1. This appeal by the assessee is directed against the order of the AAC dated 19-3-1980. The issue in this appeal is whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the AAC was justified in treating the birds as not animals and denying the assessee exemption available under Section 2(e) of the Wealth-tax Act, 1957 ("the Act"). The assessment year involved is 1976-77.
2. This appeal was fixed after due notice to the parties but when the appeal was called on for hearing, there was no response from the appellant though revenue-respondent was present. Therefore, by virtue of powers vested in us under Rule 24 of the Appellate Tribunal Rules, 1963, the appeal was heard exparte and is being disposed of on merits.
3. The assessee is an individual. For the assessment year 1976-77 which is under appeal, he filed the return of net wealth on 24-11-1973 declaring net wealth of Rs. 63,491 in response to a notice under Section 17 of the Act issued by the WTO. Before the WTO a claim was made that the assessee was entitled to exemption of his one-half share in the value of birds and share in an orchard. The WTO disposed of this claim by pointing out that the assessee's case was similar to that of Smt. Birinder Kaur, who was also a partner in the firm working under the name and style of Empire Farm, Chandigarh, of which the assessee was a partner. Therefore, for the reasons given in that case he disallowed the exemption.
4. The AAC, following the reasons given in the appellate order in the case of Smt. Birinder Kaur, dismissed the appeal of the assessee. The appeal has been dismissed on the ground that the exemption claimed under Section 2(c)(2)(i) is not admissible to the assessee because birds with regard to which the exemption was claimed cannot be construed to be included in the word "animals" used in this clause which grants exemption.
5. We, however, find that the exemption has been wrongly disallowed.
Section 2 relates to definitions. Clause (e) of this section defines "assets" as including property of every description, movable or immovable, but does not include, inter alia, "animals", as mentioned in its Sub-clause (2)(i). If the birds can be said to be included in the term "animals" the assessee will be entitled to exemption. If they are not, the exemption will not be available.
6. In the impugned order made by the AAC, the main reason given for upholding the order made by the WTO is that there is no definition of the word "animals" in the Act and that interpretation of the same term in other Acts cannot be imported so as to give the assessee benefit of this exemption. The AAC has even gone to the extent of saying that "the plain dictionary meaning of the word 'animals' would not include 'birds' in this category". The Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary (revised edn.) defines "animal" as "an organised being having life, sensation and voluntary motion typically distinguished from a plant, which is organised and has life, but apparently not sensation or voluntary motion". The order of the WTO shows that the assessee claimed exemption with regard to the share in the firm which was running a poultry farm can easily be described (sic) according to this dictionary meaning as "animals" because they are organised being having fife, sensation and voluntary motion.
7. The ITO himself gave a definition of the word "bird" to reject the assessee's claim that chickens are not animals. The definition of the word "bird" from the dictionary recorded by him in his order and reproduced by the learned AAC is : "a class of worm-blooded vertebrates, having a body more or less completely covered with feathers and the forelimbs so modified as to form wings by means of which most species fly in the air." The learned WTO has not specified the dictionary from which he took the definition of the word "bird".
But even according to the dictionary meaning that he relied upon and which does not appear to have been properly appreciated, the word "bird" itself connotes an animal because vertebrates are nothing but the backbone of animals as vertebrate is a joint of the backbone. Thus, even according to the definition which the WTO relied upon to reject the claim of the assessee, animals include birds like chickens.
8. Thus it appears that there was no justification for the authorities below to reject the claim of the assessee. Even if we do not go to the provisions of the Acts like the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which treat the birds as animals, the dictionary meaning of the word "animals" clearly shows that its ordinary meaning will take in birds. The assessee's claim of exemption was, therefore, wrongly disallowed. We direct that the claim of the assessee be considered and necessary relief granted.