H.N. Seth, J.
1. While considering the question as to whether the Executive Authorities have jurisdiction or power to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry intoproceedings for its cancellation or suspension, a Division Bench of this Court has referred following questions of law for the opinion of a Full Bench : --
'(1) Whether there is power to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry into its cancellation or suspension?
(2) Whether in view of the statutory provisions is it incumbent upon the authorities to afford an opportunity of hearing prior to suspension pending enquiry?'
And this is how the matter has come up before us.
2. It is apparent that the second question mentioned above would arise for consideration only if the first question is answered in the affirmative. In order to answer the first question, it will be necessary to determine the nature of the enquiry which a licensing authority is, under the provisions of Section 17 of the Arms Act, 1959 (hereinafter referred to as the Act), expected to conduct before ordering cancellation or suspension of an arms licence.
3. Sub-sections (3) and (5) of Section 17 of the Act which are relevant for our purpose read thus : --
'(3) the licensing authority may by order in writing suspend a licence for such period as it thinks fit or revoke a licence,--
(a) if the licensing authority is satisfied that the holder of the licence is prohibited by this Act or by any other law for- the time being in force, from acquiring, having in his possession or carrying any arms or ammunition, or is of unsound mind, or is for any reason unfit for a licence under this Act; or
(b) if the licensing authority deems it necessary for the security of the public peace or public safety to suspend or revoke the licence; or
(c) if the licence was obtained by suppression of material information or on the basis of wrong information provided by the holder of the licence or any other person on his behalf at the time of applying for it; or
(d) if any of the conditions of the licence has been contravened; or
(e) if the holder of the licence has failed to comply with a notice under Sub-section (1) requiring him to deliver up the licence.
(5) Where the licensing authority makes an order varying a licence under Sub-section (1) or an order suspending or revoking a licence under Sub-section (3), it shall record in writing the reasons therefor and furnish to the holder of the licence on demand a brief statement of the same unless in any case the licensing authority is of the opinion that it will not be in the public interest to furnish such statement,'
4. Sub-section (1) of Section 18 of the Act then provides that any person aggrieved by an order of the licensing authority suspending or revoking a licence may prefer an appeal against that order to such authority (referred to as the appellate authority) and within such period as may be prescribed. Sub-section (5) of Section 18, after stating that in disposing of an appeal the appellate authority shall follow such procedure as may be prescribed, provides that no appeal shall be disposed of unless the appellant has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
5. A perusal of abovementioned provisions indicates that the licensing authority has been given the power to suspend or revoke an arms licence only if any of the conditions mentioned in Sub-clauses (a) to (e) of Sub-section (3) of Section 17 of the Act exists. Sub-section (5) of Section 17 makes it obligatory upon the licensing authority to, while passing the order revoking/suspending an arms licence, record in writing the reasons therefor and to, on demand, furnish a brief statement thereof to the holder of the licence unless it considers that it will not be in public interest to do so. According to this section, the state for recording of the reasons for cancelling or suspending an arms licence is reached only when such an order is made and not before it. A brief statement of such reasons is to be communicated to the licensee only if :
(i) the licensee asks for it, and
(ii) the licensing authority does not considerdisclosure of such reasons to be against publicinterest.
The provisions that the reasons for revocation/ suspension of an arms licence is to be recorded when the licensing authority makes the order and that a brief statement thereof is to be communicated only if the licensee demands it and that too only where the licensing authority does not consider disclosure of such reasonsto be against public interest, makes the legislative intention that, if at all, the licensing authority is obliged to communicate to the licensee the grounds for revocation/suspension of the licence only after the order for revocation/suspension has been made absolutely clear. This provision rules out any obligation on the part of the licensing authority to, before making such order, communicate thh grounds for revoking or suspending the licence to the licensee. Accordingly placing of any obligation on the licensing authority to notify the grounds for revoking or suspending the licence, to the licensee before the order for revocation or suspension of the licence is made, would result in forcing the licensing authority to do something which the statute does not oblige it to do. Such compulsion flowing from any source whatsoever would not be in consonance with the provisions contained in Section 17 of the Act.
6. The submission that even though the section while enabling the licensing authority to revoke/suspend an arms licence does not specifically provide for affording of an opportunity to the licensee to show that the grounds mentioned in Sub-section (3) of Section 17 do not exist, the licensing authority is, according to the principles of natural justice, obliged to afford such an opportunity does not appeal to us. It is now well settled that rules of natural justice are not embodied rules nor can they be elevated to the position of fundamental rights. Their aim is to secure justice or to prevent miscarriage of justice. They do not supplant the law but supplement it. If a statutory provisions can be read consistently with the principles of natural justice, the courts should do so. But if a statutory provision either specifically or by necessary implication excludes application of any rule of natural justice then the court cannot ignore the mandate of the legislature or the statutory authority and read into a concerned provision the principles of natural justice. Whether the exercise of a power conferred should be made in accordance with any of the principles of natural justice or not depend upon the express words of the provision conferring the power, the nature of the power conferred, the purpose for which it is conferred and the effect of the exercise of that power (See the case of Union of India v. J. N. Sinha AIR 1971 SC 40).
7. In the instant case, as has already been pointed out, the statutory provisions contained in Section 17(5) of the Act would not be compatible with the principles of natural justice relied upon by the learned counsel for the licensee. In our opinion the statutory provisions contained in Section 17 of the Act by necessary implication exclude the applicability of the said rule of natural justice till the stage the licensing authority makes an order for revocation/suspension of an arms licence.
8. Again, a reading of the provisions contained in Sections 17 and 18 of the Act, as forming part of one integrated scheme, clearly brings out that the licensee is afforded ample protection when the statute obliges the licensing authority to give reasons for revoking/ suspending a licence in writing and thereafter afford him an opportunity to be heard by the appellate authority on all relevant aspects of the matter. It is evident that having regard to the fact that licences involved in such cases are in respect of dangerous weapons, the legislature, in its wisdom, thought that an . opportunity of being heard should be afforded to the licensee at a stage following suspension/revocation of the licence and not prior to it. Thus, the legislature has, in its own way, specified the stage at which the principles of natural justice are in such cases to become applicable and has thereby ruled out the application of such principles at any other stage.
9. It is true that in order to revoke/suspend an arms licence, the licensing authority has necessarily to come to the conclusion that facts justifying revocation/suspension of licence mentioned in grounds (a) to (d) of Section 17 exists. However, the section nowhere lays it down that before coming to such a conclusion the licensing authority should either hear the licensee or hold a formal enquiry. The licensing authority may on certain information being laid before it, for its own satisfaction proceed to hold an enquiry with a view to find out if the conditions for-revoking/ suspending the arms licence exist and, as already explained, it would, in such enquiry, not be necessary for the licensing authority to associate the licensee and the licensee cannot claim it as of right (statutory or that based on principles of natural justice) that he must be heard and be given an opportunity to placehis version of the case before the licensing authority. We are in this view supported by a Division Bench decision of Calcutta High Court in the case of Sudhir Chandra Ghosh v. The A. D. M. 24 Parganas AIR 1980 Cal 275.
10. In support of his submission that the licensing authority is, while proceeding to revoke or suspend an arms licence, bound to act in accordance with the principles of natural justice, learned counsel for the licensee strongly relied upon a Division Bench decision of this Court in the case of State of U. P. through Secy. Home-Department, Lucknow v. Jaswant Singh Sarna AIR 1968 All 383. In that case this Court was concerned with the question as to whether before refusing to grant or renew a licence under Section 14 of the Arms Act it was obligatory upon the licensing authority to follow the principles of natural justice and to afford an opportunity to the applicant for the grant/renewal of the licence to be heard. This Court eventually came to the conclusion that while, considering such an application the licensing authority is obliged to act judicially and it is necessary for it to afford an opportunity to the applicant before refusing to grant/renew his licence. Learned counsel for the licensee contended that as the procedure prescribed for considering an application for grant/renewal of an arms licence under Section 14 of the Act is identical with that prescribed for revocation/suspension of an arms licence under Section 17 of the Act and the two provisions are in pari materia, it must be held that while revoking/suspending an arms licence under Section 17 of the Act as well, the licensing authority is obliged to act judicially and to follow the principles of natural justice.
11. It is no doubt true that there is considerable similarity in the procedure prescribed for consideration of an application for grant/renewal of an arms licence, as laid down in Section 14, and that for. its revocation/suspension laid down in Sectiort 17 of the Act. But then the Division Bench itself has in the case of State of U. P. v. Jaswant Singh Sarna (AIR 1968 All 383) (supra) made following observations in paragraph '9' of the judgment :--
'We may now consider the merits of the question raised before us. While doing so, we may point out that we are concerned essentially with Section 14(1)(b)(i) by reference to whichthe respondent has been denied, renewal of his licences.'
and thereafter it went on to observe in paragraph 14 of the judgment : --
'It is said that a threat to the security of the public peace and public safety may arise rendering it necessary to exclude a hearing to the applicant before a licence is refused. That argument can be appreciated when it is raised in respect of the suspension or revocation of a Licence. But when it is sought to be employed in respect of the grant or refusal of a licence it is not intelligible. Until a licence is granted there is no right to the possession of fire arms and ammunition or to a business in them. We find it difficult to comprehend how the public peace or public security can be endangered merely because there is an application for the grant of a licence.'
12. It thus appears that notwithstanding the apparent similarity in the provisions contained in Sections 14 and 17 of the Act the Bench clearly brought it out that different considerations may prevail while interpreting the two provisions. Accordingly, we are unable to project the ratio of the decision in State of U. P. v. Jaswant Singh Sarna's case (supra) while considering the scope and ambit of the provisions contained in Section 17 of the Act.
13. Learned counsel for the licensee further relied upon the decisions in the cases of Jai Narain Rai v. District Magistrate, Azamgarh AIR 1966 All 265, Dr. Harisingh Harnamsingh Khalsa v. E. F. Deboo, AIR 1969 Guj 349, Digambar Panda v. Addl. District Magistrate, Dhenkanal, AIR 1970 Orissa 110, Kukkila Naraina Naik v. Addl. District Magistrate, AIR 1971 Ker 162, and Labha Singh Chattar Singh v. The Divisional Commr. Ambala Division, Ambala AIR 1972 Punj and Har 122, wherein it has been held that the licensing authority is, before making an order revoking/suspending an arms licence under Section 17(3) of the Act, bound to follow the principles of natural justice and to afford an opportunity to the licensee to place his case before it. It is significant to note that in all these cases the courts have proceeded on the basis that revocation or suspension of arms licence affects the rights of a licensee and that in such cases the principles of natural justice require that the licensee should be heard before any order adverse to him is made. However,the aspect which has weighed with us in coming to the conclusion that the statutory provisions contained in Section 17 of the Act rule out the applicability of the principles of natural justice at the stage of passing of the said order was neither noticed nor discussed in any of these cases. We are accordingly of opinion that aforementioned decisions cited by learned counsel for the licensee are not helpful in determining the true nature and scope of the provisions contained in Section 17 of the Act.
14. The object of the enquiry that a licensing authority may, while proceeding to consider the question as to whether or not an arms licence should be revoked or suspended, like to make, clearly is to enable the licensing authority to come to a conclusion as to whether or not the facts stated in Clauses (a) to (e) of Section 17(3) exist and as already explained it is not obliged to before considering that a case for revocation/suspension of licence has been made out, associate the licensee in such enquiry. In this view of the matter it can safely be taken that where a licensing authority embarks upon such an enquiry it is, till then, not convinced about existence of the conditions mentioned in Clauses (a) to (e) of Section 17(3) of the Act. So long as it is not so convinced no case to make an order either revoking or suspending an arms licence as contemplated by the section will be made out.
15. Viewed in this light, the scope of the first question referred to us seems to be whether the licensing authority, in a case where it is proceeding to enquire into the existence of the facts justifying making of an order for revocation/suspension of an arms licence, it is open to it to suspend the licence pending such enquiry and before it has formed an opinion with regard to existence of such facts.
16. Clearly Section 17 of the Act does not in so many words empower the making of an order for suspension pending enquiry into existence of the facts justifying making of the order for revocation/suspension on grounds mentioned in Section 17(3) of the Act. There is also no specific provision in the Arms Act empowering the licensing authority to suspend an arms licence pending such enquiry. The question that arises for consideration is whether having regard to the nature of the enquiry that the licensing authority is expected to make, can it be said that power to suspend the licencepending such enquiry inheres or is implied in the power conferred upon the licensing authority by Section 17 of the Act.
17. On behalf of the State, existence of such a power to suspend an arms licence during pendency of the enquiry is sought to be made out on following grounds :
1. Unless such a power is assumed to exist in the licensing authority, it may not be possible to in cases of urgency, secure public peace and safety. Thus the very object for which the provisions contained in the Act have been enacted may get defeated; and
2. that such a power is to be regarded as inherent/incidental power of the licensing authority.
18. So far as the first ground mentioned above is concerned, learned counsel for the State contended that one of the main objectives sought to be achieved by revocation/ suspension of an arms licence is to secure public peace and safety. In case the licensing authority is not enabled to suspend the licence during pendency of the enquiry, public peace and safety may, during such enquiry, get disturbed. It would, in the circumstances, be reasonable to recognise a power in the licensing authority to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry. We are unable to accept this submission. As already explained, if there already is material before the licensing authority and it becomes apparent to it that possession of arms by the licensee is going to endanger public peace and safety, it can straightway and without holding any enquiry proceed to revoke/suspend the arms licence after recording reasons therefor and if the licensee is aggrieved by such orders, he will have a right to ventilate his grievance before the appellate authority. However, if there is no such material before the licensing authority and it is not apparent to it that there is an immediate danger to public peace and safety and it, on some information being laid before it, proceeds to find out whether there is any likelihood of public peace and safety being affected at some future date, it cannot be said that there is any such urgency so as to justify the revocation/cancellation of the licences even before the licensing authority gets so satisfied. In the circumstances, considering the nature and the object of the enquiry which a licensing authority is required to make forfinding out if the facts justifying passing of an order for revocation/suspension of licence exist, it cannot be said that non-conferment of the power to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry has the effect of defeating the object for which such a power has been conferred upon the licensing authority.
19. We now proceed to consider the next submission made by learned counsel for the State, namely, that it should be taken that the power to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry is countenanced by the Act inasmuch as such a power inheres in the licensing authority and at any rate such a power is to be regarded as a power incidential to or implied in the power conferred upon the licensing authority.
20. In regard to revocation/suspension of an arms licence the power and duties of the licensing authorities are regulated and are limited by the statutory provisions contained in Section 17 of the Arms Act and as per following observation made by the Supreme Court in the case of Sub-Divisional Officer v. S. N. Singh, AIR 1970 SC 140 it cannot be said that such a power inheres in it : --
'The Gaon Sabha is the creature of a statute. Its powers and duties as well as the powers and duties of its officers are all regulated by the Act. Hence no question of any inherent power arises for consideration.'
The other submission that such a power to suspend an arms licence pending enquiry can be justified as a power incidental to the power conferred by Section 17 of the Act also does not appeal to us. In the first place the question whether in the absence of a provision like the one contained in Section 19-A of the U. P. General Clauses Act (which specifically provides that where a U. P. Act confers a power it will be deemed that all incidental powers for exercising that power have also been conferred), in the Central General Clauses Act which governs the Arms Act, any incidental power can be read in the statute, become debatable. However, without expressing any concluded opinion on this point, we proceed to consider that question on the footing that where a statute confers a power it should also be taken to have conferred all other incidental powers as well. We find that the question with regard to ambit of the powerthat can be regarded as incidental for proper exercise of statutory powers has also been considered by the Supreme Court in the case of Sub-Divisional Officer v. S. N. Singh, AIR 1970 SC 140, wherein it has made the following observations : --
'It is well recognised that where an Act confers a jurisdiction, it impliedly also grants the power of doing all such act, or employing such means as are essentially necessary to its execution. But before implying the existence of such a power, the court must be satisfied that the existence of that power is absolutely essential for the discharge of the power conferred and not merely that it is convenient to have such a power. We are not satisfied that the power to place under suspension an officer is absolutely essential for the proper exercise of the power conferred under Section 95(1)(g). It cannot be said that the power in question cannot be properly exercised without the power to suspend pending enquiry. The mere possibility of interference with the course of enquiry or of further misuse of powers are not sufficient to enlarge the scope of a statutory power. If it is otherwise the mere power to punish an offender would have been held sufficient to arrest and detain him pending enquiry and trial There would have been no need to confer specific power to arrest and detain persons charged with offences before their conviction.'
21. It is thus evident that before a power can be implied as an incidental power, the Court has to be satisfied that existence of such power is absolutely essential for the discharge of the power conferred and not merely that it is convenient for its exercise. In our opinion, it can neither be said that the power to suspend an arms licence, pending an enquiry of the nature that a licensing authority may like to make before ordering revocation/suspension of the arms licence, is absolutely necessary n&r; can it be said that the power to revoke/suspend a licence in the circumstances mentioned in Section 17 of the Act cannot be exercised unless a power to suspend the licence pending enquiry is also conceded to the licensing authority.
22. In the result, we are of opinion that having regard to the scheme and purpose of the provisions contained in Sections 17 and 18 of the Act and the nature of the enquiry that alicensing authority is to make before directing revocation/suspension of an arms licence, it has no power to suspend the arms licence pending enquiry into its cancellation/suspension. The first question referred to us is accordingly answered in the negative. In view of our answer to the first question, the controversy sought to be resolved by the second question does not arise for consideration and it is not necessary to answer the same.
23. Let this and other connected cases shown in the cause list along with our opinion before the concerned Bench for passing appropriate orders.