1. In IT Reference No. 948 of 1975, the following question of law was referred to the Allahabad High Court: Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Tribunal is justified in holding that the income derived by the Radha Swami Satsang, a religious institution, is entitled to exemption under Sections 11 and 12 of the Income-tax Act, 1961 By their Judgment dated 7-7-1980, their Lordships of the Allahabad High Court have answered the question in the negative, in favour of the department and against the assessee. Now the matter comes up for passing an order under Section 260(1) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 ('the Act'), conformably to the Judgment of their Lordships referred to above.
2. When the matter came up for hearing, Shri G.C. Sharma, the learned counsel for the assessee, submitted that though the decision of the High Court on the question referred to them, has gone against the assessee, still the alternative submission made by the assessee to the Tribunal at the time of original hearing of the appeals, remains to be considered and disposed of. In this connection, he invited our attention to paragraph 20 of the order of the Tribunal dated 24-8-1974, where the Tribunal held that in the view they had taken that even on an independent and fresh examination of the whole issue for the assessment years under consideration, the assessee is entitled to exemption, it was unnecessary to consider how far the assessee was justified in its argument based on 'estoppel'. He, therefore, submitted that the assessee's submission on the basis of the estoppel should be considered now and disposed of by the Tribunal. According to the learned counsel, the argument based on the ground of estoppel would be clear from ground No. 2 in all the three years, which is as follows : 2. Because the authorities below have been arbitrary and unjust in deviating from the past without any fresh evidence or record.
3. The learned counsel next contended that he was pressing ground No.1, read with ground No. 9, in the appeal for 1967-68, the corresponding grounds being ground Nos. 1 and 11 in the appeals for 1968-69 and 1969-70. These two grounds read as follows : Shri G.C. Sharma, the learned counsel, submitted that the assessee had submitted applications foe refund along with returns of income for these three years and that these applications filed by the assessee for refund could not be converted by the ITO into proceedings for assessment of the total income of the assessee for these three assessment years. According to Shri Sharma this was a legal ground which should be decided now as this has not been withdrawn by the appellant specifically.
4. Shri Sharma then argued that the A AC erred in sustaining the following additions which were made by the ITO to the income of the assessee :___________________________________________________________Assessment year Sale of wild grass Net profit from sales of books and photos___________________________________________________________ 1967-68 Rs. 1,000 Rs. 1,020 1968-69 Rs. 1,500 Rs. 1,2071969-70 Rs. 2,000 Rs. 1,297____________________________________________________________ According to the learned counsel, there was no basis for these additions made by the departmental authorities and that the same should be deleted, in case we do not agree with his submissions set out earlier. Shri Sharma relied on the following three decisions in support of his contentions that grounds whick were not decided earlier by the Tribunal have to be decided by it while giving effect to the order of the High Court-CIT v. Hyderabad Deccan Liquor Syndicate  95 ITR 130 (AP) ; Udhavdas Kewalram v. CIT  66 ITR 462 (SC) and CIT v.Hanumanbux Inderchand  125 ITR 248 (Gauhati).
5. Shri M.M. Prasad for the revenue contested every one of the contentions urged on behalf of the assessee and submitted that what the assessee was seeking to do was to indirectly get a decision in its favour in spite of the answer given by the High Court against the assessee on the crucial question that was referred to the High Court regarding the exemption of the assessee's income under Sections 11 and 12 of the Act. Shri Prasad submitted that this was not permissible in law. He, however, submitted that the assessee's contentions based on the ground of estoppel were misconceived as there could be no estoppel against statute. He then argued that the contention based on ground Nos. 1 and 9 should not be allowed to be taken for the first time at this stage of the appeals, as no such contention seems to have been argued at the time of hearing of the appeals. Shri Prasad also submitted that the additions made by the departmental authorities were fully justified and that the same should be upheld.6. We have carefully considered the submissions urged on both sides in the light of the authorities cited and relied on by the learned counsel. In para 20 of the appellate order dated 24-8-1974, the Tribunal disposed of the alternative contention based on the ground of estoppel in the following words : 20. In the view we have taken that even on an independent and a fresh examination of the whole issue for the assessment years under consideration the assessee is entitled to exemption, it is unnecessary to consider how far the assessee is justified in its argument based on 'estoppel'. The assessee's contention that the position in the years under appeal is not different from the position in the earlier years (except for the non-existence of the Satguru) appears to be correct. We are of opinion that the non-existence of the Satguru is a difference which goes in favour of the assessee and that to the extent the departmental authorities purported to depart from the earlier position on the ground that the position of facts was different, their orders cannot be supported.
We do not, however, wish to discuss the issue whether even without a change ia the facts it was open to them or not to come to a different conclusion. This is rather a difficult issue because both the principles are well-settled. The first is that for income-tax purposes each year is a self-contained period and it is open to the authorities to examine the facts and the position at law independently without being bogged by a rule of estoppel or res judicata. Equally, it is well-settled that the decision arrived at on earlier occasion should not be lightly departed from and that there should be a consistency of approach unless there is a change either in the factual position or the legal position. To what extent either of these two rules operate in the event of there being a conflict between them is a difficult question to decide. Since we have taken the view that even if the position is re-examined the assessee is entitled to succeed, it is unnecessary to resolve this conflict in the present case.
It is in the light of the above observations that the learned counsel for the assessee contends that we should decide this ground which was left open by the Tribunal. In our view, such an exercise will be a futile exercise in view of the fact that there has been an independent and fresh examination of the whole issue for the three assessment years under consideration of the assessee's claim for exemption not only by the Tribunal but also by the High Court. In fact, it is not open to the Tribunal to traverse beyond its jurisdiction while giving effect to the Judgment of the High Court on the question referred by the Tribunal to the High Court. As rightly contended by the revenue, the assessee cannot the guise of urging an alternative plea which was not originally decided by the Tribunal (sic). Further, there cannot be any estoppel against a statute. Realising this position in law the learned counsel did not rightly put his case on the ground of estoppel but relied on the rule of 'stare decisis'. In support of this plea, the learned counsel has given quotations from 'Words and Phrases'. But a perusal of the extracts from this book clearly shows that this rule of stare decisis is inapplicable in the present case. The decision of the Commissioner given in the assessment years 1937-38 and 1938-39 and followed by the department in all the subsequent assessment years up to and inclusive of the assessment year 1963-64 are not decisions of any High, Court or the Supreme Court to which alone this rule of stare decisis would be applicable. It is not, therefore, necessary for us to discuss in detail the extracts given from the book 'Words and Phrases' or the extracts from the book of Interpretation of Statutes by Vepa P.Sarathi in which the learned author has relied on the decision in the case of CIT v. B. Malhotra  2 SCC 547/ 2 SCC 35. In fact the extract relied on by the learned counsel from these two decisions only support our conclusion that the rule of stare decisis would be applicable only to decisions of a High Court or the Supreme Court and not to any decisions either of the departmental authorities or even of the Tribunal. In British Indian Corporation Ltd. v. CIT  60 ITR 793 (All.), their Lordships of the Allahabad High Court reviewed English and Indian case law on the question of res judicata in tax litigation and held that the decision of the same High Court in the earlier reference in the case of the same assessee which was reported in British India Cor poration Ltd. v. CEPT/CIT  33 ITR 826 did not operate as res judicata as a matter of pure law. Their Lordships further held that in the said case there was no identity between the question of the earlier reference and the present question because the chargeable accounting periods and the sums were different and that the earlier decision did not also have effect as stare decisis as it was overruled by the decision in Ahmedabad Manufacturing & Calico Printing Co. Ltd. v. CEPT  38 ITR 675 (SC).
7. In this connection we may usefully refer to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd. v. State of Uttar Pradesh  118 ITR 326 and CIT v. B.N. Bhattachargee  118 ITR 461. In the first case, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of promissory estoppel cannot be applied in the teeth of an obligation or liability imposed by law, that promissory estoppel cannot be invoked to compel the Government or even a private party to do an act prohibited by law, that there can also be no promissory estoppel against the exercise of legislative power and that the Legislature can never be precluded from exercising its legislative function by resort to the doctrine of promissory estoppel. In the latter Judgment, the Supreme Court again considered the rule of estoppel and held as follows : What, in essence, is estoppel Estoppel is a rule of equity which forbids truth being pleaded or representation, on which faith another has acted to his detriment, being retracted. Even extending the rule into the new flanged empire of promissory estoppel it cannot go beyond the limits of the Law Revision Committee in England which Lord Denning allowed to blossom in High Trees' case  1 KB 130 (KB), see Discipline of Law by Lord Denning, page 202 : 'We, therefore, recommend that a promise which the promisor knows, or reasonably should know, will be relied upon by the promisee, shall be enforceable if the promisee has altered his position to his detriment in reliance on the promise.' The soul of estoppel is equity, not facility for inequity. Nor is estoppel against statute permissible because public policy animating a statutory provision may then become the casualty. Halsbury has noted this sensible nicety (Halsbury's laws of England, para 1515) : 'Where a statute, enacted for the benefit of a section of the public imposes a duty of a positive kind, the person charged with the performance of the duty cannot by estoppel be prevented from exercising his statutory powers.' [Maritime Electric Co. Ltd. v. General Dairies Ltd.  AC 610 ;  1 All ER 748 (PC)].
'A petitioner in a divorce suit cannot obtain relief simply because the respondent is estopped from denying the charges, as the Court has a statutory duty to inquire into the truth of a petition.' [Hudson v. Hudson  p. 292 ; Halsbury's Laws of England, para 1515]. The luminous footnote cites rulings and states that : 'This rule probably also applies where the statute bestows a discretion rather than imposing a duty.' [Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th Edn., p. 109], To sum up, where public duties cast by statute are involved, private parties cannot prevent performance by invoking estoppel. We do not discuss further since the facts here exclude estoppel.(p. 484) 8. In our view, these two decisions of the Supreme Court as well as the decision of the Allahabad High Court directly answer the assessee's contentions on the alternative plea of estoppel or stare decisis as was sought to be argued by the learned counsel for the assessee. We, therefore, respectfully follow these decisions and reject ground No. 2 in all the three years.
9 to 11. [These paras are not reproduced here as they involve minor issues.]