.C. Mehra did not take these aspects of the case into consideration but there is no reason why his successor will not give the petitioner a proper hearing and not apply his mind to the various questions involved in the appeal. Further there is no reason why the appellate authority will not itself make a further enquiry as contemplated by Section 35 of the Act in order to arrive at a proper decision.
19. To sum up, the appellate authority, namely, respondent No. 2, had acted in violation of the principles of natural justice when he did not hear the petitioner before pronouncing his judgment. He shall also be deemed to have acted arbitrarily when he did not at all apply his mind to the various questions of law and fact which had been raised by the appellant in the appeal. Such an error can be rectified by this Court by setting aside the order and directing the appeal to be heard afresh on merits.
20. The petition is hereby allowed and it is ordered that a writ of certiorari be issued to quash the order dated 7-11-56 of the Deputy Collector, Central Excise, Allahabad, respondent No. 2. It is further ordered that the appeal preferred by the petitioner against the order dated 1-3-56 of the Superintendent, respondent No. 1, shall be deemed to be still pending which should be heard and disposed of in accordance with law.
21. Costs on parties.