1. The appellant appeals against his conviction by a Presidency Magistrate under Section 13 of Ordinance 35 of 1943, which makes it an offence to contravene any of the provisions of the Ordinance. The Ordinance is entitled 'an Ordinance to provide for the prevention of hoarding and profiteering.' It provides inter alia for the fixing of maximum quantities which may be held or sold and maximum prices in Section 8, for restrictions on possession and sale by dealers and producers where maximum is fixed under Section 3, for restrictions on possession by dealers or producers where no maximum is fixed under Section 3, for restriction on price where no maximum is fixed under Section 3, for a general limitation on the quantity to be possessed at one time, and it imposes a duty in Section 8 to declare possession of excess stocks. Section 9, namely, the section in question provides :
No dealer or producer shall, unless previously authorised to do so by the Controller General or other officer empowered in this behalf by the Central or the Provincial Government, without sufficient cause refuse to sell to any person any article within the limits as to quantity imposed by this. Ordinance.
Explanation. -- The possibility or expectation of obtaining a higher, price for an article at a later date shall not be deemed to be a sufficient cause for the purposes of this section.
2. The short facts of this case are these. The appellant is the manager of a shop situate in Circular Road, Calcutta. That shop sold amongst other things a vegetable cooking substance called Dalda Vanaspati. The complainant is a policeman who lived about two miles away from the shop and was employed by those responsible for enforcing the anti-hoarding and anti-profiteering laws. On 25th September 1944, the complainant visited the shop of the appellant and asked for a tin of Dalda. The complainant knew that shortly before some tins of Dalda had been delivered at the shop. Actually the appellant had ten tins of Dalda in stock at that time. The appellant refused to sell the complainant any Dalda on the ground that the complainant was not one of his regular customers and he had orders for Dalda from his regular customers. As a result of the appellant's refusal these proceedings were brought. The defence was that the appellant was entitled to sell only to his regular customers. There was evidence given by three witnesses for the defence that they placed regular orders with the appellant for Dalda and received regular supplies from him. A list was found in the appellant's shop by the police showing that the appellant had nine customers wanting Dalda. The Magistrate, however, stated that if that plea were accepted it would give the shop-keeper a free hand in the disposal of his goods and entail great hardship on the public in general and defeat the purpose for which the Ordinance was issued. He, therefore, convicted the appellant and sentenced him to pay a fine of Rs. 500 in default rigorous imprisonment for four months.
3. The question whether an offence has been committed when a shop-keeper refuses to sell goods in stock because he needs them for his regular customers must depend upon those crucial words in Section 9, namely, 'without sufficient cause.' What is 'sufficient cause' must depend upon all the circumstances of the case. If a shop-keeper were compelled to sell to every customer who demanded his goods it would enable rich people with motor-cars and petrol to go round to different shops in turn and buy up goods and hoard them. It would defeat the purposes of the Ordinance. If on the other hand a shop-keeper could refuse to sell to anyone except his old regular customers it would mean that visitors or new-comers or people who were reasonably dissatisfied with their old sappliers would not be able to get supplies. That is why the words 'without sufficient cause' in the section are crucial. It is for the shop-keeper to establish that he has sufficient cause. The Magistrate seemed to think that the shop-keeper was bound to sell to anyone who asked him to sell if he had the article demanded. I do not think that is the true position. Shops are established in various places in order to supply customers, and customers are in the habit of going to one or more of those shops regularly to have their wants supplied. If they cannot get their supplies from the shops they are accustomed to go to, very great inconvenience and probably hardship may be caused.
4. In my view, if a shop-keeper refuses to sell goods which he has in stock because he is honestly of the opinion that he will need those goods to supply the ordinary demands of his regular customers for those goods, he has 'sufficient cause' within the meaning of the Ordinance for refusing to supply those goods and in so refusing does not commit an offence. In my view, the learned Magistrate has misdirected himself in law in this case. In my opinion, the appellant on the facts disclosed had sufficient cause for refusing to sell the tin of Dalda. The appeal is allowed. The conviction and sentence are set aside. The fine paid will be refunded. The bond will be discharged.
5. I agree.