D.S. Mathur, C.J.
1. This judgment shall govern Writ Petitions Nos. 7709 and 7710 of 1973 by Messrs. Bansal Steelsons Company Private Limited and Messers. Prakesh Industries, respectively, for the issue of a writ of certiorari, order or direction in the nature of certiorari to quash the order dated 14-11-1973 passed by the Superintendent, Central Excise M.O.R. Meerut, respondent No. 4 directing the petitioners to pay excise duty on the finished goods falling under sub-item (ia) of item No. 26AA of the First Schedule to the Excises and Salt Act. There is also a prayer for the issue of a writ of prohibition, order or direction in the nature of prohibition to direct the respondent, namely, the Union of India, the Collector Central Excise, Kanpur, the Assistant Collector, Central Excise, Meerut, and the Superintendent, Central Excise, M.O.R. Meerut, not to recover any Excise Duty on the above mentioned goods manufactured by the petitioner.
2. The facts of the case are not in dispute. Both the petitioners manufacture roll bars after cutting or breaking ingots received from Mini Steel Plants electric arc furnace units on which appropriate amount of excise duty has already been paid. They do not purchase ingots from major steel plants like Hindustan Steel Limited. The ingots as received are almost in the shape of billets and as a result of cutting or breaking, the shape of the pieces of the ingots is not altered and these pieces are rolled into bars etc. Under notification dated 30-11-1963 as amended in August 1965, iron or steel products falling under sub-item (ia) of Item No. 26AA of First Schedule to the Central Excises and Salt Act made from the following materials are exempt from the excise duty.
'Ingots on which the appropriate amount of duty of excise has already been paid, cut or broken (but not rolled) in any shape resembling the shape of any of the products referred to in sub-item (i) of the said Item No. 26AA'.
3. The case of the petitioners is that the steel products manufactured by them, falling under sub-item (ia), from the ingots received from the Mini Steel Plants on which the appropriate amount of duty has already been paid are exempt from payment of further excise duty. The Excise Department has, however, taken a contrary view and they are taking steps to recover excise duty on the steel products so manufactured. The respondents rely upon the opinion of Messrs, M.N. Dastur and Company Private Limited, who were technical consultants of the Department of Iron and Steel. The opinion, so given, is not conclusive and it will, therefore, be proper to refer to the pleas raised by the respondents.
4. The imposition of the excise duty is supported on two grounds taken in the alternative. Firstly, that the exemption applies to only ingots received from large steel plants which have to be cut both horizontally and vertically make them resemble the shape of any of the products referred to in sub-item (ia) and does not apply to ingots received from Mini Steel Plants which already resemble that shape and have merely to be cut or broken. In the alternative, it is pleaded that the exemption could apply to the cut or broken pieces of ingots only if received from the suppliers, namely Mini Steel Plants and not when they are cut or broken by the petitioners themselves. None of these contentions have any force.
5. The notification, referred to above makes no differentiation between ingots received from Large Steel Plants and ingots received from Mini Steel Plants. When the notification applies equally to both the categories exemption shall be available irrespective of the source of supply. We are told that ingots received from Large Steel Plants cannot be broken but have to be cut. The use of the word 'broken' in the notification, therefore, suggests that the exemption equally apples to ingots received from Mini Steel Plants. It was suggested that expression 'any shape resembling the shape of any of the products referred to in sub-item (i)' applies only to those cases where the ingots were not of such a shape and acquire the shape after they have been cut or broken. No such restriction was imposed under the notification while referring to ingots.
6. Ingots are moulds in which metal is cast into a finished shape for storage or transportation. The mould can be of certain specified dimensions or it can be meant to produce a mass of metal not necessarily in any particular shape. Once the mass of steel or iron is rolled it ceases to be an ingot. The use of the words 'but not rolled' therefore, make it clear that the cutting or breaking of the ingots is in the factory and has no reference to the source of supply.
7. We have given our careful consideration to the notification as issued and of opinion that the notification referred to above applies to ingots whether received from Large Steel Plants or from Mini Steel Plants, and the recovery of the excise duty on iron or steel products falling under sub-item (ia) of Item No. 26AA of the First Schedule to the Central Excises and Salt Act, which had been made from, ingots on which the appropriate amount of excise duty had already been paid, was against the law.
8. In the end, it was contended by the learned Senior Standing Counsel appearing for the respondents that the petitioners had an alternative remedy by way of appeal to the departmental authorities and, therefore, on this ground these writ petitions were liable to be dismissed. It is a settled law that the imposition of tax or excise duty can be challenged directly before the High Court in a proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution where the imposition of such tax or duty is, clearly illegal. In cases where two views are possible and the decision depends upon facts, High Courts have often to interfere unless the party first of all moves the departmental authorities. In the instant cases, the interpretation of the notification was involved and this question was in no way dependent upon controversial facts. Moreover the counter-affidavit filed in the case indicates that the respondents have taken steps for realization of excise duty on products manufactured duty paid ingots from Mini Steel Plants on the basis of advice given by M.N. Dastur and Company Pvt. Ltd., consultants to the Ministry of Iron and Steel. In the circumstances, it cannot be said that the departmental remedy provided under the Act would be a suitable alternative remedy. Accordingly, we are of opinion that the writ petitions should not be dismissed because of the existence of an alternative remedy.
9. Both the writ petitions are hereby allowed with costs and the order dated 14-11-1973 passed by the Superintendent of Central Excise, respondent No. 4 is quashed. It is further ordered that for so long as the notifications referred to above stand, no excise duty is payable on the iron or steel products falling under sub-item (ia) of Item No. 26AA of the First Schedule to the Central Excises and Salt Act made from ingots on which the appropriate amount of duty of excise had already been and such ingots were utilised for the manufacture of the products after cutting or breaking them but not rolling them. The respondents are further directed to take consequential action in accordance with our interpretation of the notification.