1. The question in this case is whether the assessee as a registered dealer made false representation in the declarations in Form C issued by him. Both the revenue as well as the Tribunal have concurred and held against the assessee on the point, the only difference being that the Tribunal reduced the fine to Rs. 100. The application for registration mentioned the goods as 'for use in the manufacture, tea-chests for packing purposes, machinery, drugs etc., for running the estate and manufacturing tea'. In the certificate of registration issued on this application against the column 'for use in manufacture', 'tea-chests, machinery, drugs etc.' were mentioned. The C Form issued by the assessee included blankets, paints, tiles, clocks and brushes. His stand was that he was under a bona fide belief that the registration certificate included these items also and he formed that belief because of the description of the goods mentioned in his application and the word 'etc.' found at the end of the goods described in the registration certificate. The Tribunal was not impressed by the contention, and sustained the penalty, though it interfered with the quantum of it.
2. Section 10(b) of the Central Sales Tax Act punishes a person with a term of imprisonment or fine or with both who 'being a registered dealer falsely represents when purchasing any class of goods that goods of such class are covered by his certificate of registration'. The phrase 'falsely represents', as we think, clearly indicates that the falsity of the representation should be with the knowledge of the representator. If he is under an honest belief that what he represents is true, he cannot be said to make a false representation. It appears to us that the gravamen of the offence is the representation of something as true which, in fact and to the knowledge of the representator, is false. We do not think that the offence is an absolute one in the sense that it is not conditional on the presence of metis rea. A learned Single Judge of the High Court of Kerala in Varghese v. Sales Tax Officer  16 S.T.C. 323 construing Section 10(b), said :
I think, it must be proved that the dealer made the representations that the goods purchased were covered by the registration certificate with the knowledge that they were not so covered. It is only when a representation which was false to the knowledge of the firm, which means, to the knowledge of the partners, is made that there would be liability under the section.
3. With respect we concur with this view.
4. Can we say in this case that the assessee was under an honest belief that the goods mentioned in the C Form issued by him were covered by the registration certificate We are inclined to think that reading the language of the certificate in the light of that employed in the application of the assessee, the word 'etc.' used in the certificate could possibly have raised the belief in the assessee that the word covered the items of goods mentioned in the C Form. 'Et cetera' in the Concise Oxford Dictionary is said to mean 'and the rest, and so on'. In its noun form in plural it means, extras, sundries. What did the authority which issued the registration certificate mean when it used the word 'etc.' does appear to be a matter open to doubt. For the revenue it is contended that the word 'etc.' should be understood in the ejusdem generis sense. We do not see why it should be so. In the application the assessee made it clear that he wanted a certificate in respect of the goods for use in the manufacture, tea-chests for packing purposes, machinery, drugs etc., for running the estate and manufacturing tea. According to him, he thought that 'etc.' would cover all those articles which may be required for running the estate and manufacturing tea. It is not necessary for us to decide whether 'etc.' would actually cover all those articles. It will suffice to say that the assessee could possibly have formed the belief and quite honestly that 'etc.' would cover those articles. Section 10(b) is a penal provision and where a question arises whether an offence has been committed or not, the dealer who is accused of the offence is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. This is not a case where it can be said that the dealer with the full knowledge of the falsity of the representation made the declaration in the C Form issued by him.
5. The petition is allowed. No costs.