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Mohanlal Gangully and ors. Vs. the State of West Bengal and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtKolkata High Court
Decided On
Case NumberC.R. No. 11817 (W) of 1975
Judge
Reported inAIR1978Cal12,82CWN411
ActsWest Bengal Zilla Parishads Act, 1963 - Section 42(2); ;West Bengal Zilla Parishads Rules - Rule 175
AppellantMohanlal Gangully and ors.
RespondentThe State of West Bengal and ors.
Appellant AdvocateNigam Chakraborty and ;Samar Kumar Rudra, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateR.N. Mitra and ;Ranen Mitra, Advs.
Excerpt:
- .....anne-xure a. the petitioners were however served with a notice by the administrator, 24-parganas zilla parishad under section 42 of the west bengal zilla pariahads act, 1963 to register their boats and pay fee in respect thereof. the respondent no. 3 has been authorised by the administrator to register all non-licensed boats in 24-parganas and to realise licence fees. the notifications are annexed to the petition marked b. by another subsequent notification, the petitioners were notified that as they had failed to have their boats licensed under section 42 of the west bengal zilla parishad act, 1963, appropriate legal proceedings would be taken against them unless they took out license for such boats. a scale of fees to be charged for the registration was also mentioned in the said.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Sudhamay Basu, J.

1. This Rule was obtained by the six petitioners for cancellation and recall of some orders and notifications which are annexures B and C to the petition.

2. The petitioners carry on trade in timber and forest-produce and operate 100 boats of different length, breadth and depth and ply them in the canals and rivers of the State of West Bengal. Principally, it is alleged, they carry timber and other forest-produce to and from the reserved and protected forests of Sunderbans in 24-Parganas. In exercise of powers conferred under the Indian Forest Act, 1&27 and in particular Sections 32 and 41 rules have been framed for the control of transit of timber and other forest produce which are known as the West Bengal Forest Produce TransitRules, 1956. Rule 9 provides that no forest produce shall be brought to, or removed from, any depot in the Sunder-ban Forest Division except in a boat which has been registered by an Officer-in-Charge of a Forest Revenue or Checking Station described in Rule IV or under any other Rules or Act for the time toeing in force and which bears its registered number and marks on a conspicuous place on its bows. Rule 15 provides for penalty for breach of such law. The petitioners were duly registered in respect of their boats under the said Rules. The relevant certificates have been annexed to the petition marked Anne-xure A. The petitioners were however served with a notice by the Administrator, 24-Parganas Zilla Parishad under Section 42 of the West Bengal Zilla Pariahads Act, 1963 to register their boats and pay fee in respect thereof. The respondent No. 3 has been authorised by the Administrator to register all non-licensed boats in 24-Parganas and to realise licence fees. The notifications are annexed to the petition marked B. By another subsequent notification, the petitioners were notified that as they had failed to have their boats licensed under Section 42 of the West Bengal Zilla Parishad Act, 1963, appropriate legal proceedings would be taken against them unless they took out license for such boats. A scale of fees to be charged for the registration was also mentioned in the said notice which is annexed and marked C. The petitioners allege that the respondent No. 3 pretending to be authorised lessee of the 24-Parganas Zilla Parishad has been illegally and wrongfully collecting licence fee from various persons including one Menchi Charidhari of village Phalapur. According to the petitioners, the Zilla Parishad is authorised to register boats only in those cases where such boats have not already been registered under any other statute. As the boats or vehicles belonging to the petitioners have duly been registered with the Forest Revenue Department, the respondents were acting without any jurisdiction, power or authority in requiring the petitioners to comply with the aforesaid impugned order and directions. The petitioners duly protested against the illegal demand 'by a letter dated 26th February, 1975 but the same has not been replied to. By another letter dated 25th April, 1975 marked Annexure G to the petition, justice was demanded from respondents Nos. 1 to 4 but the grievance ofthe petitioners still remains unredressed. It is further stated in the petition that the same is made for themselves and on behalf of and for the benefit of other boat owners and leave was sought to publish under Order 1, Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure for this purpose. It appears that by an order dated June 21, 1977 the leave granted for publication under Order 1, Rule 8 of the Code was revoked by Chittatosh Mookerjee, J. so that at present the petitioners are moving the same on their own behalf only.

3. The main issue involved in this Rule relates to an interpretation of Sub-section (2) of Section 42 of the West Bengal Zilla Parishad Act, 1963. The relevant provision of Section 42, Sub-section (1) is as follows:

'Subject to such maximum rates as the State Government may prescribe, a Zilla Parishad may-

** ** ** (c) levy the following fees and rates, namely:--

(i) fees on the registration of vehicles or boats;

(ii) a fee for providing sanitary arrangements at such places of worship or pilgrimage, fairs and melas within its jurisdiction as may be specified by the State Government by notification; ** ** ** '

Sub-sec. (2) is as follows:--

'The Zilla Parishad shall not undertake registration of any vehicle or boat or levy fee thereof and shall not provide sanitary arrangements at places of worship or pilgrimages, fairs and melas within its jurisdiction or levy fee therefor if such vehicle has already been registered by any other authority under any law for the time being in force or if such provision for sanitary arrangement has already been made by any other local authority.'

4. In this connection, it will also be necessary to refer to Rule 175 of the Rules framed by the Zilla Parishad under the Zilla Parishad Act. The same is as follows:--

'A Zilla Parishad or an Anchalik Parishad shall not undertake registration of any boat or vehicle if such boat or vehicle has already been registered by any other authority under any law for the time being in force.'

Mr. Chakraborty, learned Advocate appearing in support of the Rule mainly contended that in view of the bar imposed by Sub-section (2) of Section 42 it is not open to the authorities of the Zilla Parishadto impose any levy when the boats have already been registered under the Rules framed under the Forest Manual. Mr. Mitra, learned Advocate appearing to oppose the Rule however joins issue and submitted that the bar imposed by sub-sec. (2) should not be construed to apply in ail cases of registration. He submitted that the scope of the Zilla Parishad to impose levy extended over the entire territory of the 24-Parganas wherever a boat or a vehicle plied. The purpose of the certificate or registration which was given to the petitioners was confined only to the Sunderbans. The scope of the registration under the Forest Manual was restricted in its ambit. The Rules were obviously for the purpose of control of transit of timber and other forest produce to and from the Sunderbans. Any person acquiring a certificate for that limited purpose could not ply a boat elsewhere outside the forest area without being liable to pay levy imposed by the Zilla Parishad Mr. Mitra cited an extreme example where a temporary certificate was given to a boat for the purpose of bringing out a dead body from forest. The document concerned was of course supplied to him by the petitioners through oversight and the same do not form any part of the court's record. The same of course cannot be taken into account but Mr. Mitra emphasised the same only for the purpose of showing that a forest certificate would hardly constitute a bar to the Zilla Parishad in imposing a levy or fee in terms of Section 42.

5. Mr. Mitra further pointed out that the scheme of the different acts concerning the local bodies reveals a four-tier system in which the Zilla Parishad was the apex. The next one was the Anchalik Parishad. The third one is Ancha) Panchayat and the fourth one is Gram Panchayat. The first three bodies have all been empowered under different Acts to levy fees. He drew the attention of court to S. 86(c) of the West Bengal Zilla Parishads Act, 1963 which confers power to the Anchalik Parishad to levy fees and rates. The provisions of sub-clause (c) of Section 86 (1) are more or less similar to that of Section 42(1)(c). There is also a similar bar imposed by sub-section (2) after Sub-Section (1) in S. 86. Similarly, under the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 1973 Section 133, Sub-section (1) (c) (i) and (ii) confer power upon the Anchalik Panchayat to impose fees and rates on vehicles. Mr. Mitra submitted that the scheme of the Act would suggest that thelegislature was only anxious that the particular vehicle which may come within the jurisdiction of these different local bodies may not be the subject-matter of levy by different bodies. He contended that the exemption or bar imposed by Sub-section (2) of Section 42 was intended to give relief only to those vehicles or boats which may have been subjected to such levy by other local bodies within the territorial limits of the Zilla Parishad. As to Rule 175, the provisions have already been quoted. They seem to be clear in imposing a bar in cases of boats and vehicles which have been registered by any 'other authority under any law'. Mr. Mitra submitted that the rule cannot override the provision of the Act. According to him, Sub-section (2) of Section 42 cannot be so read as to be in conformity with Rule 175. He therefore submitted that the rule might be ignored by the court and the bar imposed by Sub-section (2) of Section 42 might be interpreted to be confined to place of worship or pilgrimage, fairs and melas within the jurisdiction of the Zilla Parishad.

6. I am unable to accept the contention of Mr. Mitra. Section 42 seems to provide for various levies of tolls, fees licences etc. Sub-section (c) of Section 1 relates to fees and rates namely, (i) fees on the registration of vehicles or boats and (ii) a fee for providing sanitary arrangements at such places of worship or pilgrimage, fairs and melas.

7. The wordings of Sub-section (2) are not very happy. The same has not been expressed in very felicitous language and is apt to give rise to some confusion. At the beginning it refers to two parts, namely, (i) that the Zilla Parishad shall not undertake registration of any vehicle or boat or levy fee therefor and (ii) that the Zilla Parishad shall not provide sanitary arrangements at places of worship or pilgrimages, fairs and melas within its jurisdiction or levy fee therefor. These two independent levies are mentioned in the first part of the sentence, The next part is connected with the earlier part by the word 'if. It is an adverbial clause and the rest of the portion of the sentence is intended to govern or apply to both the items in the first part so that the whole sentence may be read as follows by breaking it up into two parts.

(1) The Zilla Parishad shall not undertake registration of any vehicle or boat or levy fee therefor if such vehicle (boatis omitted) has already been registered by any other authority under any law for the time being in force and (2) the Zilla Parishad shall not provide sanitary arrangements at places of worship or pilgrimages, fairs and melas within its jurisdiction or levy fee therefor if such provision for sanitary arrangement has already been made by any other local authority.

Read in the manner indicated above, the sub-clause would seem to circumscribe the power of the Zilla Parishad by putting an express limitation with regard to the power of levying fees and rates under Clause (i) and (ii) of Section 42 (1) (c).

8. But in the aforesaid construction of Sub-section (2) it will be seen that the word 'boat' has been omitted in the later part of the sentence. Mr. Chakraborty appearing in support of the Rule argued that by the initial use of the words 'vehicle' or 'boat' the position having been made amply clear the legislature may have thought it unnecessary to add the word 'boat' once again. In view of the context, namely, that the vehicle and boat are mentioned at the beginning and those are also the subject-matter of the levy in Section 42 (1) (c) (i), the context would make it possible to read it in such a way. He also submitted that even the dictionary meaning of the word 'vehicle' would not exclude a boat. He pointed out the meanings given in several dictionaries and submitted that attachment of wheel or confinement of movement to land alone are not necessarily implied in the word 'vehicle'. In the absence of any express exclusion, vehicle could be read to include boat. The submissions cannot be said to be without substance. In this connection, reference was made to Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, 11th Edition, page 241 where it is said 'an omission which the context shows with reasonable certainty to have been unintended may be supplied, at least in enactments which are construed beneficially, as distinguished from strictly'. Beneficial construction in the present context is sought to be made by putting a curb on the fiscal statute and in favour of exemption. It is an accepted proposition that where an exemption is conferred by a statute by an exemption clause, that clause is to be interpreted liberally and in favour of the assessee but of course, it must always be without involving any variance to the language used. A reference may be madeto the case of Commissioner of Agricultural Income-tax v Raja, reported in (1949) 53 Cal WN 596.

9. Rule 175, quoted earlier, is however without any ambiguity. If the bar under Sub-section (2) of Section 42 is read in the manner indicated above, it is possible to harmonise the rule with the provision of the Act. Moreover, as Mr. Chakraborty has submitted, in the absence of a challenge either in the affidavit or in the submission that the rules are ultra vires the statute, the same may be interpreted in a manner which is consistent with the statute itself. In view of what is stated above, it is to be held that Rule 175 and Sub-section (2) of Section 42 stand in the way of the administration of the 24-Parganas Zilla Parishad in seeking to impose any fee on the registration of the boats when these have already been registered by other authorities.

10. While holding the same it is however noted that the language of the statute might have been expressed in clearer and more felicitous language. As Mr. Mitra suggested it may not have been the original intention of the legislature not to impose fees on the registration of boats when these have been registered only for a certain limited area in the forest for the purpose of carrying timber and other forest produce. But a taxing statute has to be construed strictly and if the intention of the legislature was otherwise than what is conveyed by the language used, it may be appropriate for the legislature to amend the Act. But so long as the statute continues, in the present form it appears that the petitioners are entitled to be exempted from being liable to pay levy under Section 42 (c) (i) as they have been already registered under another authority.

11. Mr. Mitra rightly pointed out that the petitioners are not before the court in any representative capacity and the relief, if any, which accrues to them will be confined to the petitioners. Another thing to which Mr. Mitra drew the attention of the court is that so far as the petitioner No. 3 is concerned the period of his registration only held good till 9-4-75 but as the rule was issued in this matter on 30th April, 1975, the said petitioner is disentitled to get any benefit of the order that may be passed in this case Mr. Chakraborty however pointed out that the registrations have since been renewed. There is no doubt that the exemption that is claimed is necessarily tobe limited to the period for which the petitioners hold valid registration.

12. In view of what has been stated above, the petition succeeds and the Rule is made absolute. There will be no order as to costs.

13. The mandates in terms of prayers (a), (b), (c). (d) and (e) will be confined to the case of the petitioners.


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