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Deputy Commissioner of Agricultural Income-tax and Sales Tax Vs. E.V. Industries - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectSales Tax
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Case NumberT.R.C. No. 24 of 1972
Judge
Reported in[1974]33STC308(Ker)
AppellantDeputy Commissioner of Agricultural Income-tax and Sales Tax
RespondentE.V. Industries
Appellant AdvocateGovernment Pleader
Respondent AdvocateT.V. George; and Baby George, Advs.
DispositionPetition allowed
Cases ReferredRein v. Lane and Ors.
Excerpt:
.....now well-settled: those words are 'safes' and 'almirahs' and we conceive that the words 'made of iron and steel' will apply to 'safes' and 'almirahs' as well. it is well-known that safes and almirahs made of iron and steel are commonly in use in offices, at any rate, more in offices than in dwelling houses. in this connection, we cannot do better than quote from the judgment of this court in k. the word 'tea',like so many other words, has to be understood with reference to the context in which it is used. and when wickham wrote from japan to eaton in macao some 45 years earlier in a communication which contains perhaps the earliest mention of tea in english for 'a pot of the best sort of chaw' it is equally certain that he was not asking for the beverage but for the leaf itself,..........question in this case, at any rate, is not what is the meaning that should be attributed to the words 'furniture made of iron and steel' but is only whether, in the popular sense of those words, the equipments (see description in the appendix) that have been sold to hospitals can be called 'furniture made of iron and steel'. the submission is that a limited meaning must be given to these words and the words understood as referring only to household furniture. this contention presupposes that furniture made of iron and steel has a popular meaning as distinct from its wider dictionary meaning; there being of course no scientific or technical meaning attributable to these words. we have not been referred to any decision which has interpreted identical or similar words or even analogous.....
Judgment:

Govindan Nair, Ag. C.J.

1. The question is how the words 'furniture made of iron and steel' in item No. 17 in the First Schedule to the Kerala General Sales Tax Act, 1963, for short, the Act, must be interpreted. Item 17 in its entirety reads as follows:

17. Safes, almirahs and furniture made of iron and steel.

3. The goods falling within the item are liable to tax at the first point of sale in the State by a dealer who is liable to tax under Section 5 of the Act at the rate of 12 per cent of the turnover.

2. The Tribunal took the view that the goods described in the statement dated 22nd November, 1971, filed by the assessee are not goods falling within item 17 of the First Schedule. For easy reference, that statement is attached hereto, as an appendix.

3. Certain principles are now well-settled: In fiscal statutes, words used must be understood according to their popular sense. Scientific or technical meanings are not generally attributed to words in such statutes. The dictionary meaning of the words need not necessarily be applied invariably. (See the Full Bench decision of this Court in Krishna Iyer v. State of Kerala [1962] 13 S.T.C. 838).

4. There is no controversy between counsel for the assessee and counsel for the revenue regarding these principles, but it is contended by counsel for the assessee that, in view of the remand order in T.R.C. No. 27 of 1969, the enquiry in this case is limited to what is the popular meaning that has to be attributed to 'furniture made of iron and steel'. In other words, counsel contended, the question in this case, at any rate, is not what is the meaning that should be attributed to the words 'furniture made of iron and steel' but is only whether, in the popular sense of those words, the equipments (see description in the appendix) that have been sold to hospitals can be called 'furniture made of iron and steel'. The submission is that a limited meaning must be given to these words and the words understood as referring only to household furniture. This contention presupposes that furniture made of iron and steel has a popular meaning as distinct from its wider dictionary meaning; there being of course no scientific or technical meaning attributable to these words. We have not been referred to any decision which has interpreted identical or similar words or even analogous decisions. When one talks of vegetables, it is easy to conceive of a popular meaning as distinct from the scientific or botanical meaning applicable to a particular commodity. So it is comparatively easier to decide, as in Planters Nut and Chocolate Co. Ltd. v. The King (1952) 1 D.L.R. 385, that peanuts and cashew-nuts, though they may, from the botanical point of view, be classified as fruits, are excluded from the meaning of 'fruits' and 'vegetables' as used in the exemption provisions of the Excise Tax Act, R.S.C. 1927, c. 179. The matter becomes much more difficult when we deal with 'furniture' because no popular meaning of the expression 'furniture made of iron and steel' is discernible. We have, therefore, to seek for a meaning for these words by reference to the meaning of the word 'furniture' in dictionaries. That is the only way of understanding the import of these words. It has not been unusual to apply the dictionary meaning in cases of this nature. So in Commissioner of Sales Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Indore v. Jaswant Singh Char an Singh [1967] 19 S.T.C. 469 (S.C.), and more pointedly in Commissioner of Income-tax, West Bengal, Calcutta v. Raja Benoy Kumar Sahas Roy [1957] 32 I.T.R. 466 (S.C.), the Supreme Court applied the dictionary meaning. The question that arose in the former decision was whether 'charcoal' is included in the word 'coal'. The contentions raised in the case included the submission that 'while construing such entries, the dictionary meaning should not be preferred to the popular meaning or the meaning in the commercial sense'. The Supreme Court referred to the dictionary meaning of 'coal' in Blackies' Concise Dictionary, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's New International Dictionary and found that, in the meaning attributable to the word 'coal' according to the dictionaries, 'charcoal' will be included. It was held that 'charcoal' was included in 'coal'. In the latter case, the question was the meaning to be attributed to the word .'agriculture'. Though in its root sense it meant land under cultivation involving expenditure of human skill and labour spent on the land, it acquired a wider significance and the dictionary meaning ascribed to it comprehends much more. The court ruled that it will be permissible to look into the dictionary meaning of the term in the absence of any definition thereof in the relevant statute.

5. In the absence of a sufficiently clear indication of any particular commercial or popular meaning attributable to the words 'furniture made of iron and steel', we must turn to the dictionary to find out its ordinary meaning as distinct from its scientific and technical meaning. Bouvier's Law Dictionary gives an elaborate analysis of the meaning of the word 'furniture'. It starts by saying furniture is 'personal chattels in the use of a family', and 'the word relates, ordinarily, to movable personal chattels'. Then it proceeds to say, 'it is very general, both in meaning and application; and its meaning changes, so as to take the color of, or be in accord with, the subject to which it is applied'. In that sense, it can apply to household furniture to be used in a drug or other store, as the furniture thereof differ in kind and according to the purpose which they are intended to subserve. It can also apply to those equipments to be employed in several places for ornament, or to promote comfort, or to facilitate the business therein.

6. It is significant that the word 'furniture' is not qualified in item 17 of the First Schedule to the Act by the words 'household' or in any other way. Further we consider that the words must be understood also in the light and in the context of the words preceding 'furniture made of ron and steel' in that item. Those words are 'safes' and 'almirahs' and we conceive that the words 'made of iron and steel' will apply to 'safes' and 'almirahs' as well. So safes and almirahs are within the entry. It is well-known that safes and almirahs made of iron and steel are commonly in use in offices, at any rate, more in offices than in dwelling houses. There will, therefore, be no justification in limiting the item in the schedule to household furniture alone. Context plays an important part. In this connection, we cannot do better than quote from the judgment of this court in K.V. Varkey v. Agricultural Income-tax and Rural Sales Tax Officer, Peermade, and Ors. [1954] 5 S.T.C. 348. M.S. Menon, J., as he then was, said:

5. I do not think that there is any substance in the contention urged by the petitioner. The word 'tea', like so many other words, has to be understood with reference to the context in which it is used. When Pepys recorded in an oft-quoted passage in 1660 'I did send for a cup of tea, a China drink of which I never had drunk before' he must have certainly meant the infusion and not the leaf; and when Wickham wrote from Japan to Eaton in Macao some 45 years earlier in a communication which contains perhaps the earliest mention of tea in English for 'a pot of the best sort of chaw' it is equally certain that he was not asking for the beverage but for the leaf itself, prepared and packed according to the practice of those days. In the words of Blackburn, J., over 200 years later;

'It is, I apprehend, in accordance with the general rule of construction in every case, that you are not only to look at the words, but you are to look at the context, the collocation, and the object of such words relating to such a matter, and interpret the meaning according to what would appear to be the meaning intended to be conveyed by the use of the words under such circumstances': Rein v. Lane and Ors. 36 L.J.Q.B. 81.

7. So the words 'furniture made of iron and steel' in the item must be read with safes and almirahs made of iron and steel and, in the context in which they occur, there seems to be no justification for giving any limited meaning. We must, therefore, give the words the full amplitude of the meaning as given in dictionaries. So read, these goods--though no doubt meant for the peculiar needs of a hospital and somewhat peculiar in physical features of height and girth and other attributes--are still 'furniture made of iron and steel'.

8. The order of the Tribunal is erroneous in law. We allow this revision, set aside the order of the Tribunal and direct that the equipments in question be taxed under item 17 of the First Schedule to the Act.

9. The matter is not free from difficulty and, therefore, we direct the parties to bear their respective costs.


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