RAJAGOPALAN, J. - Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook and Dawood Alfulaij are traders resident outside India with their places of business on the Persian Gulf. Ahmed Koya Haji, a resident of Kozhikode, was the agent through whom Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook carried on his trading operations in India, which consisted of both sales of dates and other dried fruits, etc., and purchases of timber, etc. The Purchased articles of merchandise were exported to the principal for sales outside India. That there was a continuity of business operations over a number of years was never in dispute. Similarly, Yusuf Sagar Bin Abdulla, who was also a resident of Kozhikode was the agent through whom Dawood Alfulaij carried on his trading operations of sales and purchases in India. Both Ahmed Koya and Yusuf Sagar were agents for several other non-resident traders, but we need not concern ourselves with the others in these proceedings. It should be convenient to refer to Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook and Dawood Alfulaij as non-resident principals and to Ahmed Koya and Yusuf Sager as the petitioners in the rest of this judgment.
Both on the sale and purchase transactions in India carried on by petitioners on behalf of the non-resident principals, the petitioners charged commissions. The same account showed the net financial position, after taking into account both sets of trading operations, on which depended the quantum of remittances from or to the non-resident principals. The petitioners were assessed to income-tax on the commissions they earned, but the profits earned by the non-resident principals as a result of their trading operations in India were not at first assessed to income-tax.
Proceedings were taken by the Income-tax Officer in 1950 under section 43 of the Income-tax Act, and after an enquiry Ahmad Koya was held to be the statutory agent of Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook, and Yusuf Sagar was held to be the statutory agent of Abdul Azeez Dawood Alfulaij. They were held to be statutory agents of other non-residents also; but, as we said, we are not concerned with the others now.
Proceedings were next taken under section 34 of the Act to assess the profits earned by Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook by his trading operations in India for the assessment years 1949-50 and 1950-51, and the profits of Dawood Alfulaij for the assessment year 1949-50. These proceedings ended with appeals to the Tribunal. After the disposal of the appeals, the Tribunal, on the application of the assessees, referred the following questions to this court under section 66(1) of the Act :
'1. Whether the latter part of section 42(1) is ultra vires the Indian Legislature and an infringement of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution ?
2. Whether in spite of the Income-tax Officer, having appointed the resident as a statutory agent under section 43 and return having been filed by him, the assessment is rendered invalid by reason of proceedings having been initiated by addressing the notice to the non-resident through the statutory agent ?
3. Whether the purchasing operations carried out by the statutory agent on behalf of non-resident principals constituted an operation within the meaning of section 42(3) of the Income-tax Act, 1922 ?'
It was a consolidated reference which covered the assessments of both the assessees and the reference was registered as R.C. No. 15 of 1954.
Meanwhile, steps were taken to recover from the petitioners the taxes levied for the relevant assessment years. Certificates were issued to the Collector of Malabar under section 46(2) of the Act. Yusuf Sagar preferred W.P. No. 601 of 1953 and Ahmed Koya preferred W.P. No. 602 of 1953, both under article 226 of the Constitution. The relief asked for by each of the petitioners was a writ of prohibition, to restrain the Department and the Collector from proceeding with the collection of the assessed tax. It was the validity of the assessments under section 34 that was mainly challenged by the petitioners in these proceedings initiated under article 226 of the Constitution.
We found it convenient to hear the reference under section 66(1) of the Act and the writ petitions together, and we decided to dispose of all these by a common judgment.
The third of the questions referred under section 66(1) of the Act is easily disposed of. The rule laid down by a Division Bench of this court in Bangalore Woollen Cotton and Silk Mills Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, in which the earlier case law was reviewed, should apply. The question is answered in the affirmative and against the petitioners.
Before we answer the second question, we have to determine whether it was the non-resident principals or the petitioners that were assessed to tax for the relevant assessment years. The Tribunal recorded that it was the petitioners and not their non-resident principals that were the assessees. The correctness of that finding was challenged by the petitioners.
We shall take one set of proceedings as typical of the rest. In respect of the assessment for 1949-50 the notice under section 34 was issued to 'Mr. Arab Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook by agent, Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya, Commission Agent, Beach Road, Calicut'. Ahmed Koya received that notice and lodged a return, which he singed 'Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook by Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya'. The return showed that Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook had no income to be assessed to tax. Ahmed Koya claimed further that there was no business connection between him and the non-resident principal. Ahmed Koyas books were examined, and the turnover of the sale purchase transactions he had undertaken on behalf of his non-resident principal was ascertained. The Income-tax Officer estimated the profits of these transactions, on which he assessed the income-tax that was payable. The order of assessment passed by the Income-tax Officer showed the name of the assessee as 'Mr. Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook, non-resident by agent, Mr. Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya, merchant and commission agent, Calicut'. The assessee was shown as a non-resident, which, of course, could apply only to Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook and not to Ahmed Koya. In the proceedings in appeal before the Appellate Assistant Commissioner the name of the appellant-assessee was also shown as 'Mr. Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook by agent Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya, Calicut'. In the course of his order the Appellate Assistant Commissioner referred to section 42(1) of the Act and recorded :
'From the manner in which the assessment has been made it would appear that the Income-tax Officer, had chosen the first alternative, viz., making the assessment in the name of the non-resident, even though he has been sought to be reached through the agent. According to the appellants advocate, if the intention was to avail of the latter alternative, the assessment should have been on Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya, as agent of the non-resident. I am afraid that this contention has to be accepted, even though it is quite likely that the intention of the Income-tax Officer might have been quite different.'
In December, 1951, after the disposal of the appeals by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner, the Income-tax Officer took proceedings under section 46(5A) and the notice was served on Ahmed Koya on 11th December, 1951. His reply was :
'With reference to your above notice asking me to pay tax in respect of non-resident merchants who have been assessed through me, I request that three weeks time may be granted to me for payment of tax so assessed'.
It was on this material that the Tribunal recorded its finding on the point now under consideration. The Tribunal observed that the contention was, 'as the name of the non-resident appeared first, the Income-tax Officer must be deemed to have exercised his option and the agents name must, therefore, be struck off, and the Department must only look to the non-resident for the assessment and the collection of revenue'. The Tribunal further stated :
'The objection is unfounded and, in any case, it cannot be allowed to prevail. Section 42, no doubt, says that the income of the non-resident shall be chargeable to income-tax either in his name or in the name of his agent, and in the latter case, such agent shall be deemed to be, for all the purposes of this Act, the assessee in respect of such income-tax. The two processes are not mutually exclusive but are complementary and intended to obviate all chances of leakage of revenue and to facilitate collection. It is significant that the notices and the assessments in the case on hand bear the names of both the non-resident and the resident agent. It is, therefore, necessary to look for the substance and reality of the matter and not merely at the form. The Income-tax Officer, as already observed, had taken all the necessary steps by issuing a notice under section 43, and had determined Haji P.I. Ahmed Koya as the statutory agent of the non-resident. The notice under sections 34 and 22(2) was served only on the resident agent. The return was also filed by him. There can be no doubt that it was the statutory agent who was being assessed under section 42(1) for the income accruing through his business connection with the non-resident principal.'
In whose name was the income assessed is really a question of fact. It is true that no notice was served on the non-resident principal Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook, and he never submitted himself in person to the jurisdiction of the assessing authority. Ahmed Koya represented him, but all through only as his agent. Ahmed Koya had been declared to be the agent of the non-resident principal under section 43. The evidence or record was all one way and showed that the income of the non-resident Abdul Azeez Dawood was assessed only in his name. There was no basis in the evidence on record for the finding of the Tribunal, that it was the statutory agent that was assessed, that is, that the income was assessed in the name of Ahmed Koya.
The learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out that the final finding of the Tribunal, that the assessment was in the name of the petitioners and not their non-resident principals, was further vitiated by the wrong view of law that the Tribunal took when it recorded :
'The two processes are not mutually exclusive but are complementary and intended to obviate all chances of leakage of revenue and to facilitate collection.'
The section itself provided for assessment only in the alternative, either in the name of the non-resident principal or in the name of the agent. It is a little difficult to understand what the Tribunals meant by saying that the processes were complementary.
Despite the frame of the second question, what was really debated before us was a question of fact, in whose name was the income assessed for the relevant assessment years. Section 42 gave the Income-tax Officer the choice to assess either the non-resident principal that was assessed, It was not the contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners, that that choice and the assessment of the income in the name of the non-resident principal by themselves rendered the assessment invalid. The assessment could have been in the name of the petitioners, in which case under section 42(1) the petitioners could be deemed to be assessees for all the purposed of the Act. Factually, however, the assessments were in the names of the non-resident principals. How that would effect the recovery of the tax assessed may be left out of consideration for the present. That did not affect the validity of the assessment itself.
Subject to the findings we have recorded above, we answer the second question in the negative and against the petitioners.
The first of the questions referred under section 66(1) of the Act raises the issue of the constitutional validity of section 42(1). In the course of his arguments the learned counsel for the petitioners challenged also the constitutional validity of section 43. The latter question did not arise on the order of the Tribunal. It was not the subject matter of the question referred to this court under section 66(1) of the Act. The constitutional validity of section 43 was not challenged either expressly or even impliedly in the affidavit filed in the writ petitions. In Turner Morrison and Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, their Lordships of the Supreme Court examined the scope of section 42 and section 43 and concluded :
'The portion of section 43 which refers to the person through whom the non-resident is in receipt on any income, profits or gains does not necessarily attract the provisions of section 42, for the income, profits and gains received by the person who is treated as agent under section 43 may not fall within any of the several categories of income, profits or gains referred to in section 42. The language of section 43 will also attract the provisions of section 40, for the section also contemplates a person who is entitled to receive on behalf of the non-resident any income, profits and gains chargeable under this Act and may even attract the provisions of section 4(1)(a). In our opinion, there is no warrant for the contention that an appointment of a person as a statutory agent under section 43 only attracts section 42, for such appointment is for all purposes of the Act and not only for the purposes of section 42.'
In view of our finding that the petitioners themselves were not assessed to tax on the income of their non-resident principals either as agents or as statutory agents who had been declared as such under section 43 we shall refrain from a discussion of the constitutional validity of section 43. It should be remembered that it was by separate proceedings taken under section 43 that the petitioners were declared to be the agents of their non-resident principals. The validity of these orders could have been challenged. It was not so challenged.
The learned counsel for the petitioners contended that the provisions of section 42(1) violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by article 14 and by article 91(1)(g) of the Constitution. We shall examine separately each of these contentions.
The learned Advocate-General was, in our opinion, right in his contention, that in these proceedings we should confine ourselves to the examination of the constitutional validity of section 42(1) only in so far as it imposes a liability on the agent to be assessed to tax in his name on the income, profits or gains of the non-resident principal, which accrued or arose through or from any business connection in the taxable territory. That was the only basis on which the proceedings were taken against the petitioners. Different considerations might apply to the other factors specified in section 42(1), and we are not called upon now to consider the constitutional validity of the liability imposed on an agent on the basis of any these other factors.
The relevant portion of section 42(1), the constitutional validity of which we have to consider runs :
'All income, profits or gains accruing or arising, whether directly or indirectly, through or from any business connection in the taxable territories...... shall be deemed to be income accruing or arising within the taxable territories, and where the person entitled to the income, profits or gains is not resident in the taxable territories, shall be chargeable to income-tax either in his name or in the name of his agent, and in the latter case such agent shall be deemed to be, for all the purpose of this Act, the assessee in respect of such income-tax.'
We shall set out the provisos later when we have to deal with their scope.
In Turner Morrison and Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax their Lordships of the Supreme Court observed :
'Section 42 only speaks of deemed income. The whole object of that section is to make certain income, profits and gains to be deemed to arise in India so as to bring them to charge. The receipt of the income, profits and gains being one of the tests of liability, where the income, profits and gains are actually received in India it is no larger necessary for the revenue authorities to have recourse to the fiction and this has been held quite clearly in Hira Mills Ltd. v. Income-tax Officer, Cawnpore, and in Burugu Nagayya and Rajanna v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras. This is also implicit in the decision of the Privy Council in Pondicherry Railway Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, to which reference has already been made. Section 4(1)(a) in terms is, unlike section 4(1)(b), or 4(1)(C), not confined in its application, to any particular category of assessees. Section 4(1)(a) is general and applies to a resident or a non-resident person.'
The learned Advocate-General drew our attention to certain passages in Resch v. Federal Commissioners of Taxation. At page 223 Dixon, J., observed :
'When the main or substantial subject of the tax has thus been ascertained, then the question whether particular provisions directed at defining or widening the area or incidence of the tax or the liability to it or preventing avoidance or evasion or facilitating collection have in truth introduced a new or second subject must be determined by considering their natural connection with or relevance to the main subject.'
Though this passage would strictly be relevant in considering the legislative competence of the Legislature to enact section 42(1) we have set out this passage here, since it makes the distinction between the basis of taxation and the incidence of the tax levied. At page 224 Dixon, J., observed :
'Moreover, the nature of the subject taxed is not changed merely because the actual liability to pay is imposed upon a person not necessarily enjoying the income or increase in wealth but on someone having, or obtaining, or having had a means or opportunity of, recoupment or indemnification, as, for instance, in the case of a foreign controlled business, the person carrying it on........'
We shall have to advert again to the second of the passages from the judgment of Dixon, J., which we have extracted above.
That business connection within the meaning of section 42(1) connotes continuity of business operations should be taken as will settled. See Anglo-French Textile Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras. That test the non-resident principals satisfied in this case. When the existence of such a business connection is established, the scheme that underlies section 42(1) postulates an indentity of interests, on which is based identity of liability, as between the non-resident principal and his agent resident in the taxable territories. Section 42(1) provides that the income of the non-resident principal could be assessed either in his name or in that of his agent. He need not necessarily be a statutory agent who satisfied the requirements of section 43. Whoever is assessed, the basis of the taxation is the same, and the extent of tax liability should be the same. It should also be remembered that in whosesoever name the assessment is completed, the principal is not exonerated. Even if the assessment is completed in the name of the resident agent it is still the principals liability that is enforced in the hands of the agent; and that is done after giving the agent an opportunity in the assessment proceedings to arrive at a just assessment. Under the Act and in particular under section 42, a non-resident who has business connection with the taxable territories, could be assessed to tax if he submits to the jurisdiction of the assessing authority, for example by filing the return under section 22, whether in response to the notice published under section 22(1) or in response to a notice issued under section 22(2). There have been a number or reported cases in which the questions for consideration were in relation to assessment proceeding in which the assessment was in the name of the non-resident principal. See Pondicherry Railway Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, Webb Sons and Co. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Bangalore Woollen, Cotton and Silk Mills Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, Anglo French Textile Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras. Instances of reported cases, where the assessment was in the name of the agent, were Commissioner of Income-tax v. Remington Typewriter Co., Caltex (India) Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, and Turner Morrison and Co. Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax.
Where the non-resident principal submits himself for assessment in his own name through his resident agent or otherwise, no further question may arise. There can be no occasion for any choice under the statutory provisions of section 42. Similarly, when the agent of the non-resident principal agrees to the assessment in his name to tax on the income of his non-resident principal, there will be no occasion for any controversy. There would have been no necessity for any choice by the Income-tax Officer. No instance was brought to our notice where, when the non-resident principal made himself available to be assessed in his name, the Income-tax officer elected to give up that basis and exercised the statutory right to choose the alternative basis and ordered the assessment in the name of the agent. The learned Advocate-General rightly pointed out that it was only when the non-resident principal could not be reached by the assessing authority, the Income-tax Officer, that he has to exercise his option either to order the assessment in the name of the non-resident principal or in that of the agent. The Income-tax Officer under such circumstances would only choose the more effective means of assessment with a view to the ultimate collection of the tax assessed. That would really be the determining factor in the choice he has to make under the enabling provisions of section 42. As we have already pointed out, in whosesoever name the assessment is completed, the principal is not exonerated at all of his ultimate liability. It is still the principals liability that is enforced in the hands of the agent, and the agent in that case is given full opportunity to participate in the assessment proceedings. There could be little scope for any arbitrariness or caprice in the choice for which section 42(1) Provided.
The contention that section 42(1) offended the principal of equal protection of laws guaranteed by article 14 of the Constitution was based on the assumption, that it was an apparently arbitrary choice that was left to the Income-tax Officer, unguided by any statutory directions given in section 42 itself to guide that choice. It is true that section 42(1) itself does not in express term lay down under what circumstances the Income-tax Officer could elect to order an assessment in the name of the agent of a non-resident principal. That, however, may not be the concluding test. The Legislature provides for reasonable exercise of the statutory power vested in a named authority. The Act as a whole provides for assessment of the tax payable, prevention of evasion to be assessed to tax and expeditious collection of the tax levied. We have pointed out already the circumstances under which it will be really necessary for the Income-tax Officer to choose as between the non-resident principal and his resident agent in whose name the assessment has to be completed, which will leave practically no room for any arbitrariness or caprice. A capricious exercise of power would really be outside the scope of the statutory power vested in the Income-tax Officer and beyond the jurisdiction vested in him by section 42(1) of the Act, and it can be corrected on that basis. The remote possibility of such abuse of power does not make the legislative sanction for the power unconstitutional. Nor can it be said to offend article 14 of the Constitution.
The learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out that section 42(1) made an agent, in whose name the assessment to tax is made, an assessee for all the purposes of the Act in respect of such income-tax. The agent could be made personally liable for the payment of the tax quite independent of his possession of any of the assets of the non-resident principal. The learned counsel contended that section 42(1) authorised the Income-tax Officer to impose such unlimited liability on an agent, at the unfettered discretion of the assessing authority. We have already pointed out that it is not an unfettered discretion. It is a discretion controlled by the scheme and the policy of the Act. The further contention was that under section 42(1) where a non-resident principal had more than one agent in India, the Income-tax Officer could choose any one of them to be assessed in his name to tax on the entire income of the non-resident principal. That possibility was negatived by the Bombay High Court in Ramnarayan Rajmal v. Commissioner of Income-tax. We were informed that an appeal that decision is now pending disposal in the Supreme Court. In the case of the petitioners the basis of the assessment was that the income arose out of the transactions which each of the petitioners had with his non-resident principal. Or course, such individual cases have nothing to do with the constitutional validity of section 42(1) if it is to be tested with reference to article 14.
The learned Advocate-General pointed out that the question whether section 42(1) offends article 14 did not arise on the order of the Tribunal, before which the attack was rested only on article 19(1)(g). Even in paragraph 13 of the affidavit in W.P. No. 602 of 1953, where article 14 was invoked, the plea was :
'Further the whole scheme of the Income-tax Act, under which the Income-tax Officer represents the Government or Prosecution, while at the same time is a judge or the assessing authority, is opposed to article 14 of the Constitution of India; and the assessments themselves are illegal and proceedings for recovery on foot of such assessments are equally illegal.'
No attempt was made before us to sustain that plea. Despite the lack of specific pleadings, we permited discussion on the question, whether section 42(1) did contravene article 14 of the Contravene article 14 of the Constitution. We are of opinion that section 42(1) does not violate the fundamental right guaranteed by article 14.
The next question is does section 42(1) detract from the fundamental right guaranteed by article 19(1)(g) to each of the petitioners to carry on his business or trade. Since section 42(1) does in effect impose a vicarious liability on the agent of a non-resident principal to be assessed to tax leviable on the income of the non-resident principal and to pay the tax so assessed and that prima facie constitutes a restriction on the petitioners right to carry on his business, the real question for determination is, whether that restriction is outside the purview of article 19(6), and whether section 42(1) is therefore invalid and unenforceable.
The learned counsel for the petitioners urged that article 19(6) only saves reasonable restrictions, and that it was not a reasonable restriction to make the agent on a non-resident principal, whether or not the agent is a statutory agent declared as such under section 43, personally liable to pay the tax on the income that accrued and belonged to a non-resident principal. The basis of the tax is the income of the non-resident principal. The incidence of that tax falls on the agent, through whom the non-resident principal has his continuous business connections within the taxable territories. It should be remembered that this is not the only instance in the Act where the incidence of the tax is shifted from the person to whom the income belongs to another who is or who should be in a position to pay the tax. The agent pays the tax, but the real liability discharged by that payment is that of his principal who is no doubt not resident in the taxable territories. We shall set out again the passage from the judgment of Dixon, J. :
'...... the nature of the subject taxed is not changed merely because the actual liability to pay is imposed upon a person not necessarily enjoying the income or increase in wealth but on someone having, or obtaining, or having had a means or opportunity of, recoupment or indemnification.....'
Where an agent is in a position to reimburse himself from out of his non-resident principals assets, there should be no hardship caused by the agent being called upon to discharge the liability to tax. It was on the assumption that section 42(1) imposed the liability on the agent, the apparently unlimited liability, a liability not expressly limited to the possession of the assets of the non-resident principal, either at the time the tax is levied or at the point of time the tax is collected. It should be remembered that we are dealing only with an agent through whom the non-resident principal has continuous business connection with the taxable territories. The petitioners themselves furnish typical instances of what such continuous business connection imports. Though no sum was at any time specifically earmarked for the payment of the tax that was or was likely to be imposed, the petitioners continuously came into possession of the assets of their non-resident principals. There was a continuous stream of goods and remittances both ways. Judged even by this feature alone of the position an agent of a non-resident principal fills, the imposition of the various liability on the agent to pay the tax imposed on the income of the non-resident principal cannot be viewed as an unreasonable restriction on the right of the agent to carry on his business. Besides, we have to consider the special safeguards provided by the provisos to section 42(1).
The provisos to section 42(1) run :
'Provided that where the person entitled to the income, profits of gains is not resident in the taxable territories, the income-tax so chargeable may be recovered by deduction under any of the provisions of section 18 and that any arrears of tax may be recovered also in accordance with the provisions of this Act from any assets of the non-resident person which are, or may at any time come, within the taxable territories :
Provided further that any such agent, or any person who apprehends that he may be assessed as such an agent, may retain out of any money payable by him to such non-resident person a sum equal to his estimated liability under this sub-section, and in the event of any disagreement between the non-resident person and such agent or person as to the amount to be so retained, such agent or person may secure from the Income-tax Officer a certificate stating the amount to be so retained pending final settlement of the liability, and the certificate so obtained shall be his warrant for retaining that amount :
Provided further that the amount recoverable from such agent or person at the time of final settlement shall not exceed the amount specified in such certificate except to the extent to which such agent or person may at such time have in his hands additional assets of such non-resident person.'
The first proviso in effect enables the agent to point out the assets of the non-resident principal in the taxable territories, from out of which that taxes could be collected. If that is enough to meet the demand, there need be no occasion for any reimbursement. The first proviso emphasises what we referred to above, that the liability of the principal to pay the tax is in no way extinguished, even if the assessment to tax is made in the name of the agent. The second and third provisos place the agent in an even better position. He could limit has liability under the third proviso. Independent of these provisions, or course, is the normal expectation, that a non-resident principal who desires to maintain his business connection and trade would put his agent in possession of funds to pay the taxes due. If the principal fails, the agent has a statutory right conferred by the second proviso to divert the funds of the non-resident principal for the payment of the tax.
The learned counsel urged that the provisos to section 42(1) did not furnish real safeguards for the agent. The learned counsel argued as follows : It was true that the agent continuously came into possession of the funds or the goods of the non-resident principal. But even then the agent was not in a position to know whether a given transaction or a set to transaction in a given period resulted in profits or loss. That the principal alone was in a position to know. How then was the agent to withhold anything due to the principal towards payment of a possible levy of tax That question is easily answered when we remember that the business connection imports continuity of transactions. In the case of the petitioners and their non-resident principal, there was such continuity. They came into possession periodically of funds or other assets of their non-resident principals.
The learned counsel pointed out that, if it was a case of an assessment under section 34, the position of an agent might be even worse. He may not have any assets in his hands, especially if his principal had closed down his business in India before proceedings were taken under section 34. Even taking such exceptional cases into account, the provisos, in our opinion, afford ample safeguards. It is rather futile to contend that under normal circumstances the agent is not in a position to know if the transactions in India of his non-resident principal will lead to profits or not. The agent will normally be in a position to estimate the profits of losses. With continuity of operations even in the past alone, the agent should normally be in a position to arrive at a reasonably accurate estimate. He should be in a position to safeguard himself by exercising his statutory right under the second proviso, and, if necessary, to have his liability limited by obtaining a certificate for which the second proviso provides.
It is certainly not the right of any one, fundamental or otherwise, to contend that taxes lawfully due should not be levied and collected. The agent of a non-resident principal accept that agency with the full knowledge, that if the non-resident principal derives profits, that income would be liable to be assessed under the Indian Income-tax Act. The imposition of liability to tax on the income of a non-resident principal cannot obviously be an unreasonable restriction on the right to trade, either of the principal or of his agent. The imposition of that liability on the agent, not to the exclusion of the principal, but normally where the non-resident principal cannot be reached at all, cannot be viewed as an unreasonable restriction placed on the right of the agent to engage himself in the business of his choice. As we have pointed out, section 42(1) shifts the incidence of tax to the agent in the circumstances mentioned therein. To that extent it provides the machinery for the levy and collection of the tax lawfully due. That does not constitute any unreasonable restriction on the rights of the agent.
In our opinion that attack based on article 19(1)(g) also fails.
The learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out that in this case the petitioners had been declared statutory agents under section 43. The learned counsel urged that had section 42(1) of the Act stood by itself without section 43, it would have been open to the petitioners to contend that they were not agents at all, but only commission agents. Such a plea they could not put forward in view of the declaration under section 43, that they were the agents of the non-resident principals. It may not be necessary for us to embark upon a discussion of the question, whether a commission agent would also come within the scope of section 42(1) of the Act. In our opinion, the fact, that in this case the petitioners were declared to be agents under section 43, in no way affected the constitutional validity of section 42(1) of the Act. Nor, in our opinion, does it require us to go into the constitutional validity of section 43. As we recorded earlier, we limited ourselves to an examination only of the constitutional validity of section 42(1).
Before the Tribunal the petitioners challenged legislative competence of the Indian Legislature to enact section 42(1). That ground was not reiterated before us. It was only the constitutional validity of section 42(1) in relation to articles 14 and 19(1)(g) that was argued before us; and we have recorded our findings that section 42(1) does not contravene either of these articles.
We answer the first of the questions referred in R.C. No. 15 of 1954 in the negative and against the petitioners. As the assessees have failed, they will pay the costs in R.C. No. 15 of 1954. Counsels fee Rs. 250.
The disposal of R.C. No. 15 of 1954 should suffice to dismiss W.P. Nos. 601 and 602 of 1953.
The learned Advocate-General pointed out some special features in the case of Ahmed Koya, the petitioner in W.P. No. 602 of 1953. In paragraph 11 of his affidavit the petitioner averred :
'I submit that I have no money whatsoever belonging to the non-resident principals in my hands and this fact is not and cannot be traversed.'
That was specifically controverted in paragraph 5 of the counter-affidavit filed by the respondent. From the material placed before us it was clear that on 21st January, 1952, Ahmed Koya informed the Income-tax Officer that on 11th December, 1951, Ahmad Koya had in his hands funds that belonged to Abdul Azeez Dawood Marzook. 11th December, 1954, it should be remembered, was the date on which the notice was served upon the petitioner Ahmed Koya under section 46(5A) of the Act. After the receipt of that notice, on 31st December, 1951, all that he asked was for time to obtain stay of collection from the Central Board of Revenue. We have already extracted passages from that letter. It was not his contention then that he had no money of his non-resident principal in his hands. It subsequent to that he denuded himself of all the funds that belonged to the non-resident principal, the petitioner, Ahmed Koya, should not be heard to complain or to ask for any discretionary relief under article 226 of the Constitution. Such was the contention of the learned Advocate-General. The question would really assume importance only if the assessment was in the name of the petitioner Ahmed Koya. We have already held that factually the assessment was made under section 42(1) in the name of the non-resident principal.
The rule nisi issued in W.P. Nos. 601 and 602 of 1953 will stand discharged; and the petitions are dismissed, but without any order as to costs.
Reference answered accordingly,