BACHAWAT, J. - This is a petition by Pragdas Mathuradas for the issue of a writ of mandamus against the Income-tax Officer, Central Circle I, Calcutta, for return of certain books to the petitioner.
In connection with the assessment for the Sambat year 2000-2001, notice under Section 22, sub-section (2), of the Indian Income-tax Act was served upon the petitioner. The return was filed and thereafter notice was issued under Section 23, sub-section (2), of the Indian Income-tax Act to produce the evidence upon which the petitioner intended to rely on.
On the 13th of December, 1949, two sets of books were produced before the Income-tax Officer. The first set was for the period Kartic Sambat 2000 up to the Chait Sambat 2001, corresponding with 29th October, 1943, up to the 1st of April, 1944, and the second set of books was for the period Chait 2001 up to Kartic 2001, corresponding with 2nd April, 1944, up to 17th October, 1944. The books were examined. The matter was subsequently adjourned. The matter came up before the Income-tax Officer again on the 15th December, 1949, and was again adjourned until the 16th December, 1949.
On the later day, the books were again produced and examined and the matter was again adjourned. On the 20th December, 1949, the accountant of the petitioner, one Mr. Daga, as also their Adviser, Mr. Banerjee of Messrs. S. K. Sawday & Co., came before the Income-tax Officer and the books of account were again produced. The books were examined and the Income-tax Officer was of the opinion that there had been concealment of income and the books ought to be retained. There is some dispute as to what really happened on that day, but it seems to be fairly clear that the Income-tax Officer gave a direction that the books ought to be kept with him and after discussion with Mr. Banerjee on the telephone Mr. Daga left the books with the Income-tax Officer and a receipt was granted to him. It is said by the Income-tax Officer that the books were voluntarily left with him, but it is quite clear that there was no question of the petitioner voluntarily leaving the books with the Income-tax Officer. The Income-tax Officer purported to give a direction and a person in the position of the assessee must have thought that there was no other option but to leave the books with the Income-tax Officer.
There is also some dispute as to whether on that day an undertaking was given by the petitioner to the effect that he will produce the books whenever called for by the Income-tax Officer. It seems fairly clear from the correspondence that such an undertaking was offered at least at some stage later on. But I cannot hold on the materials before me that such undertaking was in fact given on the 20th December, 1949.
On the 20th February, 1950, the petitioner wrote to the Income-tax Officer asking for return of the books and stating that he had no jurisdiction in the matter. Reply was given by the Income-tax Officer on the 23rd February, 1950, stating that the books were part of the records and they must be retained until assessment is completed and also until the appeal, if any, is disposed of, and if no appeal is filed, unitl the expiry of the period of appeal, and he also offered that the books could be inspected at the office of the Income-tax Officer if the petitioner wanted to do so.
On the 24th February, 1950, Messrs. S. K. Sawday & Co. wrote to the Income-tax Officer stating that the Income-tax Officer had no power to retain the books. Reply was given on the 8th March, 1950, by the Income-tax Officer when he reiterated his stand. On the 13th March, 1950, another letter was written by Messrs. S. K. Sawday & Co. to the Income-tax Officer. That letter refers to offer of undertakings made by the petitioner. The letter does say that such offers were made previously but it is to be noticed that in the previous correspondence no such offers are mentioned.
On the 18th March, 1950, the order of assessment was made. That order has been filed. The Income-tax Officer proceeds there upon the basis that there has been an improper concealment of income and he has come to the conclusion that the income of the petitioner upon which he ought to be assessed is over eight lakhs of rupees. On the 23rd March, 1950, the Income-tax Officer sent a reply to Messrs. S. K. Sawday and he again stated that the books are open to inspection. On the 3rd of April, 1950, appeal against the Income-tax assessment order was filed. On the 4th April, 1950, the present petition was moved and a rule nisi was obtained.
The basis upon which this petition has been moved is that the Income-tax Officer has no power in law to retain the books which are produced before him. He has stated that the petitioner has been ordered by the Income-tax Investigation Commission to file a statement of total wealth with list of books. He also states that certain claims would be barred by limitation and he wants the books in connection with such claim. In the affidavit in opposition filed by the Income-tax Officer, the Income-tax Officer has stated that the books had been voluntarily left with him, that he had power to retain the books and, therefore, he retained them and gave directions accordingly. He denies that any undertaking was given. He also states that the books may be required for future prosecution.
The books were produced before the Income-tax Officer because a notice under Section 23, sub-section (2), was issued upon the petitioner. Such notice calls upon the petitioner to produce or to cause to be produced any evidence upon which he relies in support of the return.
Mr. Sen also relies upon Section 37 of the Income-tax Act under which the Income-tax Officer has for the purposes of Chapter IV the same powers as are vested in the Court under the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, When trying to suit in respect of certain specified matters. One of such specified matters is compelling the production of documents. No other section or rule of the Income-tax Act has been shown to me by Mr. Sen appearing on behalf of the Income-tax Officer.
Mr. Sen has argued that the power to call for production implies power to retain it and he has referred me to certain rules and orders in the Code of Civil Procedure which expressly authorises the Court to detain the books after the books are produced in Court. It seems to me that the matter before me must be decided on a proper construction of Section 23 and Section 37 of the Income-tax Act.
Section 23 of the Income-tax Act empowers the Income-tax Officer to ask for production of evidence. It is said that power to call for production implies power to detain the books so produced. After giving my best consideration to the matter, I think this contention must be rejected.
The primary meaning of the word 'to produce' is 'to bring forward, to offer to view or notice, to exhibit, to show, such as to produce a witness in Court.' This meaning is given to that word in Websters New International Dictionary. In Strouds Judicial Dictionary it is stated that the expression 'to produce a thing to a person' means 'to show it to him personally.'
In this connection, reference may be made to Ex parte Wick. The question there arose as to whether there was a failure to produce a receipt within the meaning of Section 7, sub-section (4), of the bill of sale asking the grant or to send by post the last quarters receipt for rent, but the receipt was not sent. It was held that there was no failure to produce the receipt. If the grantor was obliged to send the receipt by post he would be obliged to part with possession of the receipt. Power to call for production does not imply power to call upon the other party to part with possession of the document or thing called for.
Mr. A. K. Sen also relied upon Section 37 of the Income-tax Act. It is to be observed that on summons or notice was issued under Section 37 of the Income-tax Act. Even if such summons or notice had been issued, still under that section, the Income-tax Officer could only compel the production of the books. Even if production could be compelled under that section, the Income-tax Officer could not detain the books when they are produced before him.
The Income-tax Act is a fiscal enactment and if there is any doubt the doubt must be resolved in favour of the citizen. It seems that there is a lacuna in the Act. Whether the lacuna is deliberate or intentional I do not know. It may be that in an appropriate case, the Income-tax Officer ought to have the power to detain the books, but that is a matter for the legislature. On a construction of Sections 23 and 37 of the Income-tax Act, I am clearly of the opinion that the Income-tax Officer has not the power to detain the books after they were produced before him.
The question then arises as to whether I can make an order for a mandamus. Mr. A. K. Sen has relied upon Section 67 of the Indian Income-tax Act. That section indicates that no prosecution, suit or other proceeding shall lie against any officer on anything in good faith done or intended to be done under the Act.
I have held that the act of detention is illegal and is not justified b any provisions of the Indian Income-tax Act, but the matter does not end there. If it was proved before me that the Income-tax Officer knew that he had not under the statute any authority to detain the books and was intentionally detaining the books in contravention of the statutes, he would not be entitled to protection under Section 67 of the Indian Income-tax Act. But if he detained the books under the bona fide belief that he had power to do so under the provisions of the Indian Income-tax Act, the act of detention would be an act in good faith intended to be done by him under the Indian Income-tax Act. It appears that there is no reported case negativing the power of the Income-tax Officer to detain the books. On the whole and upon consideration of the entire evidence before me, I am of the opinion that the Income-tax Officer was acting bonafide and in fact intended to exercise power which he thought he had under the Act. He is, therefore, protected by virtue of Section 67 of the Indian Income-tax Act.
However, after this pronouncement by me, if he still detains the books, there will be no doubt that he will be acting mala fide in the matter. If the petitioner does not get hold of the books after this judgment, he will be entitled to pursue his proper remedies against the Income-tax Officer.
A further point was raised before me by Mr. Sen that the writ of mandamus ought not to issue because there is an alternative specific remedy at law which is equally convenient, beneficial and effective. He argued that a suit would lie against the Income-tax Officer and the petitioner would be entitled to relief in such a suit. As I have come to the conclusion that I cannot make any order in this application because of Section 67 of the Indian Income-tax Act, I do not propose to decide the question as to whether the writ of mandamus or a suit is the remedy.
The result is that the petition must fail and is dismissed, but having regard to the circumstances of the case, each party must pay and bear his own costs.