1. There are three sales tax references Nos. 33, 34 and 35 of 1973 before the Court. But they involve a common point. In each of these cases the question of law referred to us is :
'Whether having regard to the facts and the circumstances of the case the neon signs sold by the respondent are covered by the term 'electrical goods' within the meaning of entry No. 18 of the First Schedule as appended to the Act.'
2. In order to understand the scope of the question, it is only necessary to state that the assessed-dealer are engaged in the manufacture and sale of neon signs and other activities which are not material. The neon sign is operated by electricity and the question which has arisen is whether the neon signs are actually electrical goods or not. No doubt, neon signs are activated by electricity and normally speaking should be considered as electrical goods. But the signs manufactured by the two assesseds before us are in the shape of letters. These signs are visible by daylight as well as by night.
3. In the case of M/s. India Neon Signs, the Financial Commissioner, who decided the last revision under section 20(3) of the Bengal Finance (Sales Tax) Act, 1941, as extended to the Union Territory of Delhi, held that the consensus of opinion in the judgment referred to by him was that advertisement material which was energised by night to reflect light could not be termed as electrical goods. It had been contended before the Financial Commissioner that these signs were advertising material. There were advertisements which could be lit up at night, but were equally effective in the daytime. The judgment refers to a large number of cases which will presently be referred to.
4. The basic question is, what is electrical goods; they may, for a start, be taken as a kind of equipment which cannot be operated except with electricity. The intriguing question in this case is, thereforee, the undoubted fact that even without electricity these signs perform their basic function as advertisement. They cannot, thereforee, easily come within the scope of electrical goods as used in the sales tax law. Nevertheless, such signs would not be very effective without electricity. So, the basic problem as to whether they are electrical goods or not electrical goods remains to be examined in the light of the law laid down in various cases.
5. Before dealing with the cases, it will be convenient to describe one of the neon signs that was actually brought to the court. It consists of a tube or tubes shaped like letters of the English alphabet. The tubes can just as well be shaped in the letters of any other language. Each tube is hollow and is filled with gas. It may be neon or it may be argon or some other gas. There is an electrical connection at the end of the tube. If it is the letter C, then one electrical connection is at one end of C and the other is at the other end of C. When the current is passed through this tube it lights up and shines brightly coloured red. When the electricity is put off then also the words are readable. Normally, above the shops, offices and commercial establishments one can commonly see these signs which are clear and distinct in the daytime showing the name of the office or the shop, as the case may be. At night-time when the electricity is switched on then also these signs shine in different colours according to the nature of the gas which has been put into them. These tubes are, thereforee, workable and distinctly usable both by day as well as by night and they are equally usable with or without electricity.
6. Now, to turn to the problem whether these are electrical goods or not, it is necessary to refer to the various cases. In William Jacks & Co. Ltd. v. State of Madras  6 S.T.C. 301, the question before the court was whether various types of machinery supplied by the assessed were electrical goods. These included electrical pump sets, circular saw benches and other machines. The majority of the Tribunal had held that these goods which contained electrical motors were 'electrical goods' but the Chairman of the Tribunal came to the view that they were not 'electrical goods'. The Chairman had given the following test :
'I hold that only such articles the use of which cannot be had except with the application of electric energy, can be termed electrical goods or appliances.'
7. The Chairman had held that barring a case where a machine could not be used except with the application of electrical energy, the machine had to be regarded as non-electrical. It was also observed that the goods which were sold could not be split up into an electrical component and a non-electrical component. This test was accepted by the Madras High Court. The analysis also shows that in the case of electrical pump sets, which could not be driven by any alternative power supply, it was held that these pump sets were electrical goods. Similarly, it was held that grinding machines were electrical goods. So, some of the items were held to be electrical goods, but some were not. The court also concluded that the machine as a whole had to be examined to see whether it fell within the category of 'electrical goods'.
8. In J.B. Advani-Oerlikon, Electrodes, Pvt. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Sales Tax, M.P.  30 S.T.C. 337., a question arose whether the electrodes used for welding purposes were 'electrical goods'. It was held, they were not. The test given was (a) the article should be one which could not be used without electrical energy, and (b) it must by its very nature be 'electrical goods'. It was held by the court that though electrodes were used for welding material, they were not in common parlance 'electrical goods'.
9. In another case decided by the Madras High Court, William Jacks and Co. Ltd. v. State of Madras  11 S.T.C. 340., the question arose whether lathes driven by electrical energy were 'electrical goods'. It was held that they did not fall within the category of electrical goods. The reason for this decision was that no doubt, the lathe in question was used with an electrical motor, but it could still be worked with some other source of power and did not become 'electrical goods' merely because it was being used with electricity.
10. In William Jacks and Company Limited v. State of Madras  7 S.T.C. 327., the question before the court was whether an agricultural tractor could be described as 'electrical goods'. This point arose because it was contended that the tractor could not be used without electricity. It was held that the whole article should be looked at and the tractor could not be described as 'electrical goods'.
11. Another case cited before us was the judgment of the Supreme Court in Ramavatar Budhaiprasad v. Assistant Sales Tax Officer, Akola : 1SCR279 . In that case, the question was whether betel leaves could be described as vegetables. It was held that betel leaves were not vegetables because they were not normally grown in the kitchen garden and were not used on the table. In other words, the popular sense of the term 'vegetable' was applied rather than the botanical sense.
12. In State of Andhra Pradesh v. Indian Detonators Ltd., Hyderabad  28 S.T.C. 84., the question before the court was whether 'electric detonators' manufactured by the Indian Detonators Ltd. were electrical goods. It was held that they were not. This judgment was based on the view that electricity was used in a detonator only to start it and after it had once been ignited, then it was dependent for its explosive power on the Chemical mixture used inside it. It was, thereforee, not 'electrical goods'.
13. In Deputy Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, Madurai Division v. Ravi Auto Stores  22 S.T.C. 172., welding electrodes were held by the Madras High Court not to be electrical goods.
14. Many other decisions were cited before us to show the kind of test that is to be employed for determining whether certain goods fall within a particular category or did not so fall.
15. In the present case, the problem has to be resolved in the light of the article in question. No doubt, a neon sign depends for its use on electricity, but, inasmuch as it can be used even without electricity it does not fall in the category of electrical goods. It is a peculiar feature of all electrical equipments that if there is no electricity, the thing will not work. One can take an electric iron or heater or radio or any other article of common and everyday use which is operated with electricity. All these articles become completely useless if electricity fails. They just stop working and they are of no utility at all. In the case of neon signs, which we have to consider, no doubt one of the principal objects of making a sign with gas inside is that it should be lit up at night. If there is no electricity, part of the utility will go. But it still remains to be explained why the utility remains during the daytime when the sign can easily be seen when the name of the shop or the office or the article advertised is visible to all. This means that the signs in question are not purely electrical goods and, accordingly, we have to hold that the Financial Commissioner was not wrong in so holding.
16. In view of this analysis, we answer the question referred to us in the negative and hold that the signs are not covered by the term 'electrical goods'. The answer is in favor of the dealer and against the department. However, we leave the parties to bear their own costs in all the three cases.
17. Reference answered in the negative.
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