1. The Petitioner, Ama Stores, represented by its partner M. T. M. Abubacker, has filed this writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India praying for the issue of a writ of certiorari quashing respectively the orders of the Collector or Madras, the 1st Respondent, and the Commissioner of Land Revenue, Prohibition, Excise and Settlement of Estates, Board of Revenue, Madras, the 2nd Respondent. The petitioner contended that a certain, document executed by him on 25-10-1963 was an agreement, which merely recited the facts of an alreadycompleted sale and also the conditions under which the sale took place. Hence he pleaded that it would suffice, for the purpose of paying the appropriate court-fee under the Stamp Manual, if the document was stamped as an agreement, for which the duty payable is Rs. 2 1/4. This was the duty actually paid on, the document, viz., Rs. 2 1/4. The petitioner had to bring this agreement before the Registrar of Trade Marks for the purpose of transferring the trade mark; but that officer was of the opinion that the document in question was really a sale deed and sent it to the Collector of Madras for impounding.
For the levy of proper stamp duty the 1st respondent, the Collector of Madras, construed the terms of the document and came to the conclusion that it was a sale deed and not a mere agreement regarding a prior completed sale. The decision of the Collector was that as a sale deed a stamp duty of Rs. 1460-25 should be levied, and in addition a penalty of Rs. 250 should be paid. Aggrieved against the above decision the petitioner filed an appeal to the Board of Revenue, the 2nd respondent, who as the Chief Controlling Revenue authority, has got certain powers conferred under Section 56(2) of the Act. It was this power that was invoked by the petitioner in his appeal against the order of the Collector. The Board of Revenue in an elaborate order passed on 8-10-1965 came to the conclusion that the levy of stamp duty and penalty by the Collector was proper and dismissed the appeal petition of the petitioner.
2. It is contended by the learned counsel for the petitioner in this writ petition, and that is the main ground for the relief that he seeks, that the Board of Revenue as the Chief Controlling Revenue-Authority, whose appellate power the petitioner invoked, ought to have given the petitioner an opportunity for making a personal representation, especially, since in his appeal petition, he had specifically asked for that relief. It is urged for the petitioner that when the Board of Revenue disposed of the appeal only on the grounds set forth by the petitioner in the appeal memo ignoring the specific request made by the petitioner that he should be heard, there was non-compliance of the principles of natural justice.
3. Reliance was placed by the learned counsel for the petitioner on the decision of the Supreme Court in Board of Revenue v. Vidyawati, : AIR1962SC1217 and the decision of Srinivasan, J. in Annamalai and Co. v. District Registrar, : AIR1966Mad36 , for the stand taken that a proper compliance with the duties imposed by the statute on the Board of Revenue as the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority in such a case should be viewed as involving a duty to hear the petitioner in person, especially when a large financial commitment would be imposed on him if his contentions are to be overruled. In the Supreme Court decision cited above the matter came up before the Board of Revenue on a reference by the Collector under Section 56(2) of the Stamp Act. Such a reference is made by the Collector when without taking a decision himself he feels doubt as to the amount of duty payable. The Supreme Court held:
'The question before the Board under Section 56(2) being one of construction of an instrument and the application of the Act to it being a pure question of law which may result in payment of large amounts by the executants- of the document, it would not in our opinion be improper to hold that for the determination of such a question the Legislature intended that the party affected by the decision of the Board of Revenue should bo given a hearing, and that the Board should Act judicially in deciding a pure question of law'.
4. The Supreme Court also observed at page 1220 of the judgment:
It seems to us. considering the nature of the duty cast on the Board of Revenue under Section 56(2) requiring it to construe instruments submitted to it thereunder and the application of the Act to them which may result in payment of heavy amounts of deficit duty and even heavier amounts as penalty, that the Legislature intended that the Board of Revenue should hear the person executing the document before saddling him with large pecuniary liability.'
5. Srinivasan, J., in the second of the decisions cited above had before him a case where the District Registrar, who has got the powers of a Collector under the Stamp Act, construed a certain document and levied a stamp duty of Rs. 1138-80. The executant of the document feeling aggrieved against the District Registrar's Order moved the Board of Revenue under Section 56(1) of the Act. At the same time the Inspector General of Registration had perused the order of the District Registrar levying duty in that case, and as the matter involved some loss of revenue he referred it to the Board of Revenue under Section 56(2). Both the petitioner's appeal and the reference were dealt with by the Board of Revenue, and the appeal of the executant of the document was dismissed and the levy made by the District Registrar was confirmed. Srinivasan, J., who dealt with the case in the writ petition observed:
'It is true that the authority is not required under the Madras Stamp Act to furnish his reasons for the conclusion that he reached, and where the matter is put in issue and a dispute is raised and the adjudication is certainly a quasi-judicial one and imposes an onerous liability on the parry, one would have expected at least brief reasons in support of the conclusions reached. 'More than all, as I have pointed out, no opportunity whatsoever was given to the party to make his representations before any of the authorities who dealt with the matter ' italics (here in ' ') mine'.
6. There was a decision of this Court given much earlier in 1950 and reported in Shanmuga Mudaliar In re, : AIR1951Mad276 . Mr. P. V. Rajamannar, the learned Chief Justice, speaking for the Bench observed:
'The only ground on which this writ is sought is that the Board did not give any opportunity to the petitioner to be orally heard. There is nothing in the Act or in the Rules framed thereunder which enjoins on the Board the duty to give an oral hearing to a person who invokes their revisional jurisdiction. All that quasi-judicial Tribunal like the Board of Revenue have to do is to give sufficient opportunity to the persons who approach them for the exercise of their jurisdiction to state their case.....This opportunity has been given to the petitioner, because presumably he has stated all his grounds of objection to the order of the Revenue Divisional Officer in his revision petition.'
7. The decision of the Bench of this Court was given in 1950 long prior to the decision of the Supreme Court in : AIR1962SC1217 . The learned Government Pleader, however submits that the decision of the Supreme Court will not apply to this case because that case dealt with a reference by the Collector under Section 56(2) of the Act, whereas the present case is an appeal petition by the party to the Board of Revenue under Section 56(1). In such a case it is urged that the principles laid down by the Bench of this Court in : AIR1951Mad276 , will apply. I am unable to agree. Section 56(1) does not mention specifically about any right of appeal or revision to the aggrieved party in such cases. It vests in the Chief Controlling authority a power of control over the decision of the Collector. But both the judgment of this Court in : AIR1951Mad276 as well as that of Srinivasan, J. in : AIR1966Mad36 , have construed that this power of control of the Chief Controlling Revenue authority under Section 56(1) is a quasi-judicial power which could be invoked at the instance of the aggrieved party. Section 56(2) also vests a quasi-judicial power in the same authority, namely the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority but with this difference, that Section 56(2) is, made applicable when the Collector feels himself a doubt as to the amount of duty payable on the instrument, draws up a statement of the case and refers it with his own opinion for the decision of the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority. Under Section 56(2) the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority is moved to act by the Collector before he: takes a decision; under Section 56(1) he is moved to act by the aggrieved party after the Collector has taken a decision. But in either case the power exercised by the Chief Controlling Authority is the power of a quasi Judicial tribunal for deciding an issue between the subject on the one hand and the Revenue on the other regarding the interpretation of a document. That interpretation has been held by the Supreme Court as involving a substantial question of law.
The point that arose for decision by the Supreme Court is somewhat different, namely whether on a reference by the party the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority will be obliged to make a reference to the Court under Section 57 of the Stamp Act for its determination of the proper duty payable on instrument. The Supreme Court held that the power in Section 57 of the Stamp Act is in the nature of an obligation or is coupled with an obligation, and can be demanded to be exercised also by the party affected by the assessment of stamp duty. The Authority is obliged to make such a reference when an important and intricate question of law in respect of the construction of the document arises. As a public officer it is his duty to make the reference. If he omits to do so, the Court can direct him to discharge the duty in an application under Article 226 of the Constitution.
8. Srinivasan, J., fa (1985) 1 Mad LJ 431 = (AIR 1986 Mad 36), had before hjm an application by the aggrieved party under Section 56(1) for collecting the levy of stamp duty and penalty by the Collector, who happened to be the District Registrar in that case. The Inspector General of Registration, the superior officer of the District Registrar, had also applied to the Board of Revenue for determination of the correct amount of stamp duty. The decision involved the question whether the Collector had levied the proper duty, and the learned Judge observed:
'When the Hoard was thus called upon to ascertain the amount of duty, particularly as there had been a dispute between the petitioner and the registering authority in that regard, the decision which the Board proceeded to render would undoubtedly have been more valuable had it been given after hearing what the affected party had to say in the matter.'
Then the learned Judge proceeded to examine the gist of the document and found that the result of the decision of the Board was that the party would have to pay a duty of nearly Hs. 7000, The learned Judge referred to an earlier decision of the Supreme Court in Chief Controlling Revenue Authority v. Maharashtra Sugar Mills, (1950) 2 MLJ 564; but the later decision referred to above in : AIR1962SC1217 , was not cited before the learned Judge. The learned Judge, however, observed:
'....where the matter is put In issue and a dispute is raised and the adjudication is certainly a quasi-judicial one and imposes an onerous liability on the party, one would have expected at least brief reasons in support of the conclusion reached. More than all, as I have pointed out, no opportunity whatsoever was given to the party to make his representations before any of the authorities who dealt with the matter.'
9. It is urged by the learned Government Pleader that the Supreme Court in : AIR1962SC1217 , proceeded on the footing that they were dealing with the matter under Section 56(2) and not under Section 56(1) 'on the application filed by the respondents inviting it to exercise its power of control thereunder'. The Supreme Court left the question open, as to whether the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority, whose power of control is invoked by the aggrieved party, is exercising a quasi-judicial power or only an administrative power. But it is difficult to hold that the scheme of the Stamp Act leaves the aggrieved party without a right of appeal especially in cases where he is ordered to pay a heavy amount of stamp duty and penalty, on the basis of the interpretation of the nature of a document for the purpose of the stamp law by a Collector, and that the only occasion when the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority is called upon to exercise quasi judicial powers, is when the Collector who feels a doubt as to the amount of duty payable on an instrument asks for his decision under Section 56(2).
On the other hand, the more reasonable view seems to me to be that after the Collector has exercised his power under Chapters IV and V by levying stamp duty, and the power of the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority is invoked by the aggrieved party under Section 56(1) and if thereafter, that Authority proceeds to exercise that power, it must also be viewed as the exercise of a quasi-judicial function. It is immaterial for this purpose, whether that power is exercised at the instance of the aggrieved party or the instance of the Revenue. In the present case the Chief Controlling Revenue Authority has taken up the application of the party for disposal as an 'appeal' against the orders of the Collector. It has written out an elaborate order canvassing the grounds set out by the party in his petition of appeal'. From the circumstances of the case it has to be held that what was exercised by the Chief Controlling Revenue authority in this case was not an administrative function but a quasi-judicial function invoked for the purpose of modifying the orders of the Collector in favour of the aggrieved party. In such a case it is clear that the authority has to act quasi-judicially, just as in the case under Section 56(2). This carries with it an obligation to give opportunity to the party for being heard, especially when a large amount of duty and penalty is involved. In the present case the party himself has also asked for a personal hearing in his memorandum of appeal. For the aforesaid reasons I am of the opinion that the requirements of natural justice had to be followed in this case where the Chief Controlling Revenue authority was requested by the aggrieved party to interfere in aquasi judicial capacity. That requirement carried with it an obligation to give the party a personal hearing. I therefore allow the writ petition and quash the order of the second respondent, the Commissioner of Land Revenue dismissing the appeal of the petitioner. The second respondent is directed to restore the appeal to his file and dispose it of after giving an opportunity to the petitioner for a personal hearing. No order as to costs.