1. These are petitions under Article 133 of the Constitution for leave to appeal to the SupremeCourt against the decision of this Court in T. R.C. Nos. 61 and 52 of 1953.
2. The petitioners are manufacturers of groundnut oil, registered as such under Rule 18(1) of the Madras General Sales-tax (Turnover and Assessment) Rule;. As dealers liable to pay sales-tex under Madras General Sales-tax Act IX of 1939, the petitioners elected to be assessed under Rule 13, Madras General Sales-tax (Turnover and Assessment) Rules.
These rules provided for a provisional assessment month by month on the basis of the returns submitted by the assessee (see rules 15 (2) and. 15(3) ) or for provisional assessment on the best judgment basis (see rule 15(4) ). The rules also provided for a final assessment after the close of the year (see rule 13(5) and (6) ).
The petitioners submitted then returns month by month for the first nine months of 1950-51, but the assessing authority, Instead of dealing with the return of each month, made a consolidated provisional assessment for nine months. The assessees claimed relief under Rule 18(2) of the Turnover and Assessment rules, but that claim was negatived by the assessing authority. On appeal, the Commercial Tax Officer agreed with the assessing authority in, rejecting the claim for reduction under Rule 18(2), but observed that, as the assessment made by the assessing authority was a provisional one, the petitioners could raise the question again during the final assessment.
On further appeal to the Sales-tax Tribunal under Section 12-A, General Sales-tax Act, the Tribunal held that a consolidated provisional assessment for nine months was against rules and set aside that assessment-Since by the time the appeal came up before the Tribunal the assessment year was over, the Tribunal directed that 'proceedings for final assessment be taken. The main question for determination all through was whether the assessees, that is, the petitioners, were entitled to the deduction they claimed under Rule 19 (2) of the Turnover and Assessment Rules. The Tribunal held that they were not and dismissed the appeal. Against that dismissal, the petitioners applied to this court under Section 12-B of the Act to revise the order of the Tribunal.
3. When T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953 came oh for admission, this court ordered on 5-4-1954: The interpretation placed by the Tribunal in this case on Rule 18(2) of the Turnover and Assessment Rules is, in our opinion, correct, and that is the view we took in T. R. C. Nos. 25 and 26 of 1954. Following that decision we dismiss these revision cases with costs.' Earlier, on 25-3-1954, this court denned the scope of Rule 18(2) In its order in T. R. C. Nos. 25 and 26 of 1954,
4. It is the correctness of the order in T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 19,53 that the petitioners seek to challenge by appeal to the Supreme Court.
5. T. R. C. No. 52 of 1953 satisfies the pecuniary test of Article 133(1)(a) of the Constitution, The tax liability itself in that case, provisional as well as the anticipated, final assessment is well over Rs. 20,000. The tax liability is admittedly less than Rs. 20,000 in T. R. C. No. 51 of 1953, but the petitioner seeks to have that consolidated with T. R. C. No. 52 of 1953 for purposes of appeal to the Supreme Court.
6. On behalf of the respondent, the State of Madras, the learned Government Pleader contended that the requirements of Article 133(1) were not satisfied because (1) the order of this court in T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953 affirmed the order of the Tribunal, and the appeal against the orders of this court did not involve any substantial question of law, and (2) the order of this court did not constitute a final order in a civil proceeding within the meaning of Article 133(1).
7. We are unable to accept the contention of the learned Government Pleader, that no substantial question of law is involved in the contemplated appeal to the Supreme Court.
In -- 'Buckingham & Carnatic Co. Ltd. v. Workers of the Buckingham & Carnatic Co. Ltd.', : (1953)ILLJ181SC (A) it has been held that an interpretation of a statutory rule' itself Involved a substantial question of law.
The scope of the expressions 'substantial question of law' in Article 133(1) came up for interpretation before a Full Bench of this court In --Subba Rao v. Veeraraju', : AIR1951Mad969 (B). Though the learned Chief Justice observed that
'It is neither possible nor useful to attempt to exactly define the terms like 'substantial', 'reasonable' and 'just and equitable',
certain tests were formulated to verify if a substantial question of law did arise within the meaning of Article 133(1). It is true that T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953 were dismissed even at the stage of admission, that is, without notice to the respondent. It is also true that in dismissing those petitions the court followed its earlier decision in T. R. C. Nos. 25 and 26 of 1954. Rule 18(2) of the Turnover and Assessment rules came up for Interpretation for the first time before this court in T, R. C, Nos. 25 and 26 of 1954, and a few days later the principle of that decision was applied in T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953. So far there has been no authoritative pronouncement by the Supreme Court on the scope of Rule 18(2);
In : AIR1951Mad969 (B) the learned Chief Justice observed:
'When a point of law is practically covered by a decision of the highest court, say like the Privy Council or the Supreme Court, then it would not be a substantial question.'
Since there has been no such decision, and since there is no scope for excluding the normal test, that the Interpretation of statutory rule, especially one imposing a tax liability does raise a substantial question, of law, we have to hold that in this case a substantial question of law does arise. It is not only the quantum of tax liability that matters; -- In one of the cases at least before us It is well over Rs. 20,000; it is a tax liability affecting the large section of the mercantile community in this State engaged in the production of groundnut oil, and the desirability of having an authoritative pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the scope of that liability satisfied, in our opinion, the test of substantial question of law prescribed by Article 133(1) of the Constitution.
8. The second contention, however, of the learned Government Pleader is, in our opinion, well-founded. . What was set aside was the provisional assessment made under Rule 15 of the Turnover and Assessment Rules. Whether that assessment was under Rule 15(3) or under Rule 15(4) it may not be necessary to investigate at this stage.
It is true that the main question for determination both before the appellate authorities, and before the High Court, whose revisional jurisdiction was invoked under- Section 12-B of the Act, was the admissibility of the claim of the assessees, to the deduction allowed by Rule 18(2) of the Turnover And Assessment Rules. Nonetheless, that claim 'was Investigated and negatived in the course of proceedings of provisional assessment tinder Rule15 of the Turnover and Assessment Rules. Sub-rules 5 and 6 of Rule 15 provided for the final assessment in the case of each dealer-assessee, even the dealer who has been provisionally assessed under the earlier sub-rules of Rule 15.
The contention of the learned Government Pleader, that the 'civil proceeding' referred to in Article 133(1) of the Constitution is, In this case, the assessment proceedings, and that therefore the orders in relation to provisional assessment under Rule 15 are only in the nature of interlocutory orders in the civil proceedings, that is, the assessment proceedings is, in our opinion, well-founded. The learned Government Pleader also contended that he did not concede that the appeals preferred by the assessee against the orders of provisional assessment were themselves appealable under Sections 11 and 12-A of the Act. The correctness or otherwise of that contention, it is unnecessary to decide now.
As ancillary to his contention, that the order of the Tribunal that came up before us under Section 12-B of the Act was an order of an Interlocutory nature, the learned Government Pleader urged that it was still open to the assessee to appeal against the final assessment, when the correctness of the interlocutory order of this Court in T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953 could be challenged.
9. What constitutes a final order has repeatedly come up for consideration before Courts. In -- 'Mohmmad Amin Bros. Ltd. v. Dominion of India AIR 1950 FC 77 (C), the Federal Court pointed out that there was an exhaustive review of the case law on the subject in -- 'Kuppuswaml Rao v. The King and after a further review of the cases, the learned Judges laid down (that) the test for determining the finality of an order is whether the judgment or order finally disposed of the rights of the parties. To quote the language of Sir George Lowndea in -- 'Abdul Rahman v. D.K. Cassim and Sons
'the finality must be a finality in relation to the suit. If after the order the suit Is still a live suit in which the rights of the parties have still to be determined, no appeal lies against it. The fact that the order decides an important and even a vital issue Is by itself not material. If the decision on an Issue puts an end to the suit, the order will undoubtedly be a final one, but if the suit is still left alive and has got to be tried in the ordinary way, no finality could-attached to the order.'
These principles were -followed by a Division Bench of this Court in -- 'Raghavacharyulu v. Venkata Ramanujacharyulu AIR 1954 Mad 408 (F).
10. No doubt the claim of the petitioners to the deduction under Rule 18(2) was a vital issue in the proceedings before the appellate authorities and before this Court. In fact it was the only issue decided by this Court. Nonetheless, the determination of that Issue did not put an end to the assessment proceedings as distinct from the proceedings for provisional assessment. The assessment proceedings themselves are still left alive and have to be completed in the ordinary way, that is, in the manner provided for by the Act and the rules framed thereunder, and until such assessment is made, there can be no finality of an order within the meaning of Article 133(1) of the Constitution.
11. The learned counsel for the petitioners next urged that, whether or not the orders in T. R. C. Nos. 51 and 52 of 1953 were final orders in a civil proceeding of a High Court within the meaning of Article 133(1) of the Constitution, they were judgments of the High Court within the scope of Article 133(1). In view of the authoritative pronouncement of the Federal Court in AIR 1950 FC 77 (C), that contention has to be negatived. The learned Judges of the Federal Court observed:
'If the order which is made in this case is an interlocutory order, the Judgment must necessarily be held to be an interlocutory Judgment and the collocation of the words 'judgment, decree or order' in Section 205(1), Government of India Act, makes it clear that no appeal is provided for against an interlocutory judgment or order.'
That principle was followed and applied in construing a judgment, decree or final order within the meaning of Article 133(1) of the Constitution by a Division Bench of this Court in : AIR1954Mad406 (F).
12. Since the requirements of Article 133(1) have not been satisfied, we are unable to grant the certificates for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. These petitions are dismissed. No costs.