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Life Insurance Corporation Vs. New Delhi Municipal Committee - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectMunicipal Tax
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Writ Appeal No. 445 of 1968
Judge
Reported in10(1974)DLT26; 1974RLR499
ActsPunjab Municipal Act, 1911 - Sections 66
AppellantLife Insurance Corporation
RespondentNew Delhi Municipal Committee
Advocates: Ravinder Sethi,; D.D. Chawla,; B.T. Singh and;
Cases ReferredBaidyanath Ayurved Bhawan (Pvt.) Ltd. Jhansi v. The Excise Commissioner
Excerpt:
.....of words 'thereafter' in section 66 and 'at any time' in section 67 limited to year for which list settled under section 66 - amendment under section 67 can be made in ensuing year and not thereafter - amendment can be made only at most in ensuing year to fasten liability for payment and not for period prior to ensuing year - committee not empowered to make any retrospective assessment of tax on land or building or to pass resolutions and issue notices after expiry of ensuing year - list settled for any year under section 66 can be amended under section 67 only in ensuing year and not thereafter. - - (10) it is settled law that all laws are taken to be prospective unless it is clearly stated that they will have retrospective operation. chawla, appearing for the respondent..........heard in support of the same in person, or by authorized agent, as he may think fit.'(7) in the list settled under section 66, the tax assessed, it is provided in this section, 'shall be deemed to be the tax for the year commencing on the first day of january or first day of april next ensuing.' the same, according to this section, is the position in respect of 'amendments as may thereafter be duly made' in the list. the list, in both the cases, is to operate with effect from the year next ensuing. the material date for the levy thus is the time when the list is settled or amended thereafter. but the tax assessed in either case 'shall be deemed to be the tax for the year commencing on the first day of january or first day of april next ensuing as the committee may determine.' in other.....
Judgment:

S.N. Shankar, J.

(1) This order will dispose of Civil Writs Nos. 177 of 1968 and 445 of 1968, The point involved in both the petitions is whether the assessment list prepared by the New Delhi Municipal Committee under section 66 of the Punjab Municipal Act, 1911 for the 'ensuing year' can be amended under section 67 of the Act after the expiry of the 'ensuing year'. Facts of Civil Writ No. 44.5 of 1963 are as under:-

'the petitioner in this case. Life Insurance Corporation, is the owner of the building known as 'Jeevan Vihar building' situated in Parliament Street, New Delhi. The construction of his building was completed in 1962. Portions of the building were let out in 1963. A portion of the basement, according to the petitioner, remained vacant during the years 1963-64. 1964-65. 1965-66 and 1966-67. A part of the vacant portion of the basement was let out in February. 1966 and the remaining portion was subsequently let out in December, 1966. The respondent New Delhi Municipal Committee, hereinafter called 'the Committee' assessed the building for purposes of house-tax on the basis of actual rent received by the petitioner in the years 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1967-68. Tax as assessed for all these years was duly paid. On February 13, 1968, the petitioner received five notices under section 67 of the Punjab Municipal Act (No. 3 of 1911) hereinafter called 'the Act' stating that in exercise of power under section 67 of the Act the Committee by resolution Nos. 71 to 75 dated January 27, 1968 proposed to amend the list of assessment for the years 1963-64, 1964-65. 1965-66. 1966-67 and 1967-68 to include the rent of the portions of the basement that had escaped inclusion in the repective lists of assessment settled for these years. The petitioner sent replies protesting against the proposed inclusion and in June, 1968 filed the present petition praying that the aforesaid resolutions of the Committee be quashed and the Committee be restrained from Realizing additional tax proposed to be levied; the ground urged being that the Committee had no jurisdiction under section 67 of the Act to amend the lists to assess tax for the previous years.'

(2) The petition is contested. In the counter-affidavit, the Committee maintains that some portions of basement sought to be included in the assessment list had escaped assessment during the previous years even though they were actually in existence. It is contended that the same could later be included in the list by amending the list of the previous years under section 67 of the Act.

(3) Having regard to the importance of the common questions involved in both the petitions, they were referred for decision by a larger Bench.

(4) The sole question argued before us is whether the list prepared under section 63 and settled under section 66 of the Act each year could be amended retrospectively under section 67 to make the tax subsequently assessed for the previous years recoverable under the Act.

(5) Chapter V of the Act deals with Taxation. Section 61(1)(a) authorises imposition of a tax payable by the owner on buildings and lands. Section 62 provides that the Committee may at a special meeting pass a resolution to propose the imposition of any tax under section 61. Sections 63,64,65,66,67 and 68 lay down the procedure for assessing 'immoveable property' for purposes of this tax. Section 63 provides that the Committee shall cause an assessment list of all buildings and lands on which any tax is imposed to be prepared containing particular mentioned in clauses (a) to (e) of this section. Section 64 prescribes that when the assessment list has been completed the Committee shall give public notice of the place where the list or a copy thereof may be inspected. Section 65 lays down that the Committee at the time of the publication of this list will also give a public notice of a time not less than one month thereafter when it will proceed to revise the valuation and assessment as made in the list and all objections to the valuation and assessment shall be made in writing before the time fixed in the notice, or orally or in writing at that time. Section 66 then lays down the mode of settlement of the list. It reads as under:

66.'(1) After the objections have been enquired into and the persons making them have been allowed an opportunity of being heard either in person or by authorised agent, as they may think fit, and the revision of the valuation and assessment has been completed, the amendments made in the list shall be authenticated by the signatures of not less than two members of the Committee, who shall at the same time certify that no valid objection has been made to the valuation and assessment contained in the list, except in the cases in which amendments have been entered therein; and subject to such amendments as may thereafter be duly made, the tax so assessed shall be deemed to be the tax for the year commencing on the first day of January or first day of April next ensuing as the Committee may determine, or in the case of a tax then imposed for the first time for the period between the date on which the tax comes into force and such first day of January or April, as the case may be. (2) The list when amended under this section shall be deposited in the Committee's office and shall there be open during office hours to all owners or occupiers of property comprised there in or the authorised agents of such persons, and a public notice that it is so open shall forthwith be published.'

(6) This is followed by section 67 which provides turn 'such amendments as may thereafter be duly made' referred to in section 66. The section is in the following terms:--

67.'(1) The committee at any time amend the list by inserting the name of any person whose name ought to have been or ought to be inserted, or by inserting any property which ought to have been or ought to be inserted, or by altering the assessment on any property which has been erroneously valued or assessed through fraud, accident or mistake, whether on the part of the committee or of the assessed, or in the case of a tax payable by the occupier by a change in the tenancy, after giving notice to any person affected by the amendment, of a time, not less than one month from the date of service, at which the amendment is to be made. (2) Any person interested in any such amendment may tender his objection to the committee in writing before the time fixed in the notice, or orally or in writing at that time, and shall be allowed an opportunity of being heard in support of the same in person, or by authorized agent, as he may think fit.'

(7) In the list settled under section 66, the tax assessed, it is provided in this section, 'shall be deemed to be the tax for the year commencing on the first day of January or first day of April next ensuing.' The same, according to this section, is the position in respect of 'amendments as may thereafter be duly made' in the list. The list, in both the cases, is to operate with effect from the year next ensuing. The material date for the levy thus is the time when the list is settled or amended thereafter. But the tax assessed in either case 'shall be deemed to be the tax for the year commencing on the first day of January or first day of April next ensuing as the committee may determine.' In other words, the list settled under section 66 together with the amendments, if any, is to operate prospectively in and for the financial year next following and not for any previous year.

(8) The intention of the Legislature to provide only a prospective operation to the list is manifested by section 68 also. This section prescribes that it shall be in the discretion of the committee to prepare a new assessment list every year or to adopt the valuation and assessment contained in the list for any year with such alternations as may in particular cases be deemed necessary subject to the conditions mentioned therein, but the valuation and assessment so adopted will be 'the valuation and assessment for the year following'.

(9) It is further to be seen that section 67, providing for amendment of the list, does not envisage the preparation of any new list. It provides, in cases and subject to the conditions mentioned there in, an amendment only of 'the list' settled under section 66. Even after amendment, thereforee, the list remains a list enforceable under section 66 alone. The charging provision in this section making the assessment operative with effect from the year ensuing applies as much to the amended list as to the list originally settled.

(10) It is settled law that all laws are taken to be prospective unless it is clearly stated that they will have retrospective operation. This is more so in case of a statute which imposes tax upon the citizen. It has to be construed strictly and cannot be held to be restrospective until it says so in clear terms. There is nothing in sections 66, 67 or any other provision of the Act to indicate that the Legislature intended that after amendment the tax assessed by reason of the amendment could be levied retrospectively.

(11) The scheme of taxation under the Act is that tax payable by the owner of building or land has to be assessed by the Committee yearly. Subject to its right to adopt the valuation and assessment for any previous year in terms of section 68, the Committee has to prepare the list of assessment every year and has also to settle it under section 66. Under section 67, this list can further be amended at any time but even after amendment the list continues to be the list settled under section 66 with a prospective operation for the year following the year in which the list under section 66 is settled.

(12) SUB-SECTION (11) of section 62 authorises the Committee to determine whether the tax livable by the year shall come into force on the first day of January, or on the first day of April, or on the first day of July, or on the first day of October in any year and this decision of the Committee will govern whether the list settled under section 66, including the amendments therein under section 67, would be operative from the first day of January or first day of April of the year, but the year, with effect from which it shall come into operation, will always be the year next ensuing after the settlement and not any previous year.

(13) Mr. D. D. Chawla, appearing for the respondent placed strong reliance on the decision of the Supreme Court in Punjab National Bank v. New Delhi Municipal Committee (Civil Appeal No. 1215 of 1970 decided on December 22, 1972) (1) and argued that the Supreme Court has held that the expression 'at any time' in section 67 had a wider meaning and was not limited to the year in which the list was prepared and settled under section 66. If the list, the learned counsel said, could be amended 'at any time' it could be so done in respect of previous years also and the tax assessed by reason of such amendment will necessarily be the tax assessed for those years and recoverable like any other tax under the provisions of the Act. This appeal was against a Full Bench decision of this Court dated October 28, 1969 in New Delhi Municipal Commit fee. New Delhi v. The Punjab National Bank Ltd. (L.P.A. No. 93 of 1967),(2) The question for decision in the appeal as stated in the majority judgment was whether a property which was not included in the assessment list in the previous year although it was in existence in that year can be added lo the list by amendment under section 67 of the Act in the year for which house-tax is payable. The argument on behalf of the Punjab National Bank was that if a property is in existence during the year 1958 but by some chance it has not been included in the list before 1st April, 1959 and the omission is discovered and rectified by amendment of the list at any time after 1st April, 1959 but before 1st March, 1960 its liability for tax will arise only for the period 1st April, 1960 to 31st March, 1961 and it is not permissible to levy and recover tax thereon for the period 1st April, 1959 to 31st March, 1960. This argument was repelled by the majority on the construction placed by it on the expression 'at any time' in section 67 of the Act by staling that there seems to be no warrant in the section that the amendment under section 66 could be made only before March 31, 1959. The question whether by reason of the aforesaid expression 'at any time' an amendment could be made even after March 31, 1960 so as lo impose liability for the year April 1. 1959 to March 31, 1960, which is the question which arises in these writ petitions, was not decided by the majority of the Full Bench. Even before the Supreme Court, the question only was whether the amendment of the list settled under section 66 could be made section 67 of the Act after March 31, 1959 but before April 1, 1960, namely, during the current year of the assessment. The argument on behalf of the Bank before the Supreme Court was that the amendment of the list could have been made only before March 31, 1959 and not thereafter. Dealing with this contention, Mathew, J. speaking for the Court said: -

'THEassessment list for the year commencing from April 1, 1959, had to be settled by March 31, 1959 at the latest, this list was liable to be amended under s. 67 even after March 31, 1959, on any of the grounds mentioned in section. Section 66 does not say that the amendment of the assessment list should have been made before March 31, 1959. The expression 'subject to such amendments as may thereafter he duly made' in s. 66 would indicate that the amendment of the list could be made even after March 31, 1959 as s.67 provides for amendment of the list at any time. . . . '

(14) But while referring to the operation of the list in relation to the tax assessed by amendment, it was said:-

'ANDwhen the list was so amended, it shall be deemed to have been in force for the year which commenced from April 1, 1959. and ended on March 31, 1960, and the tax assessed there in shall be deemed to be the tax for the financial year commencing from April 1, 1959'

(15) Continuing in the background of the question posed for decision. it was said:-

'INorder that the municipal committee may impose house tax on the building for the period from April 1, 1959 to March 31. 1960 an amendment of the list under s.67 was permissible on any of the grounds mentioned in the section even after March 31, 1959, as otherwise the expression 'at any time' would have no meaning. The words 'subject to such amendments as may thereafter be duly made' in section 66 postulate that a list finalised before 1st January or 1st April is liable to be amended thereafter under s. 67. The building was certainly liable to be included in the assessment list which was finalised on March 31, 1959 but by some mistake it was not so included. The list was, thereforee, liable to be amended under s.67 that was done. When the list was amended, the tax assessed for the building shall be deemed to be the tax for it in the year which commenced from April 1, 1959, and ended on March 31, 1960.'

(16) Thus the Supreme Court, even while holding that the list could be amended after March 31, 1959, by reason of the expression 'at any time' in section 67, unambiguously pointed out that the tax assessed by reason of the amendment shall be the tax for the ensuing year only. The power to amend the list 'at any time', thereforee, does not vest in the Committee the power to make retrospective assessments. The expression 'at any time' in section 67, to our mind, has reference only to the point of time when the list can be amended. It does not qualify or extend the scope of the charging part of section 66 which provides for only a prospective operation for the tax assessed.

(17) It would further be seen that before the Supreme Court the respondent urged in the above referred case that the expression 'at any time' in section 67 must be given the widest amplitude. If this was done, it could be argued that the section conferred on the Committee the power to make not only prospective but also retrospective assessments without any limit of time. But this contention was not endorsed by the Court and it was observed:-

'WEthink that the expression 'at any time' occurring in s.67, when read in conjunction with the word 'thereafter' in s..66, can only lead to the conclusion that the amendment of the list in question was permissible even after March 31, 1959.'

(18) The Supreme Court held that the expression 'at any time' has to be construed according to the context and the particular circumstances of each case. The object of section 66 is to enable the Committee to assess property tax on buildings within its area. The existence of a building and its area, valuation, etc., are facts within the special knowledge of the Committee inasmuch as a person who wants to build has to submit the building plan for the approval of the Committee and has to build according to the approved plan. He has to obtain a completion certificate from the Committee that the building has been completed according to the approved plan. Unauthorised constructions are liable to be demolished by the Committee. No case can be conceived, thereforee, of any building in the Committee area which is not within its knowledge. It would not be ordinarily conceivable, thereforee, that the list of assessment prepared by the Committee would omit the mention either of the building or its owner from it. This could happen only if the Committee staff is negligent or is conniving with the owner of the building to enable him to escape the assessment. But the particular employee of the Committee would be liable to disciplinary action for such negligence or collusion. The power to amend given by section 67 is, thereforee, to be used in such exceptional cases. The question is whether such power could be used 'at any time', namely, without any limitation as to the period of time within which it may be exercised. If such a view is taken, it would remove all incentive from the employees of the Committee to do their duty in preparing the assessment list. It would mean that even if they are negligent or fraudulent, it does not matter as the Committee can amend the assessment list without limitation of time.

(19) Further the property tax is a charge on property. If the Committee were to be able to amend the list under section 67 after several years, then rights of third parties which would intervene in the mean-while would be affected. A bona fide purchaser for value of such a property may find that the property is charged with the payment of property taxes for previous years when it was held by his predecessor-in-title. The greater the delay in amending the settled list the greater would thus be the injustice caused to innocent third parties.

(20) Lastly, amendment under section 67 can be made for two entirely different reasons, namely, (1) merely because the property or the ownership is not mentioned in the list, and (2) because of the fraud or mistake of the Committee or of the parties concerned the property was wrongly assessed. In the first case, there would be no assessment at all. In the second case, the assessment may be wrong because of fraud or mistake. Both the sets of ground are extremely wide. There is no knowing when the non-mention of the property or the owner's name in the list would be discovered by the Committee. Similarly, the words 'fraud or mistake' are not limited by any other qualifications as they are, for instance, in section 17 of the Limitation Act. For, any mistake in assessment is to be corrected later. A mistake may mean a mistake of fact or law. If, thereforee, an assessment was thought to be correct at the time it was made but later the Committee takes a different view or a decision of some Court takes a different view of the law, the Committee can seek to amend the list by correcting the assessment. On a literal view, such an amendment may be made even a hundred years after the list was settled under section 66. Such a view would lead to absurdity and great injustice. It is well known that wide words have to be construed in the context in which they are used to limit their width. The very object of the power to amend under section 67 is to correct the list settled under section 66. This power of amendment is given by superabundant caution though the Committee is already in the know of every property in its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court also in the Punjab National Bank case did not accept the suggestion that the words 'at any time' could be taken literally to mean that the amendment could be made after any number of years. We are of the view, thereforee, that the context of section 66 limits the meaning of the words 'thereafter' in section 66 and 'at any time' in section 67 to the year for which the list is settled under section 66, namely, the ensuing year and that the amendment under section 67 can be made in the ensuing year and not thereafter.

(21) Having regard to the earlier observations of the Court in the judgment, extracted above, specifying the period from which the tax assessed by amendment would come to operate, we are clear that while holding that the list could be amended even after March 31, 1959, the Supreme Court did not rule, even by implication, that the tax assessed could have a retrospective operation. The cited case, thereforee, does not help the learned council.

(22) Mr. Ravinder Sethi urged that if a retrospective operation was allowed to the list amended under section 67, this would result in an anomalous situation. The Committee in that case, he said, would have the power to make retrospective assessments and recover tax in respect of lands and buildings for indefinite number of years leading to a situation that could never have been contemplated by the Legislature. We see force in this submission. Mr. Chawla had to concede that the interpretation that he sought to put on section 66 read with section 67 would lead to this result. He simply relied on the observations in M/s. Baidyanath Ayurved Bhawan (Pvt.) Ltd. Jhansi v. The Excise Commissioner, U.P. and others : [1971]2SCR590 where on page 380 of the report, it was stated that in interpreting a taxing provision the courts should not ordinarily concern themselves with the policy behind the provision or its impact and that in a taxing Act there was no equity about a tax. These observations, however, are of no assistance and do not justify an interpretation of the taxing statute in a manner which is against its plain meaning and intendment.

(23) We may here refer to section 126 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 which operates in the area within the jurisdiction of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. Sub-section (1) of this section empowers the Commissioner to amend the assessment list at any time and contains provisions similar to section 67 of the Act which operates in the areas of the New Delhi Municipal Committee. This sub-section, however, contains a proviso saying,-

'PROVIDED that no person shall by reason of any such amendment become liable to pay any tax or increase of tax in respect of any period prior to the commencement of the year in which the notice under sub-section (2) is given.'

(24) Then sub-section (2) provides that before making any amendment under sub-section (1) the Commissioner shall give to any person affected by the amendment, notice of not less than one month that he proposes to make the amendment and consider any objections which may be made by such person. The proviso makes it clear that amendment can be made only at the most in the ensuing year to fasten liability for payment in such year and not for any period prior to the ensuing year. It is contended by the respondent that if the New Delhi Municipal Committee were not authorised to make an amendment for the ensuing year even after the expiry of the ensuing year, such a proviso would have been inserted even in section 67 of the Act. In our opinion, the proviso makes clear what is implicit in the section and is only ex abundanti cautela. If it were not so, it will lead to an anomaly that in the same territory owners of lands and buildings are subject to differential treatment. In our opinion, the construction which we have placed upon section 67 of Act is implicit in its language and in the context of the Act.

(25) The result of the above discussion is that the list settled for any year under section 66 of the Act can be amended under section 67 of the Act only in the ensuing year and not thereafter so as to enable the Committee to make any retrospective assessment of tax on land or buildings or to pass resolutions and issue notices for this purpose after the expiry of the ensuing year.

(26) In Civil Writ No. 445 of 1968, in the months of January and February, 1968, the Committee passed resolutions and issued notices to amend the list of assessment for the years 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1967-68. It had no authority in law to make the amendment in the list except for the current year i.e. 1967-68. The resolutions and notices dated February 13, 1968 proposing to amend the list for the years 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66 and 1966-67 are thus without the authority of law and are, for this reason, quashed. The proposed amendment of the list for the year 1967-68 however, does not suffer from this infirmity. The Committee had the right and authority under section 67 to amend the current list settled for the year 1967-68. The prayer of the petitioner for the quashing of the resolution and the notice relating to this year is, thereforee, rejected. The order staying further assessment proceedings for this year, granted by this Court, is also vacated.

(27) In Civil Writ No. 177 of 1968 the Committee passed resolution Nos. 186, 187 and 188, all dated January 27, 1967 revising, by amendment under section 67, tax for the years 1964-65, 1965-66 and 1966-67 respectively. The Committee had no jurisdiction in law, for reasons aforesaid, to assess the tax retrospectively in the year 1966-67 in respect of the years 1964-65 and 1965-66. Resolutions of the Committee purporting to revise the assessment list for the years 1964 65 and 1965-66 are, thereforee, quashed. But the petitioner's prayer in regard to the resolution amending the list for the year 1966-67 is rejected.

(28) Both the Civil Writ petitions are decided in the above terms. In the circumstances of the case, parties are left to bear their own costs.


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