1. The applicant is a Chartered Accountant & has been practising as an auditor from 1923. He is a fellow member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants from 22-8-1950 (sic). He has been appearing on behalf of assessees before the Income-tax authorities in connection with assessment proceedings under the Act. Under Section 61(1), Income-tax Act, he was found guilty of misconduct as an auditor in connection with income-tax proceedings before the Income-tax Officer, Kurnool. Thereupon, the Central Govt. declared him not to be a fit & proper person to remain enrolled on the Register of Accountants & in exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (d) of Sub-rule (1) of Rule 14, Auditor's Certificate Rules, 1932, the Govt. removed his name temporarily for a period of one year from the said Register, by a notification dated 24-6-1949. On 8-7-1949, the Commissioner of Income-tax issued a notice to the petitioner why action should not be taken against him under the provisions of Sub-section (3) of Section 61 of the Act & he should not be disqualified to represent an assessee. The petitioner did not appear before the Commissioner in pursuance of the notice & on 21-7-1949, the Commissioner of Income-tax passed an order under Section 61 (3) directing the petitioner shall 'henceforward be disqualified to represent an assessee under Sub-section (1) of Section 61 of the Act.'
2. Proviso (b) to Section 61 (3) of the Act gives a right of appeal to a person against whom a direction is made under that Sub-section to the Central Board of Revenue. The petitioner, however, did not prefer any such appeal. On 6-7-1950, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India notified that the Council of the Institute was pleased to restore the petitioner to the Register of Members with effect from 24-6-1950. Thereupon, the petitioner addressed a letter to the Commissioner of Income-tax informing him of the restoration and requesting that he may be permitted to represent assessees under Section 61 of the income-tax Act. The Commissioner replied on 14-9-1950 regretting his inability to interfere with his predecessor's order, dated 21-7-1949. The petitioner went up to the Central Board of Revenue in appeal & the Board on 1-11-1950 communicated their decision that the Board saw no reason to interfere with an order which not having been appealed against had become absolute. The petitioner seeks a writ of certiorari to quash this order of the Central Board. Section 61 (3) runs thus :
'No person who has been dismissed from Govt. service after 1-4-1938, shall be qualified to represent an assessee under Sub-section (1) ; & if any lawyer or registered accountant is found guilty of misconduct in connection with any income-tax proceedings by the authority empowered to take disciplinary action against members of the profession to which he belongs or if any other person is found guilty of such misconduct by the Commissioner of Income-tax, the Commissioner of Income-tax may direct that he shall be thenceforward disqualified to represent an assessee under Sub-section (1) ;
(a) no such direction shall be made in respect of any person unless he is given a reasonable opportunity of being heard,
(b) any person against whom such direction is made, may, within one month of the making of the direction, appeal to the Central Board of Revenue to have the direction cancelled, &
(a) no such direction shall take effect until one month from the making thereof, or, where an appeal is preferred, until the disposal of the appeal.'
3. The first question, & in fact the only question, which has impressed us as of some substance raised by the learned counsel for the petitioner is whether an order under Section 61 (3), in terms thereof, namely, an order that a particular person shall be henceforth disqualified to represent an assessee under Sub-section (1), assuming no appeal in time has been filed under proviso (b), has the result of operating as an order permanently disqualifying that person from representing an assessee under Sub-section (1). The Commissioner evidently & the Central Board of Revenue certainly, appeared to have taken this view of the provision. The Central Board clearly & unambiguously says that the original order of the Commissioner not having been appealed against has become absolute.
4. Now the word 'thenceforward' prima facie fixes only one limit, namely, the limit from which the order begins to have effect. By itself it does not necessarily fix the other limit 'Thenceforward' in our opinion cannot be read as 'thenceforward and for ever'. In Rex v.Llewellyn (1907) 96 L. T. 32 the Justices actingunder Section 13, Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1887, made an order in respect of a person employed as a checkweigher in a mine in the following terms:
''From henceforth he shall cease to perform the duties of checkweigher on behalf of the persons employed in the said mine as aforesaid'.
It was contended that the effect of this order was to disqualify the man for ever from acting as checkweigher. This contention was overruled. The following observations of Darling J. are apposite to the present case:
'The word 'henceforth' means from the date of the order & does not mean 'henceforth & for ever.'
We, therefore, think that the Commissioner of Income-tax & the Central Board of Revenue did not approach the request of the petitioner from a proper standpoint. At the same time we must remark that the petitioner was not without blame in the matter. His letter to which we have referred obviously proceeds on the implied assertion that once the period of temporary removal fromthe register of Accountants had elapsed he automatically became entitled to represent assessees under Section 61 (1). Even before us the learned counsel on behalf of the petitioner again contended that the original order of the Commissioner of Income-tax should be read as if the period of disqualification under Section 61 (3), Income-tax Act, was also a period of one year. In this we cannot agree with him. It is true that the punishment meted out to the petitioner under the Chartered Accountants Rules was suspension for one year. But it does not follow that necessarily the Commissioner of Income-tax should also limit the duration of his order under Section 61 (3), to the same period.
5. We are of the view that Section 61 (3) does not by itself prevent the Income-tax authorities (including the Central Board of Revenue) from permitting a person against whom they had passed an order under that provision to appear before the authorities on behalf of assessees, at a later date, provided, of course, there was nothing in the original order itself which precluded them from so doing. We have also pointed out above that an order in terms of the language in Section 61 (3) without mentioning the period of disqualification would not be such an order as to preclude reconsideration on a subsequent date.
6. In this view we think the most satisfactory course for the petitioner would be to approach the Commissioner of Income-tax for a reconsideration of their prior order on sufficient grounds. Wecan only say that such a consideration by the Commissioner will not be precluded by this provision.
7. Having regard to the expression of this opinion by us it is not necessary to deal at great length with the several points raised by the learned counsel for the petitioner, impugning even the validity of Section 61 (3) of the Act. His contention was that this Sub-section offends against the fundamental right declared under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution ; and it is, therefore, void. He tried to develop the contention from various aspects. First he said that Section 61 (3), Income-tax Act, completely destroys the right conferred by Article 19(1)(g). This is obviously not correct. The order of the Commissioner under Section 61 (3) does not prevent the petitioner from carrying on his profession, namely, that of auditor or accountant. That order only prevents him from representing assessees before a particular department of Govt. The question, therefore, to be considered is whether Section 61 (3), Income-tax Act, is in the nature of a reasonable restriction on the exercise of the right under Article 19(1)(g) in the interests of the general public. We have no hesitation in holding that it is a reasonable restriction. It is in the interest of the general public that persons who have been found guilty of misconduct in connection with income-tax proceedings should not be allowed to represent the assessees before the income-tax authorities. It is a salutary provision which saves the public from undesirable persons & also the State from being misled or defrauded.
8. The learned counsel next contended that there was something contrary to the principles of natural justice in empowering the Commissioner of Income-tax to pass an order under Section 61 (3) of the Act and, therefore, the provision contravened the spirit of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The Commissioner was described as a party in income-tax proceedings, & therefore, it would be unfair to empower one of the parties to the proceedings to disqualify the person to represent the opposite party. In our opinion, there is a certain amount of mixing up in this argument. Assuming for argument that in the case of a particular assessment it can be said that the assessee & the Commissioner of Income-tax are ranged opposite to each other, the powers conferred on the Commissioner under Section 61 (3) are conferred on him not as a party in any one proceeding but as one of the highest officers in the heirarchy of the Income-tax department who, in the opinion of the legislature could be entrusted with the proper conduct of proceedings before the authorities.
9. If this is borne in mind, the next contention of the learned counsel also falls to the ground that the Commissioner of Income-tax is given power to disqualify persons appearing before the Appellate Tribunal which is superior in certain matters to the Commissioner himself.
10. It was also contended that it was unreasonable that the Commissioner of Income-tax should have power to inflict a punishment more excessive than punishment imposed on the petitioner & persons like the petitioner by an authority empowered to take disciplinary action against them. We, however, do not think that there is anything inherently unreasonable in this. Punishment is one thing and the effect of the misconduct for which the punishment his been inflictedis quite a different thing. For a criminal offence the sentence may be only simple imprisonment for a few months. But if the offence involves moral turpitude it may result in his not being qualified for election to public bodies. We think it would be really unreasonable to say that the person who has been sentenced by a criminal Court be disqualified for other purposes only till he serves his sentence & that the moment he has undergone the punishment, he must be deemed to be qualified in every other way.
11. We must confess that we are unable to follow the argument of the learned counsel that there is something in Section 61 (3) of the Act which is inconsistent with Article 14 of the Constitution. The well-known decision of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, (1886) 118 U. S. 220 : 30 Law Ed. 356, & the equally well-known English case in Board of Education v. Bice, 1911 A. C. 179, were referred to. No doubt, there are observations in these cases which lay down that there should not be an unreasonable discrimination in the application of a law but we do not see any discrimination contemplated by Section 61 (3), Income-tax Act.
12. In the result, with the observations which we have already made at the beginning as regards the construction of Section 61 (3), Income-tax Act, the application is dismissed.
13. There will be no order as to costs.