1. This petition raises a question of interpretation of Section 57 of the Madras General Sales Tax Act, 1959. Certain assessment records were sought to be summoned by the petitioner in a suit which he instituted and which is pending disposal. Objection was raised to marking of some of the documents by the plaintiff as evidence on the ground that those documents were privileged and should be treated as confidential tinder Section 57(1) of the Act. This objection was upheld by the court below. This petition is to revise that order.
2. The contention for the petitioner is that the scope of Section 57(1) is limited to voluntary disclosure of the records specified therein by the officer concerned and does not extend to the powers of civil courts to summon them. In other words, the argument for the petitioner is that Section 57(1) does not cover involuntary disclosure of the records specified in the Sub-section. Section 57(1) reads :
All particulars contained in any statement made, return furnished or accounts, registers, records or documents produced under the provisions of this Act or in any evidence given or affidavit or deposition made, in the course of any proceeding under this Act or in any record of any proceeding relating to the recovery of a demand, prepared for the purposes of this Act shall be treated as confidential and shall not be disclosed.
3. Sub-section (2) provides for certain savings from the scope of Sub-section (1) one of which is that Sub-section (1) will not apply to disclosure of the particulars covered by the sub-section to a civil court in any suit to which the Government are party and which relates to any matter arising out of any proceeding under the Act. At first sight Sub-section (1) may appear to operate as a bar to disclosure even involuntarily. But a comparison of this sub-section with Section 54(1) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, clearly brings out the difference in the scope of the relative provisions. That section in the Income-tax Act which contains a prohibition analogous to Section 57(1) of the Madras General Sales Tax Act, goes further and directs that 'no court shall, save as provided in this Act, be entitled to require any public servant to produce before it any such return, accounts, documents or record or any part of any such record, or to give evidence before it in respect thereof.' In the absence of such prohibition directed against courts, the question is whether Section 57(1) can be construed so as to include such prohibition within its ambit.
4. In Abdulla v. Assankutty  11 S.T.C. 730, following the principle in Venkatachalla Chettiar v. Sampathu Chettiar I.L.R. Mad. 62 it was held that Rule 47(1) of the Kerala General Sales Tax Rules which is more or less similarly worded as Section 57(1) of the Madras General Sales Tax Act did not bar disclosure of particulars of documents on summons to be produced in court. There the view expressed was that Rule 47(1) only prohibited voluntary disclosure of the particluars by an Officer of the Sales Tax Department. I am inclined to take the same view of the scope of Section 57(1). This view has also the support of Ram Chandra v. Laxman Das  12 S.T.C. 367.
5. It is true that Clause (iv) of Sub-section (2) is to the effect that Sub-section (1) will not apply to disclosure of the particulars to a civil court in a suit to which the Government are party provided that it relates to a matter arising out of any proceeding under the Act. But Sub-section (2) cannot be read as in any way enlarging the scope of Sub-section (1) which has to be decided on the language employed by it. As there is no prohibition in Sub-section (1) of Section 57 against courts calling for records of the type mentioned in the sub-section, there should be no objection to marking in evidence such documents as the Court may think fit.
6. It may be that Section 57(1) is intended to protect assessees by treating the particulars contained in a specified document as confidential. But this privilege appears to be only a qualified one and is not absolute.
7. On that view the petition is allowed with costs.