This is a Civil Revision Petition to revise the order of the learned District Munsif of Ariyalur. The lower Court on an application by the respondent has ordered the petitioner, who is the defendant in the suit, to apply for a certified copy of his income-tax returns and profit and loss statements with particulars submitted by him to the Income-tax Officer, First Circle, Trichinopoly, over a period of several years. He is to produce them at the plaintiffs cost. It will be observed that the application was not in the precise terms of O. 11, R. 14, Civil Procedure Code, to produce documents in the defendants possession or power relating to the matter in suit but to obtain and produce copies of these documents. The learned District Munsif has made the order because he considers that a new situation has been created by the decision of a Full Bench of this Court reported in Rama Rao v. Venkataramayya (1) : (1940)2MLJ257 . What that case decided was that certified copies of profit and loss statements and statements showing details of net income filed by the assessee in support of his income-tax return were admissible in evidence. It appears from the judgment that under the rules in the income-tax department as a matter of practice an assessee is permitted to have a copy of his income-tax returns. I do not understand that the learned Judges decided anything more than that when a copy had been given to the assessee, it was admissible in evidence. It has been argued before me that the effect of that decision is to make it compulsory for an assessee to obtain and produce to the opposite party in a suit copies of the returns if the opposite party desires to inspect them. Now, in the first place it must be observed that O. 11, R. 14, corresponding to O. 31, R. 14, of the English Rules of the Supreme Court, deals with existing documents and documents which at the time of the application are in the possession or power of the person against whom the order is sought to be made. There is no record of any case where a party has been called upon not only to produce but to have brought into existence a copy of a document, and in this particular case it must be remembered that the document is a highly confidential document protected by Section 54 of the Income-tax Act. That Act prohibits a public servant from making any disclosures with regard to such income-tax return and it says that no Court shall, with certain exceptions, be entitled to require any public servant to produce before it any such returns, accounts, documents or record or any part of any such record or to give evidence before it in respect thereof. None of of the exceptions which are in public interests has any relation to litigation between ordinary citizens and there is no provision for the production of documents for the benefit of individual litigants. I think that it is an answer to this application to say that first of all there in no document in existence and therefore it cannot be in the power of the defendant, and secondly that the Court is prohibited from ordering a defendant to produce his original income-tax returns equally as it cannot order the Income-tax Officers themselves to produce them. To direct that a litigant should produce a certified copy of his return would render Section 54 of the Income-tax Act in some respects a dead letter. It must be remembered that it is nothing more than a rule of practice by which the income-tax authorities allow assessees to have copies of these documents and there is nothing before me to show that that privilege might not be withdrawn. But, generally speaking, this application is entirely contrary to authority. Such an application was refused in a Scotch case reported in Shaw v. kay (1) (1904) 5 Tax Cas. 74. There are other cases based on other statutes dealing with documents of which Rowell v. Balt (2) 1938 A.C. 101. and Ankin v. London and North Eastern Railway Company (3) (1930) 1 K.B. 527. are examples, showing that when a statute prohibits the production of a document, that prohibition is absolute and inconvenience of litigants is irrelevant. Further, an order under O. 11, R. 14 is a discretionary order and in the words of Bowen, L. J., in Arnott v. Hayles (4) (1887) 36 Ch. D. 731 this power should be exercised with great caution. I do not think that this aspect of it was present in the mind of the lower Court. Generally I think this order is contrary to law for the reasons which I have given, I would repeat that it seems to go to the root of the whole principle that these income-tax returns are confidential documents which not even the authorities themselves may disclose.
The Civil Revision Petition is allowed with costs and the order of the lower Court is set aside.