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K.S. Varadaraja Iyengar Vs. Deputy Commercial Tax Officer - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectSales Tax;Constitution
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case Number Writ Petition No. 428 of 1963
Judge
Reported in[1967]19STC41(Mad)
AppellantK.S. Varadaraja Iyengar
RespondentDeputy Commercial Tax Officer
Appellant Advocate S. Swaminathan and ; K. Ramgopal, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateAdditional Government Pleader
DispositionPetition allowed
Cases ReferredLegislature. In Cape Brandy Syndicate v. Inland Revenue Commissioners
Excerpt:
- - an interesting question arose in east texas motor freight lines v. it excludes from any tax liability under the act sale of agricultural and horticultural produce, the primary condition to be satisfied being that it must be produce of the land which either belongs to the seller or of the land in which he has an interest as specified by the section. it simply means that in a taxing act one has to look merely at what is clearly said......[1962] 13 s.t.c. 422. in that case, according to the petitioner therein all that was done to the arecanuts produced by him was to remove the husk from them and by whatever name that removal of the husk was called, it was not a physical, chemical or other process within the meaning of the first explanation to make the arecanuts fall outside the scope of the proviso. veeraswami, j., was of opinion that the petition was premature. however the learned judge observed at page 424 :there is, however, no difficulty in pointing out that an agriculturist merely because he happens to market his crops, will not be a dealer ; nor will he be a dealer because the agricultural produce has been put to some kind of treatment only in order to make it marketable.8. the learned judge further observed that.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Venkatadri, J.

1. The petitioner, who is an agriculturist owning three acres of arecanut plantation in Mettupalayam, has filed this writ petition to quash the order dated 31st March, 1963, of the Deputy Commercial Tax Officer, Mettupalayam, in proceedings 9920/59-60 on his file. By that order, the respondent-officer determined the turnover of the petitioner at Rs. 16,871.55 and levied tax on that. The contention for the petitioner is that he is exempted from paying that tax under the proviso to Section 2(r) read with explanation (1) of the Madras General Sales Tax Act, 1959.

2. Section 2(r) of the Act defines 'turnover', and the proviso says that the proceeds of the sale by a person of agricultural or horticultural produce, other than tea, grown within the State by himself or on any land in which he has an interest whether as owner, usufructuary mortgagee, tenant or otherwise, shall be excluded from his turnover. Explanation (1) runs thus :

'Agricultural or horticultural produce' shall not include such produce as has been subjected to any physical, chemical or other process for being made fit for consumption, save mere cleaning, grading, sorting or drying.

3. The case of the petitioner is that in order to make the arecanuts fit for market or consumption, he has been adopting the usual method of gathering ripe nuts, drying them, dehusking them and then selling them as dried nuts to merchants. He submits that this activity is a process involved in agriculture and horticulture and that too of an agricultural land. His contention therefore is that he is neither a dealer nor are the proceeds of sale of arecanuts grown on his land liable to be included in the assessable turnover under the Act.

4. According to the Deputy Commercial Tax Officer, Mettupalayam, the petitioner has sold the arecanuts not in the form in which he has plucked them but only after dehusking, drying, cleaning and grading and that the process of dehusking cannot be regarded as 'cleaning, grading, sorting or drying'. The respondent-officer submits that the process of dehusking is sufficient to bring his produce outside the category of agricultural or horticultural produce mentioned in the section and as such the petitioner is rightly assessed to sales tax. In other words, the arecanuts in the process of dehusking are subjected to physical, chemical or other process for being made fit for consumption and cannot therefore be included in 'agricultural or horticultural produce'. But according to the petitioner, in order to market the arecanuts gathered from the trees they have necessarily to be husked and that by dehusking they do not undergo any change but only retain their character as an agricultural produce. He further submits that the dehusking is nothing but a process of cleaning, grading and drying. Therefore the only question for consideration is whether the petitioner can claim exemption on the ground of the proceeds of the sale being those of agricultural produce.

5. Prior to this Act, a similar question arose before Rajagopalan, J., in The State of Madras v. Saravana Pillai [1956] 7 S.T.C. 541. In that case, the assessee gathered the arecanuts while they were still raw. They were then peeled and the kernels were thereafter sliced, boiled and dried. The question was whether the cured arecanuts continued to be horticultural produce within the meaning of the proviso to Section 2(i). Here I must mention that there was no explanation then similar to explanation (1). It was observed at page 545 thus :

We are of opinion that, where any agricultural or horticultural produce has to be subjected to a minimum processing before that produce can be marketed at all, it will still retain its character as agricultural produce or horticultural produce, despite that minimum processing.

6. It was held that the arecanuts sold by the assessee were only subjected to the minimum processing absolutely necessary for their sale.

7. After the coming into force of the 1959 Act, a similar question came up for consideration before Veeraswami, J., in Deviah Gowder v. Commercial Tax Officer [1962] 13 S.T.C. 422. In that case, according to the petitioner therein all that was done to the arecanuts produced by him was to remove the husk from them and by whatever name that removal of the husk was called, it was not a physical, chemical or other process within the meaning of the first explanation to make the arecanuts fall outside the scope of the proviso. Veeraswami, J., was of opinion that the petition was premature. However the learned Judge observed at page 424 :

There is, however, no difficulty in pointing out that an agriculturist merely because he happens to market his crops, will not be a dealer ; nor will he be a dealer because the agricultural produce has been put to some kind of treatment only in order to make it marketable.

8. The learned Judge further observed that whether agricultural produce had lost its character would depend upon the particular facts in each case and that it should be examined on the facts found, as to how far a processing had brought about a change to the original produce as to alter its character to such an extent, as to justify the conclusion that the produce after treatment was a different produce and not the same agricultural produce.

9. The learned Additional Government Pleader for the respondent contends that in the process of dehusking the arecanuts undergo physical change and therefore the assessee is liable to pay tax, even though at the inception they were agricultural produce exempted from tax. Therefore the further question that arises for consideration is whether arecanuts merely by reason of dehusking undergo any physical or other process and thereby lose their character as agricultural produce. An interesting question arose in East Texas Motor Freight Lines v. Frozen Food Express 100 Law Ed. 917 extracted in 11 S.T.C. 149 where the Court observed :

A chicken that has been killed and dressed is still a chicken. Removal of its feathers and entrails has made it ready for market. But we cannot conclude that this processing which merely makes the chicken marketable turns it. into a 'manufactured' commodity. At some point processing and manufacturing will merge. But where the commodity retains a continuing substantial identity through the processing stage we cannot say that it has been 'manufactured' within the meaning of Section 203(b)(6).

10. Likewise, I think the removal of the husk from the arecanuts only makes them ready for market or consumption. And here the goods retain a continuing substantial identity through the process of dehusking, and it cannot therefore be said that the produce has undergone any physical or other process.

11. In Deputy Commissioner of Agricultural Income-tax and Sales Tax v. Raman [1960] 11 S.T.C. 263 the question for consideration was whether cocoanut fibre was agricultural or horticultural produce, and it was held by a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court that the question whether a particular process altered the character of the agricultural or horticultural produce to that of manufactured article was a question of fact, but as a general guiding principle of law it could be safely laid down that if an agriculturist put the produce gathered from his lands to certain minimum processes ordinarily employed by an agriculturist to make it really marketable or more marketable or to make it fit to be taken to market, it could not be said that the produce ceased to be an agricultural or horticultural produce.

12. The proviso to Section 2(r) of the Act is conceived in the interests of the agriculturists, though the explanation has put a limit to it. It excludes from any tax liability under the Act sale of agricultural and horticultural produce, the primary condition to be satisfied being that it must be produce of the land which either belongs to the seller or of the land in which he has an interest as specified by the section. Now the general rule of construction is that exemptions from tax granted by a statute should be given full scope and amplitude and should not be whittled down by importing limitations not inserted by the Legislature. In Cape Brandy Syndicate v. Inland Revenue Commissioners [1921] 1 K.B. 64 Rowlatt, J., observed :

Too wide and fanciful a construction is often sought to be given to the maxim, which does not mean that words are to be unduly restricted against the Crown or that there is to be any discrimination against the Crown in those Acts. It simply means that in a taxing Act one has to look merely at what is clearly said. There is no room for any intendment...Nothing is to be read in, nothing is to be implied. One can only look fairly at the language used.

13. On the facts now disclosed and on a review of the case law on the subject, I am of opinion that when the arecanuts are plucked, dried and dehusked they do not undergo physical or any other process making the article thereby alter its character as agricultural produce. The process of dehusking is the minimum process absolutely necessary for making the produce marketable and fit for consumption. The petitioner is, therefore, not liable to tax in respect of the proceeds of sale of arecanuts grown on his land, in the circumstances mentioned above. In this view, it is not necessary to consider whether explanation (1) to Section 2(r) of the Act offends Article 14, Article 19(1)(f) and (g) and Article 31 of the Constitution.

14. In the result, the writ petition is allowed and the rule nisi is made absolute. There will be no order as to costs, in the circumstances of the case.


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