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V.N.R. Meenakshi Ammal Vs. Agricultural Income-tax Officer and anr. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWrit Petition Nos. 2888 and 2894 of 1966
Judge
Reported in[1971]82ITR676(Mad)
ActsMadras Agricultural Income Tax Act, 1955 - Sections 4, 17 and 34
AppellantV.N.R. Meenakshi Ammal
RespondentAgricultural Income-tax Officer and anr.
Appellant AdvocateS. Swaminathan, ;K. Ramgopal and ;K. Ganapathi, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateK. Venkataswami, First Asst. Government Pleader
Cases ReferredCommissioners of Inland Revenue v. Sneath
Excerpt:
direct taxation - principles of natural justice - sections 4, 17 and 34 of madras agricultural income tax act, 1955 - whenever quasi-judicial tribunal attempts to bring circumstances which would affect rights of parties particularly where party concerned entitled to certain right - tribunal should not negative that right without hearing that party in full - tribunal should give opportunity to state his objection - not affording opportunity amounts to violation of principle of natural justice. - - the assessing authority wanted to increase the said holding for reasons better known to it......to have submitted to the orders under section 35 and the result is that, prior to the assessment year in question, the petitioner was always treating these properties as lands which were not held by her in trust. it was this background that prompted the agricultural income-tax officer to include these lands also as lands which ought to be dealt with in the application for composition filed by the petitioner for the year in question and the result was the order dated january 30, 1966. as against the said order, the petitioner filed a revision petition before the commissioner of agricultural income-tax, madras. the revisional authority set up a poser to himself to the following effect:'does section 4(b) of the act operate in relation to an assessee who has asked for composition of.....
Judgment:

Ramaprasada Rao, J.

1. The petitioner is admitedly assessable to agricultural income-tax under the Madras Agricultural Income-tax Actof 1955. For the year 1965-66, the petitioner filed an application under Section 34 of the Act as amended in 1958 and sought for orders of composition as provided therein and for the ultimate compounding of the tax on the basis of the extent of the holding held by her. Her application was on the foot that she held 37.57 acres. The assessing officer, however, was of the view that an extent of 51.59 acres was deliberately omitted from the application for composition and, in that view he added on the same to the extent of holding oft the petitioner and assessed her to tax. Apparently, the Agricultural Income-tax Officer who dealt with the subject and passed the above order on January 30, 1966, was influenced by the earlier decisions taken by the assessing authorities year after year for the assessment years commencing from 1960-61 to 1964-65. In fact, it is not in dispute that the writ petitioner in proceedings initiated against her under Section 35 of the Act, on the ground that the above extent of 51.59 acres was omitted from being composed, and dealt with under Section 34, has not virtually raised a legitimate protest against it but is said to have submitted to the orders under Section 35 and the result is that, prior to the assessment year in question, the petitioner was always treating these properties as lands which were not held by her in trust. It was this background that prompted the Agricultural Income-tax Officer to include these lands also as lands which ought to be dealt with in the application for composition filed by the petitioner for the year in question and the result was the order dated January 30, 1966. As against the said order, the petitioner filed a revision petition before the Commissioner of Agricultural Income-tax, Madras. The revisional authority set up a poser to himself to the following effect:

'Does Section 4(b) of the Act operate in relation to an assessee who has asked for composition of agricultural income-tax payable by him?'

He was of the view that proceedings under Section 34 of the Act, being independent and self-operative, the normal concessions and exemptions contemplated under the main provisions of the Act, when the usual, assessment proceedings are taken under Section 17 et seq are not applicable to a proceeding taken by the assessee on his own volition under Section 34 of the Act. This conclusion was arrived at by the Commissioner of Income-tax without adverting to the facts which were before him as regards the character of 51.59 acres which were claimed to be trust property by the petitioner. It is not disputed that the Commissioner had enough material before him to adjudge whether the above extent of land should be included in the holding of the petitioner on the ground that they are not excludible as being held in trust by her. But, on the other hand, he was content in disposing of the revision petition on the only ground that such exemption, even if it could be claimed by the petitioner,could only be earned in an assessment proceeding under Section 17 and not in a summary proceeding under Section 34 of the Act. It is in this view, he dismissed the revision petition. As against this, the present writ petitions are filed.

2. Learned counsel for the petitioner raises three contentions: The first one is that notwithstanding the findings or her submission to the decision on earlier occasions and orders that the extent of 51'59 acres is includible in the composition application for purposes of being dealt with under Section 34 of the Act, they by themselves would neither operate as estoppel or res judicata against her preventing her from raising the same question for the assessment year in question during the assessment year. The second contention is that the principles of natural justice have been violated in that the inclusion was made without reference to her and as a matter of course and, as such, an inclusion of the extent in the application for composition without reference to her is prejudicial to her and her interest, the order suffers from an error apparent. The third contention is that the question of law as decided by the Commissioner is not acceptable and is not correct. As regards the first contention, it is no doubt true that the findings rendered or the conclusion arrived at by statutory assessing authorities in prior orders may not create an estoppel or project the rule of res judicata so as to disentitle the aggreived person such as the assessee to place any similar circumstance in subsequent years to reagitate the question even though on the same merits. The essential principle to be borne in mind has been stated by Hanworth M. R. in Commissioners of Inland Revenue v. Sneath, [1932] 17 T.C. 149. This is noted by Mr. Palkhivala in his 6th edition at page 731. The proposition runs as follows :

'The assessment is final and conclusive between the parties only in relation to the assessment for the particular year for which it is made. No doubt a decision reached in one year would be a cogent factor in the determination of a similar point in a following year, but I cannot think that it is to be treated as an estoppel binding upon the same party for all years.'

The quintessence of this decision is that even though such finding on relevant material given after hearing the parties in assessment proceedings may not have the building effect as being res judicata or having the effect of estopping the person to set up or argue otherwise, yet, that would be a very relevant consideration for the authorities to consider, while finally determining the same point in the following years. In this view of the matter, the assumption of the Commissioner that the properties should be deemed to be non-trust properties and not held by the petitioner as such trustee cannot be said to be a finding of fact arrived at after giving areasonable opportunity to the party concerned and after a fair trial thereon. It would be unnecessary to go into the question at this stage in the instant case as to whether the exemption which a trustee can claim under Section 4(b) of the Act is available only in a regular assessment proceeding under Section 17 of the Act and not in the summary statutory proceedings available under Section 34 of the same. As the matter could be dealt with factually and as the facts have not been found by the lower, tribunals, I am not inclined to just lay down a proposition in the abstract at this stage on the facts of this case.

3. The second contention that the principles of natural justice have not been kept in view, also appears to be sound. It is not in dispute that before the assessing authority included the lands in the application for composition, no notice or proposal to include the same was ever given to the petitioner. Whenever a quasi-judicial tribunal attempts to bring in circumstances which would affect the rights of parties, particularly in a case where the party concerned was emphatic that he was entitled to a certain right, the Tribunal ought not to negative that right or decide prejudicially to that party without hearing him in full or without giving him an opportunity to state his objections to a proposal which that Tribunal intends to adopt so as to ultimately affect the vested rights of the party before him. In this case, the petitioner applied for composition noting that a specific extent of land was held by her. The assessing authority wanted to increase the said holding for reasons better known to it. This was done without notice to the petitioner who is the principal party aggrieved by such inclusion. In those circumstances, I am of the view that the principles of natural justice also have been violated. The third point is whether at this stage and in the nebulous state of facts on record, I should undertake to decide on the final question of law posed by the Commissioner. As ultimately a decision on facts would obviate an investigation into the question of law posed, I am not inclined to take it up at this stage.

4. For the reasons already stated, the orders by the authorities below areset aside and the rule nisi is made absolute. The subject-matter isremitted to the file of the Commissioner for Agricultural Income-tax,Madras, for a reappraisal on the merits and the facts as disclosed by thepetitioner before me, and a finding whether the 51.59 acres of land are heldby the petitioner in trust or otherwise, ought to be rendered thereafter.After deciding the question on the material available, the Commissionershall assess the petitioner in accordance with law. In the result, boththese writ petitions are allowed. No costs.


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