1. The petitioner is a firm of merchants trading in salt and gunnies at Anna Pillai Street, Madras. For the assessment year 1953-1954 they obtained a licence under Section 8 of the Madras General Sales Tax Act. They submitted their returns for the licence turnover of their business in the appropriate statutory form Form VI. The Assistant Commercial Tax Officer, Peddunaickenpet, checked their accounts and found that the transactions entered in their accounts were covered by the licence granted under Section 8 and were exempt from tax. They used their own gunnies for packing the goods sent to their principals, the dealers on whose behalf they acted as agents and the value of the gunnies so used for packing the goods and supplied to the principals was Rs. 2,515-9-0. Their total sales turnover for the year was therefore fixed in the sum of Rs. 2,515-9-0 by the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer. In consequence of this order of assessment they were not liable to pay any tax and no demand under Form B was issued to them. They had not collected any sales tax and therefore no demand notice was sent under Form B-2. The order of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer is dated 28th December, 1954.
2. The Commercial Tax Officer, North Madras, exercised his powers of revision under Section 12 of the Act suo motu and notice of these proceedings was given to the petitioner. The records were called for from the file of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer and after hearing the objections of the petitioner, the revising authority fixed the total taxable turnover as Rs. 54,029-15-6. The order of the Commercial Tax Officer is dated 18th September, 1958.
3. The petitioner preferred an appeal to the Sales Tax Appellate Tribunal, Madras, against the order of the Commercial Tax Officer in Revision, but was unsuccessful. The Tribunal by its order, dated 30th May, 1959, affirmed the decision of the Commercial Tax Officer. This Revision Petition has been preferred by the petitioner, challenging the correctness of the order of the Appellate Tribunal affirming the order of the Commercial Tax Officer.
4. Learned Counsel for the petitioner raised no contest in regard to the addition of the sum of Rs. 51,514-6-6 to the taxable turnover made by the Commercial Tax Officer. It is however urged that the Commercial Tax Officer exceeded his jurisdiction in exercising the revisional powers beyond the period of limitation prescribed under Section 12(4) of the Madras General Sales Tax Act, and in invoking such powers when there was no valid order of assessment passed by the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer. The order of the Appellate Tribunal is challenged on the ground that the Tribunal failed to interpret correctly and properly the provisions of Section 12 of the Act.
5. Section 12(1) of the Act invests the Commercial Tax Officer with powers to act suo motu and to call for and examine the record of any order passed or proceeding recorded under the Act by any officer subordinate to him for the purpose of satisfying himself as to the legality or the propriety of such order or as to the regularity of such proceeding. After affording an opportunity to the assessee to show cause against any proposed enhancement of tax already levied, the Commercial Tax Officer may pass such order as he thinks fit. The revisional jurisdiction of the Commercial Tax Officer may also be invoked by the assessee on application made to him in cases in which an appeal does not lie to him under Section 11 of the Act. Section 12(4) of the Act prescribes a time limit for the exercise of this revisional power. The power of the Commercial Tax Officer to act suo motu is exercisable only within a period of three years from the date on which the impugned order of assessment was communicated to the assessee. The aggrieved assessee moving the Commercial Tax Officer in Revision has to prefer the application within sixty days from the date on which the order or proceeding to which the application relates was communicated to him. The revising authority is empowered to admit an application preferred after the period of sixty days aforesaid, if the authority is satisfied that the applicant had sufficient cause for not preferring the application within the period fixed. This is provided for under Section 12 (5) of the Act. On the plain words of Sections 12 (4) and 12 (5), the terminus-a-quo or the starting point of the period of limitation of three years or the sixty days as the case may be is the date on which the order was communicated to the assessee. It is quite clear that the limitation period cannot commence or begin to run from the very date of the order. It is not permissible to disregard the express words occurring in Section 12(4), namely, ' the date on which the order was communicated to the assessee', or the equally plain words in Section 12 (5), namely, ' the date on which the order or proceeding to which the application relates was communicated to the applicant'. It is interesting to note that the provisions of Sections 12 (4) and 12 (5) of the Madras General Sales Tax Act are sharply in contrast with the provisions of Section 33-A and Section 33-B of the Indian Income-tax Act which provide a revisional jurisdiction to the Commissioner of Income-tax. Section 33-A, quoting the relevant words prescribing limitation, is as follows:
Provided that the Commissioner shall not revise any order under this sub-section if.... . .(c) the order has been made more than one year previously.
Section 33-B which empowers the Commissioner to revise the order of the Income-tax Officer prescribes the period of limitation in the following way:
No order shall be made under Sub-section (1). . . .after the expiry of two years from the date of the order sought to be revised.
6. The object of Section 12 (5) of the Act in affording the applicant-assessee a period of sixty days within which he should prefer the Revision is to avoid the manifest injustice of the assessee being deprived of the right to prefer a Revision Petition even before he becomes aware of the order of assessment against him. It may sometimes happen that the assessee may be served with a copy of the order of assessment after the lapse of two months from the date of the order. If the period of two months were to be computed from the date of the order, the assessee's right to prefer a Revision Petition can well be defeated by the mere process of communicating him with the order of assessment after two months. The words occurring in Section 12 (5) starting the period of limitation only from the date of the communication of the order have been inserted only with the purpose of giving him (the assessee) an effective right to move the revising authority if he wants so to do. Any other interpretation of Section 12 (5) of the Act will be calculated to nullify the assessee's rights to avail himself of the benefit of Revision before the competent authority.
7. If the words of Section 12 (5) have to be construed only in this manner is there any justification for reading the provisions of Section 12(4) differently? It is a familar and well-settled rule of interpretation of statutes that words occurring in the statute, particularly the words in one provision of the statute, should be given the same meaning and understood in the same manner wherever they occur, so long as the context permits. We are of opinion that Section 12(4) means what it plainly says and the period of three years can commence and begin to run not from the date on which the order was passed but from the date on which the order was communicated to the assessee.
8. It is true that in this case the Commercial Tax Officer moved suo motu to exercise his revision power only on 26th February, 1958, when he issued the show cause notice to the assessee, and on that date three years had expired from the date of the order of assessment of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer. It is common ground that the order of assessment was not communicated by the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer to the assessee. We cannot import a fiction that this order of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer must have been communicated to the assessee within a reasonable time after the date of his order, namely, 28th December, 1954, that the assessee must be deemed to have got the order early in January, 1955, that the period of limitation would have commenced torun from January, 1955 and expired in January, 1958, and then consequently hold that the Revision proceedings commenced on 26th February, 1958, were barred. We would prefer to go by the words of the statute, clear and unambiguous as they are, and hold that the proceedings of the Commercial Tax Officer have not been shown to have been conducted in transgression of the provisions of Section 12(4) of the Act.
9. The next contention that is urged on behalf of the petitioner is, the order of assessment of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer was incomplete and invalid as it was not communicated to the assessee-petitioner. We do not find any provision either in the statute or in the rules framed thereunder prescribing communication of orders of assessment to the assessee. Section 9 of the Act provides that if the assessing authority is satisfied that the return submitted by the dealer is correct and complete he shall assess the dealer on the basis of that return. If no return is submitted by the dealer before the prescribed date, or if the return submitted by the assessee appears to the assessing authority to be incorrect or incomplete, the assessing authority can assess the dealer to the best of his judgment. Rule 13 of the Madras General Sales Tax (Turnover and Assessment) Rules is as follows:
(7) After making the final assessment under Sub-rule (6) the assessing authority shall examine whether any and if so, what amount is due from the dealer towards it after deducting any tax already paid on the provisional assessment with reference to Sub-rule (3) or (4). If any amount is found to be due from the dealer towards the final assessment the assessing authority shall serve upon the dealer a notice in Form B and the dealer shall pay the sum demanded at the time and in the manner specified in the notice. If the tax due on the final assessment is lower than the tax already paid on the provisional assessment, he shall serve upon the dealer a notice in Form C for refunding the excess tax. If the final assessment is exactly equal to the tax already paid on the pro visional assessment, the assessing authority shall inform the dealer what the final assessment is and that no further amount is due from him towards it.
Form No. B in substance prescribes the demand of tax from the assessee payable by him as a result of the final assessment. The assessee has to pay the tax due within 21 days from the date of service of that B Form notice. It is only in a case where the tax is levied as a result of assessment that a notice in Form B or Form C has to be sent. In a case where the assessee is not levied with tax, there is no rule which compels the assessing authority to inform the assessee that the tax levied against him is nil. The word ' assessment' may have a wide connotation including several aspects of the assessment proceedings. Dealing with the provisions of the Indian Income-tax Act, the Judicial Committee in the decision in Commissioner of Income-tax, Bombay and Aden v. Khemchand Ramdas (1938) 2 M.L.J. 115 : L.R. 65 IndAp 236 : I.L.R. (1938) Bom. 387 : 6 I.T.R. 414 , observed thus:
One of the peculiarities of most Income-tax Acts is that the word ' assessment' is used as meaning sometimes the computation of income, sometimes the determination of the amount of tax payable and sometimes the whole procedure laid down in the Act for imposing liability upon the taxpayer. The Indian Income-tax Act is no exception in this respect....
But however wide the significance of the expression ' assessment' may be, it is impossible to hold that an assessment is incomplete or invalid in the absence of the order of assessment being served upon the assessee. Once the competent authority makes an assessment under the Madras General Sales Tax Act after scrutinising the return submitted by the assessee, and after giving the assessee a reasonable opportunity of proving the correctness and completeness of any return submitted by him it is complete and valid. It is also final if it is not in any way modified, cancelled, or altered by the appellate or the revisional authorities prescribed under the Act. We have no hesitation in rejecting the contention of the learned Counsel for the petitioner that the order of the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer was not a valid order of assessment.
10. Even if it can be assumed for any reason that there was no valid order of assessment at all by the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer the revisional power of the Commercial Tax Officer under Section 12 (1) yet subsists and can be availed of by him suo motu. The Commercial Tax Officer acting under Section 12 (1) can call for and examine the record of any order passed or proceeding recorded under the Act by the officer subordinate to him. After calling for the records if he is satisfied that the order or proceeding is illegal, improper or irregular, he can himself pass such order as he thinks fit. There was certainly a proceeding before the Assistant Commercial Tax Officer and if that proceeding had not terminated in a valid order of assessment, the proceeding is obviously irregular if not illegal justifying interference in Revision by the revising authority. The order of the Commercial Tax Officer was quite proper, and within his jurisdiction and the Sales Tax Appellate Tribunal is right in confirming that order.
11. The Appellate Tribunal in overruling the plea of limitation urged on behalf of the petitioner before them observed as follows:
Provision regarding limitation has to be construed strictly. Bearing in mind the language of Section 12(4) (a), it appears to us that an order of the present kind not communicated to the assessee will not attract this particular provision regarding the limitation. It must therefore be treated as falling within the scope of the general powers of Revision granted under Section 12 (1) (i) to the Commercial Tax Officer for which no specific period of limitation has been provided for. In this view we are of the opinion that the appellant's plea that the Revision is barred by time cannot be accepted.
This reasoning of the Tribunal does not commend itself to us. The view that the revising authority has a general power of Revision unqualified by any period of limitation as embodied under Section 12 (1) (i) and a qualified power of Revision as embodied in Section 12(4) of the Act is patently erroneous and proceeds up on a gross misconstruction of the statute. The provisions of Section 12 of the Act, occurring in the various sub-sections and clauses, have to be read together. We wish to make this observation in this judgment, though we are affirming the conclusion of the Appellate Tribunal, lest the Tribunal should repeat this error in cases that may arise before them in future.
12. In the result, the Revision Petition fails and is dismissed with costs. Counsel's fee Rs. 100.