Skip to content


Northern India Caterers (India) Ltd. Vs. Lt. Governor of Delhi. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtSupreme Court of India
Decided On
Case NumberC.A. Nos. 1768 & 1769 of 1972
Reported in(1978)7CTR(SC)130
AppellantNorthern India Caterers (India) Ltd.
RespondentLt. Governor of Delhi.
Cases ReferredMunicipal Corporation of Delhi vs. Laxmi Narain Tandon and
Excerpt:
.....in his house, and when he utters it again, it is attendea with many circumstances additional to the mere selling price'.like the hotelier, a restaurateur provides many services in addition to the supply of food......in the case of non-residents the service of meals by the appellant in the restaurant constitutes a sale of foodstuffs. it appears to us that after the view taken by this court in state of punjab vs. m/s. associated hotels of india ltd., the approach to the question before us is clearly indicated.4. this is a case where the origin and historical development of an institution has profoundly influenced the nature and incident it possesses in law. in the case of an hotelier this court proceeded on the footing that his position in law was assimilable to that of an innkeeper. at common law an innkeeper was a person who received travelers and provided lodging and necessaries for them and their attendants and employed servants for this purpose and for the protection of travelers lodging in his.....
Judgment:

Pathak, J. - This and the connected appeal are directed against the judgment of the High Court of Delhi disposing of a reference made to it under S. 21(3) of the Bengal Finance (Sales Tax) Act, 1941 as extended to the Union territory of Delhi on the following question :-

'Whether the service of meals to casual visitors in the Restaurant is taxable as a sale

(i) when the charges are lumpsum per meal or

(ii) when they are calculated per dish'

The High Court has answered the question in the affirmative.

2. The appellant runs a hotel in which loading and meals are provided on 'inclusive terms' to residents. Meals are served to non-residents also in the restaurant located in the hotel. In the assessment proceedings for the assessment years 1957-58 and 1958-59 under the Bengal Finance (Sales Tax) Act, 1941, the appellant contended that the service of meals to residents and non-residents could not be regarded as a sale and therefore sales tax could not be levied in respect thereof. The contention was rejected by the Sales Tax authorities, who treated a portion of the receipts from the residents and non-residents as representing the price of the foodstuffs served. At the instance of the appellant, the High Court called for a statement of the case on two questions. One was whether the supply of meals to residents, who paid a single all-inclusive charge for all services in the hotel, including board, was exigible to sales tax. The second was the question set fourth above. The High Court answered the first question in favour of the appellate and the second against it. And now these appeals by special leave.

3. Tax is payable by a dealer under S. 4 of the Bengal Finance (Sales Tax) Act, 1941 on sales effected by him, and the expression 'sale' has been defined by S. 2(g) of the Act to mean 'any transfer of property in goods for cash or deferred payment or other valuable consideration including a transfer of property in goods involved in the execution of a contract ...'. The question is whether in the case of non-residents the service of meals by the appellant in the restaurant constitutes a sale of foodstuffs. It appears to us that after the view taken by this Court in State of Punjab vs. M/s. Associated Hotels of India Ltd., the approach to the question before us is clearly indicated.

4. This is a case where the origin and historical development of an institution has profoundly influenced the nature and incident it possesses in law. In the case of an hotelier this Court proceeded on the footing that his position in law was assimilable to that of an innkeeper. At common law an innkeeper was a person who received travelers and provided lodging and necessaries for them and their attendants and employed servants for this purpose and for the protection of travelers lodging in his inn and of their goods. It was hospitality that he offered, and the many facilities the constituted the components of that hospitality determined the legal character of the transactions flowing from them. Long ago, in Crisp vs. Pratt, it was pointed out the innkeepers do not get their living by buying and selling, and that although they provisions to be spent in their house they do not sell them but what they do is 'utter' them. 'Their gain', it was added 'is not only by uttering of their commities, but for the attendance of their servant and for the furniture of their house, room and lodgings, for their guest ...'. The test went to the root, and we find it repeated in Parkar vs. Flint. In Newton Trigg, Holt, C.J. defined the true status an innkeeper by reference to the services afforded by him, that he was an 'hospitor', an was 'not paid upon the account of the intrinsic value of his provisions for other reasons, the recompense he receives, is for care and pains, and for portion and security ... but the end of inn-keeper in his buying, is not to sell only a part of the accommodation be bound to prepare for his guests'. And the purpose of the question before would be relevant to quote Professor Beale.

'As an innkeeper does not lease rooms, so he does not sell the found supplies to the guest. It is his duty supply such food as the guest needs, and corresponding right of the guest is to such the food he needs, and to take more. Having finished his meal, he has right to take food from the table, even uneaten portion of food supplied to nor can he claim a certain portion as his own to be handed over to another case he chooses not to consume it. The title to food never passes as a result of an ordinary transaction of supplying to a guest'.

Having proper regard to those particular considerations, it is to surprised the principle was extended in England to the service of food at eating places or restaurants. The keeper of an eating house, or victualler, was regarded fundamental providing sustenance to those who food to eat in the premises. That eminent and learned Judge, Lord Mansfield distinction, in Saunders on vs. Rowles an innkeeper and a victualler. He observed :

'The analogy between the two of an innkeeper and a victualler is to strong that it cannot be got over. And we are all clear that this man (victualler) is not within these laws, upon the authority of a determined case of an innkeeper, and also upon the reason of the thing ... He buys only to spend in his house, and when he utters it again, it is attendea with many circumstances additional to the mere selling price'.

Like the hotelier, a restaurateur provides many services in addition to the supply of food. He provides furniture and furnishings, linen, crockery and cutlery, and in the eating places of today he may add music and a specially provided areas for floor dancing and in some cases a floor show. The view taken by the English law found acceptance on American soil, and after some desultory dissent initially in certain states it very soon became firmly established as the general view of the law. The first edition of American Jurisprudence sets forth the statement of the law in that regard, but we may go to the case itself, Electa R. Merrill vs. James W. Hodson, from which the statement has been derived. Holding that the supply of food or drink to customers did not partake of the character of a sale of goods, the Court commented :

'The essence of it is not an agreement for the transfer of the general property of the food or drink placed at the command of the customer for the satisfaction of his desires, or actually appropriated by him in the process of appeasing his appetite or thirst. The customer does not become the owner of the food set before him, or of that portion which is carved for his use, or of that which finds a place upon his plate, or in side dishes set about it. No designated portion becomes his. He is privileged to eat, and that is all. The uneaten food is not his. He cannot do what he pleases with it. That which is set before him or placed of his command is provided to enable him to satisfy his immediate wants, and for no other purpose. He may satisfy those wants; but there he must stop. He may not turn over unconsumed portions so others at his pleasure, or carry away such portions. The true essence of the transaction is service in the satisfaction of a human need or desire, ministry to a bodily want. A necessary incident of this service or ministry is the consumption of the food required. This consumption involves destructions, and nothing remains of what is consumed to which the right of property can be said to attach. Before consumption title does not pass; after consumption there remains nothing to become the subject of title. What the customer pays for is a right to satisfy his appetite by the process of destruction. What he thus pays for includes more than the price of the food as such. It includes all that enters into the conception of service, and with it no small factor of direct personal service. It does not contemplate the transfer of the general property in the food supplied as a factor in the service rendered'.

Subsequent cases draw on these observations, notably Mary Nisky vs. Childs Company. The position was radically altered in the United States by the enactment of Uniform Commercial Code, which provides in effect that the serving for value of food or drink to be consumed either on the premises or elsewhere constituted a sale. Nonetheless, it is affirmed in the second edition of American Jurisprudence that where the Code does not operate, 'in general the pre-Code distinction between a contract for sale and one for the giving of services should continue'.

5. It has already been noticed that in regards to hotels this Court has in M/s. Associated Hotels of India Limited adopted the concept of the English law that there is no sale when food and drink are supplied to guests residing in the hotel. The Court pointed out that the supply of meals was essentially in the nature of a service provided to them and could not be identified as a transaction of sale. The Court declined to accept the proposition that the Revenue was entitled to split up the transaction into two parts, one of service and the other of sale of foodstuffs. If that be true in respect of hotels, a similar approach seems to be called for on principle in the case of restaurants. No reason has been shown to us for preferring any other. The classical legal view being that a number of services are concomitantly provided by way of hospitality, the supply of meals must be regarded as ministering to a bodily want or to the satisfaction of a human need. What has been said in Electa B. Merrill appears to be as much applicable to restaurants in India as it does elsewhere. It has not been proved that any different view should be taken, either at common law, in usage or under statute.

6. It was urged for the respondent that in Associated Hotels of India Ltd., this Court drew a distinction between the case of meals supplied to a resident in a hotel and those served to a customer in a restaurant. We are unable to find any proposition of law laid down by the court there which could lead to that inference. We many point out that in the view which appeals to us we find ourselves unable to agree with the observations to the contrary made by the Punjab High Court in M/s. Associated Hotels of India Ltd., Simla vs. Excise an Taxation Officer, Simla, and by the Delhi High Court in Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs. Laxmi Narain Tandon and another.

7. In the result, we hold that the service of meals to visitors in the restaurant of the appellant is not taxable under the Bengal Finance (Sales Tax) Act, 1941, as extended to the Union territory of Delhi and this is so whether a charge is imposed for the meal as a whole or according to the dishes separately ordered.

8. In the circumstances of the case, we make no order as to costs.


Save Judgments// Add Notes // Store Search Result sets // Organizer Client Files //