A.D. Koshal, J.
1. The petitioner is a land-owner in village Kamakkapalayam in Attur taluk of Salem district. On the 30th of June, 1970 his application for the grant of a licence for the possession of a gun was accepted by the District Revenue Officer, Salem (here in after referred to as the D.R. O.). The licence was renewed on the 22nd of December, 1970 for the period ending with the 31st of December, 1973.
2. A notice dated the 11th of February, 1971 was issued by the D.R.O. to the petitioner requiring him to show cause why his gun-licence should not be cancelled for the reason that he was involved in civil and criminal cases registered in Thalaivasal Police Station, that other cases were also pending and that he had been guilty of rowdy behaviour and had threatened others. The petitioner sent a reply to the notice stating inter alia that consequent upon an election dispute, he had been attacked by enemies and had sustained injuries, that he had made a complaint to the police to that effect and that another complaint was made against him by one Chinnaswamy on the 29th of November, 1970, which, however was 'referred to by the police as a mistake of fact'. He denied that he misused the gun to possess which he had a licence and prayed that the show-cause notice be withdrawn.
3. By an order dated 22nd November, 1971, the D.R.O. cancelled the petitioner's gun-licence and that order was upheld in appeal by the Board of Revenue through its order, dated the 14th February, 1972. Both these orders are challenged by the petitioner under Article 226 of the Constitution of India with a prayer that they be quashed by a writ of certiorari.
4. The reasons for the cancellation of the petitioner's gun-licence are thus listed by the Board of Revenue in paragraph 4 of its order above mentioned:
The Board finds that the licence issued to the appellant was cancelled in a number of hurt cases. The police authorities have given specific instances in which he was party. A perusal of the connected files would show that the apprehension of the police authorities was bona fide and as the appellant was involved in local fights, it would be unwise to permit him to hold a licence any more. The Board does not see any reason why this view of the police authorities should not be accepted.
Although the petitioner has remained absent and unrepresented at the hearing, I have gone through the petition and find that at no stage the details of the material used by the D.R.O. and the Board of Revenue against him were supplied to him,, nor does it appear that such material necessarily justified cancellation of the gun-licence held by the petitioner. The fact that the petitioner was involved in a number of hurt cases appears to be true. But there is absolutely nothing on record to show as to whether he was the aggressor or the victim therein. The 'specific instances' and the 'local fights' referred to by the Board suffer from the same infirmity. It may well be that the petitioner was the aggressor in the instances referred to by the Board. But it may also be that he was really a victim of aggression at the hands of others in most or some of the instances. Before the said instances could be used against the petitioner for the cancellation of his gun-licence, it was incumbent on the authorities to furnish the petitioner with details of those instances and also the specific charges which he was required to meet. This follows from the provisions of Sections 17 and 18 of the Arms Act, 1959 (Central Act LIV of 1959). Sub-sections (3) and (5) of Section 17 provide:
17(3). The licensing authority may by order in writing suspend a licence for such period as it thinks fit or revoke a licence,
(a) if the licensing authority is satisfied that the holder of the licence is prohibited by this Act or by any other law for the time being in force, from acquiring, having in his possession or carrying any arms or ammunition, or is of unsound mind, or is for any reason unfit for a licence under this Act; or
(b) if the licensing authority deems it necessary for the security of the public peace or for public safety to suspend or revoke the licence; or
(c) if the licence was obtained by the suppression of material information or on the basis of wrong information provided by the holder of the licence or any other person on his behalf at the time of applying for it; or
(d) if any of the conditions of the licence has been contravened; or
(e) if the holder of the licence has failed to comply with a notice under Sub-section (1) requiring him to deliver up the licence.
(5) Where the licensing authority makes an order varying a licence under Sub-section (1) or an order suspending or revoking a licence under Sub-section (3), it shall record in writing the reasons therefor and furnish to the holder of the licence on demand a brief statement of the same unless in any case the licensing authority is of opinion that it will not be in the public interest to furnish such statement.
Sub-section (5) of Section 18 lays down:
In disposing of an appeal the appellate authority shall follow such procedure as may be prescribed:
Provided that no appeal shall be disposed of unless the appellant has been given a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
Although Section 17 does not state in so many words that the licensing authority has to give a reasonable opportunity to the concerned licensee of being heard before his licence is revoked, it does not eliminate the application of the principle covered by the proviso to Sub-section (5) of Section 18 which merely embodies a principle of natural justice. Besides, the grounds on which the licensing authority may revoke a licence are circumscribed by the provisions of Clauses (a) to (e) of Sub-section (3) of Section 17, and Sub-section (5) of that section enjoins on the licensing authority to record its reasons when it makes an order of revocation, and to furnish to the licensee on demand a brief statement of those reasons, unless it is not in the public interest to do so. Section 17 therefore postulates a quasi-judicial order in framing which, in the absence of a provision to the contrary, the licensing authority has to observe the rules of natural justice including the one that no person shall be condemned unheard. This principle does not appear to have been observed either by the D.R.O. or by the Board of Revenue inasmuch as the petitioner was not supplied with the details of the case which he had to meet. Unless he was enabled to have his say in relation to the particular charges which were levelled against him, it cannot be said that he was given a reasonable opportunity of being beard.
5. Here I may make it clear that although the period for which the petitioner held the gun-licence has long expired. I have decided the petition on merits for the reason that if the impugned orders arc found to be illegal, and are not struck down, they would stand in the way of the petitioner getting a licence practically for all time to come and thus perpetuate an injustice.
6. In the result, the petition succeeds and is accepted and the impugned orders are quashed. It will, however, be open to the authorities empowered to cancel arms licences under the Arms Act to reopen the question of cancellation of the petitioner's licence after giving him a proper opportunity of being heard in the light of the observations made above and in accordance with law. There will be no order as to costs.