1. The petitioner has been convicted by the Joint Magistrate of Kumbakonam of an offence punishable under Section 15 of the Sales Tax Act in failing to submit a return as required by the provisions of the Act and the rules made thereunder, and he has been sentenced to a fine of Rs. 50.
2. The petitioner deals in hand-woven cloth on which, according to Section 5 of the Act, he is exempted from the taxation laid down in Section 3. Under the rules in force at the time when the petitioner is said to have committed this offence, it was however necessary for him to get a licence for selling even hand-woven articles. As he was already in possession of a licence under the Sale of Cloth Act of 1937, all that was necessary for him to do was to take that licence to the assessing authority and get an endorsement on it. He failed to do so. Since that date the Government have ordered that it is not necessary for persons selling only hand-woven material to obtain a licence.
3. It is contended that Section 15 does not apply to the petitioner because the petitioner did not know what the rules under the Act were and his failure to submit a return was not wilful. Section 15 (a) runs as follows:
Any person who wilfully submits an untrue return or fails to submit a return as required by the provisions of this Act...shall...be liable to a fine....
It is argued that the word 'wilfully' governs the second part of the sub-section as well as the first. If this were so, then very few persons could be made liable for failing to take out a licence, because every person would naturally plead that he did not know what was written in the Act or in the rules. Every person is supposed to know what the law is; and if he fails to act in accordance with the law, then he has to suffer the consequences. A person might inadvertently send in a return which was not strictly correct; but he would not be punished for that if the mistake was due to some error in arithmetic or some cause which did not amount to a 'wilful act' in contravention of the rules. As the rules in force at the time required the petitioner to submit a return (see Rule 6), the petitioner was guilty of the offence of which he was charged.
4. Although the petitioner contravened the provisions of the law, it would have been unnecessary for him to have submitted a return if he had taken out a licence; because he had nothing to enter in the return. If he had taken out a licence, then I think Section 90 of the Indian Penal Code would have covered this offence and he would have been entitled to an acquittal; but as he did not take out a licence, he was bound to submit a return. It has been pointed out that in the Tamil translation of the Act it is said that a return need only be sent in if the annual turnover exceeds Rs. 20,000. As the annual turnover of the petitioner is only Rs. 11,000, it is argued that he was entitled to rely on the Government translation of the Act and that therefore he committed no offence. There might have been some ground for the argument if the accused had put that forward in the lower Court; but the discovery of the Tamil translation seems to have been the act of his counsel rather than of the accused himself. The actual Act gives Rs. 10,000 as the limit below which a return is unnecessary.
5. As the offence of the petitioner was only a technical one and he would not have been liable for any taxation if he had taken out a licence--which is not now necessary--I reduce the fine from Rs. 50 to Rs. 5. The excess fine paid will be refunded.