(1) This revision case, in the first instance, came before Natesan J., who, on the view that an important question of law arises, considered that it should be decided by a Division Bench. That is how it comes before us.
(2) The petitioner was convicted under rule 26(2) read with rule 33(1) of the rules framed by the State Government in exercise of the power vested in them by S. 178 (xxii) of the Madras Panchayats Act 1958. This was on the ground that he was doing agriculture, and that he was liable to pay profession tax in respect of it, under Section 119 read with Section 121 of that Act. The court below was of the view that "agriculture" would fall within the purview of the term "calling" in Section 121. It did not precisely find as to the particular activity the petitioner was engaged in, which could be described as an agricultural operation, so as to view it as a profession.
(3) Section 119(1) confers power on a village Panchayat to levy, inter alia, a profession tax, and Section 121 provides for the manner of and procedure for levy and collection of profession tax. It is a half-yearly tax and is payable by every company or person who during the half year transacts business or exercises a profession art or calling within a specified period within that half year. Section 121(1)(ii) says that "the profession tax shall...... be levied every half year..... on every person, who in that half year (a) exercises a profession, art or calling or transacts business or holds any appointment, public or private...." Section 178 contains the rule making power of the Government and clause (xxii) enables the Government to frame rules, as to the realisation of any tax or other sum due to a Panchayat under the Act whether by distraint or sale of moveable property, by prosecution before a Magistrate, by a suit, or otherwise. Rule 26 framed in the exercise of that power provides for distraint and sale of moveable property, and Sub-rule (2) says that, if sufficient distraint of the defaulter's property is impracticable, the executive authority may prosecute the defaulter before a Magistrate. Rule 33 enables the imposition of fine in such a prosecution under rule 26(2). Sub-rule (1) states that, on proof to the satisfaction of the Magistrate, that a person wilfully omitted to pay the amount due by him as tax, he shall be liable to pay a fine not exceeding twice the amount due from him as tax.
(4) The question we are called upon to answer, with reference to these very statutory provisions and rules, is, whether profession tax can be levied on agriculture, pure and simple. Learned Public Prosecutor contends that, as records stand at the moment, the facts relating to the nature of the activity the petitioner is engaged in are not available and that the question we have set out for our consideration may, therefore, appear to be too broad. There is force in his submission. Nobody seems to have suggested before the court below that it must investigate into the relevant facts constituting the activity of the petitioner which may be described as agriculture and which may be regarded also as a profession.
(5) "Profession," as defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary means, among other things, vocation, calling, especially one that involves some branch of learning or science, as the learned profession (divinity, law, medicine). A profession is normally associated with the exercise of intellectual or technical equipment resulting from learning or science. In that sense, agriculture by which is meant cultivation of the soil may not be a profession. There is nothing to profess in the activity of agriculture. Agriculture means physical labour and toil expended on the land with a view to extract the produce springing from it. There may be a variety of activities which may well be styled as agriculture; but there may be many other activities which fall off the line of agriculture and may well amount to a profession. Whether it is the one or the other will depend on the particular facts.
Though Section 119 confines the power, so far as the present purpose is concerned, to levy tax on a profession and calls it a profession tax. S. 121(1)(ii) gives a wider connotation to the expression "profession tax" and includes not merely exercising a profession but also art or calling or transacting business or holding any public or private appointment. What is a calling in the context? "Calling" is said to mean in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, occupation, profession, or trade as in the case of persons following a particular business. That shows that "calling" has also the sense of "profession", and may, perhaps, be of a wider import than what is strictly regarded as profession. Can it be said that agriculture is a calling? It may be that agriculture is an occupation in a certain sense, but not, in our opinion, a profession or calling. While saying this we are having in mind the basic sense in which "agriculture" is used, namely, cultivation of the soil. Whether the petitioner, in this case, did something more than that, we do not know
(6) We consider that it is far better that the court below ascertains on the evidence before, it, which the petitioner as well as the Panchayat may be permitted to adduce, the facts constituting the nature of the operation or activity the petitioner was engaged in, so that it may be in a position to decide whether what he did is merely an agricultural operation in the sense of cultivation of land or something more in nature of trade or business. In this context, we may mention that, merely because a cultivator markets or sells his produce to get a price, that activity cannot be regarded as falling outside the scope of agriculture and attracting profession tax.
(7) On that view, the petition is allowed and the case is remitted to the file of the court below, for fresh disposal in the light of the observations contained in this judgment.
(8) Revision Allowed