1. The Gujarat Sales Tax Tribunal has in this matter referred the following question to this court for its opinion :
'Whether a fluorescent tube without its accessories, namely, choke and starter, is a domestic electrical appliance within the meaning of entry 52 of Schedule B to the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1953 (amended) ?'
2. The question arises in this manner. The applicants M/s. Star Radio Electric Co. are the dealers in electrical goods, radios etc. During the assessment period from 1st January, 1959, to 31st December, 1959, they are found to have sold some fluorescent tubes without chokes and starters. The concerned Sales Tax Officer held that the tubes thus sold without chokes and starters are covered by entry 52 of Schedule B to the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1953, which is found in the following terms :
'Domestic electrical appliances other than torches, torch cells and filament lighting bulbs.'
Being aggrieved by this decision of the Sales Tax Officer, the applicants-assessees preferred an appeal before the Assistant Commissioner but failed there. Therefore, they approached the Deputy Commissioner, Sales Tax, in revision and having failed there also they approached the Tribunal in revision. The Tribunal held that since the main component of the appliance is the tube, which gives light, the tube without starter and choke can be described as a domestic electrical appliance contemplated by entry 52. Being aggrieved by this decision of the Tribunal, the applicants-assessees have preferred this reference in which the above-quoted question is referred to this court.
3. We find that the form in which the question is referred to us makes a presumption that choke and starter are accessories to the tube which gives fluorescent light but considering the contentions raised by the parties, the real question which arises to be considered is as under :-
'Whether the fluorescent tube without a choke and a starter is a domestic electrical appliance within the meaning of entry 52 of Schedule B to the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1953 (amended) ?'
We have accordingly referred the question. We have already quoted above the contents of entry 52 of Schedule B to the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1953. Looking to this entry it is obvious that what we are first called upon to consider is what is 'domestic electrical appliance'. So far as this reference is concerned, there is a no dispute as regards the fact that the appliance in question is a domestic appliance. We, therefore, need not consider the meaning and impact of the word 'domestic'. It is, however, necessary to consider what is 'electrical appliance'. Here also the word 'electrical' does not present us with any difficulty because it is an admitted position that the appliance, which renders service with the aid of electric energy, is an 'electrical appliance'. There is no dispute that the article in question can render service only with the aid of electric energy. In these circumstances, the dispute centres round the meaning of the word 'appliance'. If we can be clear about the meaning which can be attributed to this word, there would be no difficulty in considering whether a fluorescent tube without a starter or a choke, can be considered as an 'appliance'. Now the dictionary meaning of the word 'appliance', as found in the Oxford Dictionary, is 'a thing applied as a means to an end, apparatus'. The dictionaries also explain the word as meaning 'instrument', 'device'. We further find by reference to Blackie's Judicial Dictionary that the word 'appliance' is defined as under at page 127 :
'Appliance : Refers to machinery and all instruments used in operating it, and is to be distinguished from the word 'materials' which includes everything of which anything is made. Things applied to or used as a means to an end, Robert v. City of Los Angeles (61 P. 2nd 323, 330; 7 Cal. 2nd 477). An 'appliance' is a mechanical thing, a device or apparatus, One Black Mule v. State (204 Ala. 140; 85 So. 749).'
Encyclopaedia Americana gives the following meaning to the expression 'electrical appliance' :
'Electrical appliance' : A term given to many devices operated by electricity which are used in the home for domestic purposes. Such appliances may be divided into two general classes : those operated by heat, and those operated by power. In such appliances as the toaster, grill, flat-iron, waffle-iron, or oven, the electric current heats a wire or conductor to red heat, and the heat thus produced performs the function of the device ... Where power is required to operate appliance such as washing machine, vacuum-cleaner, refrigerator, fan, or water-pump, a small motor operated by electricity is used.'
Corpus Juris Secundum observes in Volume 6 at page 75 regarding the term 'appliance' as under :
''Appliance' has been defined or employed as meaning a mechanical thing, an apparatus or device; an instrumental means, aid, or appurtenance; a thing applied or used as a means to an end, either independently or subordinately; something applied or used directly.'
4. From these meanings given by different dictionaries it becomes clear that (1) an 'appliance' is quite distinct from 'materials' from which it is made, and (2) an 'appliance', as an apparatus, device or instrument, is 'a means to an end'. These two aspects should be borne in mind while considering whether a particular article can be called an appliance. The first aspect seeks to take an integrated view of the article concerned and says that materials or component parts of an appliance should not be mistaken as tantamount to the appliance itself. The second aspect emphasises the fact that the importance of an appliance consists in its utility to serve the object for which it is possessed.
5. A device is used 'as a means' only when it serves some purpose. If it does not serve any purpose, it ceases to be a 'means'. Therefore, its service 'as a means to an end' is its main feature which brings it within the definition of the expression 'appliance'. This is the second aspect of the matter which has been considered in an American decision in Honakar v. Pocatalico District Board of Education (24 S.R. 544). We have not got before us the law report in which this case is reported, but at the foot-note No. 25 in the above volume of Corpus Juris Secundum at page 80 we find that in that case, the court considered an 'educational appliance' and observed that an 'educational appliance' is something necessary or useful to enable the teacher to teach the school children, and 'must be shown to be suitable and reasonably necessary for the use of the public schools'. This decision obviously emphasises the utility aspect of the appliance. As a matter of fact, both the aspects discussed above require us to take an integrated view of the whole apparatus or device which is under consideration. It is, therefore, now necessary to consider whether a fluorescent tube, without a choke and a starter, can be considered an appliance if viewed from these two aspects. Before actually discussing this question, it would be proper to know what a fluorescent tube is and what service it is expected to render.
6. The word 'fluorescent' means 'processing or proceeding from fluorescence'. Oxford Dictionary gives the following at page 722 to the word 'fluorescence' :
'The coloured luminosity produced in some transparent bodies by the direct action of light, esp. of violet and ultra-violet rays; the property, in certain substances, of rendering the ultra-violet rays visible, so as to produce this phenomenon.'
It is thus obvious that the service which is rendered by a fluorescent tube light is to produce light having coloured luminosity. Therefore, the appliance called 'fluorescent tube' is a means to acquire fluorescent light. Its only object is to produce light having coloured luminosity. The moment it stops emitting such a light it ceases to be 'a means to an end'. In other words, it ceases to be an 'appliance' as defined above. Now in order to appreciate whether a fluorescent tube without a starter and a choke can serve as a means to the end described above, it will be necessary to know how a fluorescent tube light works.
7. So far as the working of a fluorescent tube light is concerned, it is not in dispute that a glass tube of a particular length containing fluorescent powder and filament is fixed in two holders at both of its ends. When electric energy is supplied, the powder emits gas which eventually produces luminosity.
8. The pertinent question, however, is what part is played in this process by the starter and the choke. On this question the explanation of the assessee is that when electric current is switched on, it is the starter which does the function of supplying that current. It is, therefore, contended by the assessee that without a starter the tube cannot supply or generate any light. So far as the choke is concerned, it is said that the choke performs the function of regulating electric current in such a manner that the tube would not burn out immediately. According to the assessee, therefore, in order that the tube can give light properly, constantly and efficiently, starter as well as choke are necessary, and without them the appliance in question is not complete. We find that an argument on these lines was advanced on behalf of the assessee before the Tribunal. With regard to this argument, the Tribunal has observed as under :
'That may be so, but the question is whether a fluorescent tube would fall outside the category of domestic electrical appliance merely because it is supplied without a choke and a starter. It may be that the choke and the starter are essential accessories for the functioning of this particular appliance. But it cannot be gainsaid that the main component of this appliance is the tube. It may not always be necessary for a dealer to sell a tube with choke and starter. Every consumer may not want to purchase a tube with these accessories. If only the tube is burnt out but the accessories are in serviceable condition, he would purchase only the tube. In such a case it cannot be said that what he has purchased is not a domestic electrical appliance.'
It is thus apparent that the Tribunal has proceeded on the basis that the starter and the choke play the role as stated above. However, the Tribunal has been impressed by the fact that the main component of the appliance is the tube, and, therefore, the tube without a starter and a choke could be treated as 'electrical appliance' within the meaning of entry 52. We find that there is nothing to suggest that the tube is the main component of the appliance, but even if it is so, that is not the real test. The real test is whether, without the aid of a starter and a choke the glass tube containing fluorescent powder can serve as a means to obtain light having coloured luminosity. If it is believed that electric current cannot be properly supplied without the aid of starter and that the regulation of the said current made by choke is essential to the proper functioning of the tube light, then it follows that the starter and the choke are essential components of the whole apparatus, in the absence of which the apparatus would be useless. We find that the Tribunal as well as the parties have proceeded on the basis that this starter and choke play the role, as stated above, in the service which the fluorescent tube is expected to render. Shri Shah, who appeared on behalf of the department, however, contended that there is no justification for such a presumption about the role played by a starter and a choke and that what the Tribunal has done in the above-quoted lines, is not to arrive at a definite finding about the role which is played by a starter and a choke in a fluorescent tube light. According to Shri Shah the Tribunal has, without recording any clear finding on the point, merely proceeded on the footing that a starter and a choke play the role, as attributed to them, in lighting a fluorescent tube. We find some force in the contention of Shri Shah that there is no unequivocal, clear and definite finding of the Tribunal about the utility of the starter and the choke in the appliance in question. This, however, should not prevent us from answering the question, which is put to us. The question requires us to decide whether a fluorescent tube without a starter and a choke is a 'domestic electrical appliance'. In the absence of any clear finding of the Tribunal on the role played by a starter and a choke in lighting a fluorescent tube, we have to answer this question in a hypothetical manner.
9. As stated above, we have come to conclusion that in order to bring a particular article within the meaning of the word 'appliance', the article should be capable of rendering the desired service. Therefore the most pertinent question, which arises to be considered is, whether a fluorescent tube can render the desired service without the aid of a starter and a choke. If it is found, as is presumed by the Tribunal, that a starter and a choke are playing a definite role in supplying the fluorescent light, which is emitted through the tube, then it is difficult to ignore this role. If a starter and a choke are the essential parts of this appliance then it would follow that the fluorescent tube, without these two articles would not be capable of rendering the desired service, namely, dispelling darkness and giving fluorescent light. If a tube without a starter and a choke cannot render this service, it ceases to be 'a means to an end', and if it ceases to be 'a means to an end', it is difficult to hold that this appliance comes within the meaning of entry 52 of Schedule B of the Act of 1953. However, if it is found that the fluorescent tube without a starter and a choke can give as efficient service as is expected of a fluorescent tube, then obviously a starter and a choke are not essential articles for achieving the purpose in question. In that case, the fluorescent tube, even if it is without a starter and choke, can be called 'electrical appliance'. In other words, if the object of fixing the fluorescent tube is to dispel darkness and to obtain fluorescent light, and if this object is served only by the combined action of starter, choke and fluorescent tube, then all the components, which contribute to the combined action and to the achievement of the object would constitute an appliance. But standing alone all of them would be merely different spare parts of that appliance.
10. Shri Shah, who appeared on behalf of the department, contended that there would be no appliance which can function without the help of some other articles. Speaking of a fluorescent tube, which is complete with a starter and a choke, he contended that even such a tube cannot serve the desired object without the aid of electric wires. In our opinion, this contention is fallacious inasmuch as it misses to take into consideration that the function of the wire is merely to supply electric energy. When we speak of an electrical appliance, the concept of media through which active power is obtained should obviously be separated from the concept of the appliance itself. If an appliance works with electric energy, it is an electrical appliance. If it works with the aid of gas, it is gas appliance. If it works by application of heat, it is thermal appliance. Whether the appliance works without the aid of electricity, gas or heat, it remains an appliance even through the source of power is different and of different quantity.
Therefore, the concept of the appliance is totally different and distinct from the concept of the motive power which makes that appliance work. Under the circumstances, if one has to judge whether a particular appliance is electric appliance, the criterion is to see whether that appliance can give the desired service by the supply of electric power to it. Thus the supply of electric power is not an integral part of the appliance. It merely puts the appliance into motion. Therefore, this contention of Shri Shah is of no avail to the department.
11. In view of this, we answer the question which is referred to this court as under :-
If a starter and a choke are found essential for obtaining the desired service, namely, the dispelling of darkness and the supply of fluorescent light through the fluorescent tube, then a fluorescent tube without a starter and a choke cannot fall within entry 52 of Schedule B to the Bombay Sales Tax Act, 1953 (amended), but if it is found that a starter and a choke or either of them is not essential for achieving the desired object through the fluorescent tube, then the presence of both or the one which is not so far essential for achieving the desired object would not be necessary to bring the fluorescent tube within the ambit of the above referred entry No. 52. This reference is, therefore, disposed of accordingly. The applicant-assessee shall be entitled to costs of this reference from the opponent.
12. Reference answered accordingly.