1. This petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India seeks the issuance of an appropriate writ quashing the assessment notice dated the 8th of January, 1970 (Annexure 'A' to the petition) and the demand notice dated the 2nd of March, 1970 (Annexure 'B' to the petition) and prohibiting the Market Committee, Ambala Contonment (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) from recovering the petitioner, who is partnership firm carrying on its business as a licensed dealer in agricultural produce at village Mullana within the territorial jurisdiction of the Committee a sum of Rs.4782.68 and has arisen in these circumstances. According to the provisions of sub-rule (8) Rule 24 of the Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets (General) Rules (1962), (hereinafter referred to as the Rules) an auctioneer appointed by the Committee has to fill in relevant particulars in a book to be maintained in Form H and to secure the signatures of both the buyer and the seller to a transaction of sale of agricultural produce as soon as it has been auctioned.
The practice is in vogue at Mandi Mullana is that such a book is maintained not only by the Committee's auctioneer but also by the licensed dealer who conducts the sale on behalf of his principal. On the 9th of December, 1969, the business premises of the petitioner were visited by the Committee's Secretary who found that no entries had been made by the petitioner in its book in Form H with regard to 10 transactions of sale, the auction and weighment of the goods covered by which had already taken place. The total value of such goods was found to be Rs.2204/-
On the 8th of January, 1970, the Administrator of the Committee issued a notice (Annexure 'A' to the petition) to the petitioner declaring that it had not furnished correct returns for the period from the 1st April, 1969 to the 9th of December, 1969, and that it was necessary to make an assessment in relation to it under Rule 31(1) of the Rules for the period above mentioned and directing it to attend the office of the Committee on the 19th of January, 1970, along with 'accounts and documents' the details of which were not specified. Jai Ram, a partner of the petitioner, complied with the direction and produced all the accounts and documents maintained by it for the said period. He also 'pleaded guilty and requested for pardon.' On the same day Administrator passed an order, the operative part of which runs as follows:--
'I assess this Uchanti business of the firm in question to the extent of the transactions made on the 9th of December, 1969, i.e., the assessment at the rate of Rs.22.04 p. per working day with effect from 1-4-1969 to 9-12-1969. (This assessment) is made in exercise of R. 31(8) * * * *
The Secretary may work out the working days and total amount to be recovered and put up along with the demand notice in Form P * * * *'
In making this order the Administrator took into account not only the plea of guilty and request for pardon made by Jai Ram but also the fact that in neither of the books maintained by the Committee's auctioneer and the petitioner in Form H had the said transactions been entered by the time the Secretary of the Committee visited the business premises of the petitioner. He inferred that the intention of the petitioner was to evade payment of the market fee on those transactions and that 'there is every reason to believe that it may be the usual practice of the firm.'
The notice of demand (Annexure 'B' to the petition) required the petitioner to pay Rs.4782.68 in pursuance of the order of the Administrator.
2. The orders contained in Annexures 'A' and 'B' to the petition have been challenged on the following grounds:--
(i) There was no intention on the part of the petitioner to evade the payment of market fees as was clearly deducible from the fact that the account books of the petitioner contained full entries with regard to ten transactions above mentioned. The Administrator had gone completely wrong in not relying upon those books.
(ii) The assessment order does not comply with the provisions of sub-rules (5),(7) and (8) of R. 31 of the Rules and is, therefore, without jurisdiction.
(iii) The assessment order was passed in contravention of the principles on natural justice.
3. There is no merit in any of the grounds set out above. The books produced by the petitioner before the Administrator no doubt contained entries with regard to the ten transactions in question but then those entries were made after the Secretary of the Committee had visited the business premises of the petitioner and had taken exception to the omission of any reference to those transactions in the book maintained by the petitioner in Form H. The fraud having been detected, the petitioner certainly tried to cover it up by making entries ex post facto which cannot condone the fraud already detected. The Administrator was, therefore, fully justified in holding the books of account to be unreliable and the petitioner guilty of an intention of evading payment of market fees.
Sub-rules (5),(7) and (8) of R. 31 of the Rules are quoted below:--
'31. * * * * * * * *
(5) If a dealer habitually makes default in the submission of returns or if in the opinion of the Committee may order for the inspection of the dealer's accounts (sic).* * * *
(7) The Committee may authorise one or more of its members to carry out the inspection ordered by it under sub-rule (5). Such member or members shall be assisted by such employees of the Committee as may be deputed by it for that purpose.
(8) Such member or members may after inspection prepare a return or may amend the return already furnished, on the basis of transactions, appearing in the dealer's account-books, and the Committee may levy a fee, or, as the case may be, an additional fee, under Section 23 on the basis of such return or amended return, but if the account-books are reported to be unreliable, or as not providing sufficient material for proper preparation or amendment of the return or if no such books are maintained or produced, the Committee may assess the amount of the dealer's business on such information as may be available or on the basis of best judgment, and levy fee on the basis of such assessment.'
Learned counsel for the petitioner contends that under sub-rule (8) the Administrator could only levy market fee on the ten transactions mentioned above and that he had no jurisdiction to revise the entire assessment for the period 1-4-1969 to 9-12-1969 on the basis of the omission of the petitioner to enter the ten transactions in the book maintained in Form H. In so contending, however, learned counsel ignores the latter part of the clause which authorises the Committee (whose powers are exercisable by the Administrator in the present case) to assess the amount of a dealer's business on such information as may be available, or on the basis of best judgment, if the account-books of the dealer are reported to be unreliable. the Administrator having held the books of the petitioner to fall in that category, and in my opinion, rightly, the requirements of the rule are fully complied with.
Nor do I see how there has been any infringement of the rules of natural justice. The phrase 'natural justice' is not a magic wand which can be used to strike down every order of a competent authority who has given the party aggrieved full opportunity to have his say and has also complied with the relevant provisions of law. It is not the case of the petitioner that the impugned orders were passed without a proper hearing being given to him. On the other hand, he himself avers that he produced his account-books before the Administrator who checked the same in detail, asked Jai Ram about the reason for the omission of entries with regard to the ten transactions of sale on the 9th of December, 1969 from the book maintained in Form H, considered the plea of guilty and the request for pardon made by Jai Ram, and then passed the assessment order, although the same is said to have been passed behind Jai Ram's back. No principle of natural justice can in these circumstances be said to have been transgressed.
4. For the reasons stated, the petition fails and is dismissed with costs. Counsel's fee Rs.100/-
5. Petition dismissed.