Introduction: In a recent judgment, the Madras High Court has quashed GST assessment orders for the Assessment Years 2017-2018 to 2021-2022. The primary reason behind this decision was a flaw in the complex web portal design, which resulted in the petitioner missing crucial notices issued by the GST tax authorities. This article provides a detailed analysis of the case and its implications.
Detailed Analysis: The petitioner in this case challenged the validity of orders dated 29.04.2023, issued by the respondent for the mentioned assessment years. The crux of the matter revolved around the placement of notices within the GST web portal. The petitioner contended that the notices, which preceded the impugned orders, were hosted in the Dashboard meant for ‘Additional Notices and Orders’ instead of the Dashboard designated for ‘View Notices and Orders’.
The petitioner’s argument was based on the instructions provided on the GST portal, which clearly outlined the steps to view or download notices and demand orders. According to these instructions, notices and orders should be accessible through the path: “Access the gst.gov.in URL, Login to the GST Portal, and click on Services > User Services > View Notices and Orders.”
However, due to the web portal’s intricate architecture, the notices were placed in the wrong section, leading to the petitioner’s failure to notice and respond to the Show Cause Notice. As a result, the impugned orders were passed on 29.04.2023, creating a situation where the principles of natural justice were called into question.
The respondent, represented by the learned Additional Government Pleader, argued that despite the notices being placed in the ‘Additional Notices and Orders’ section, there was no violation of principles of natural justice. They contended that the notices were indeed communicated to the petitioner.
After considering the arguments from both sides, the Madras High Court acknowledged the problem arising from the complex architecture of the web portal. While designed to facilitate easy access to information, it inadvertently led to the petitioner’s failure to notice the critical notice issued prior to the impugned orders.
In light of these circumstances, the High Court quashed the impugned orders and remitted the case back to the respondent with the directive to pass a fresh order within 60 days. Additionally, the quashed orders were to be treated as a corrigendum to the notices issued on 29.04.2023, and the petitioner was given 30 days to file its reply to the Show Cause Notice.
Conclusion: The Madras High Court’s decision in the case of Sabari Infra Private Limited vs. Assistant Commissioner (ST) highlights the importance of a user-friendly and intuitive web portal design, especially in matters as crucial as tax assessments. The judgment underscores the significance of ensuring that notices are placed in the correct sections of such portals to prevent any inadvertent oversight by taxpayers. In this case, the web portal’s complexity led to missed notices, prompting the court to quash the orders and provide the petitioner with an opportunity to respond appropriately.
FULL TEXT OF THE JUDGMENT/ORDER OF MADRAS HIGH COURT
Mr. T. N. C. Kaushik, learned Additional Government Pleader takes notice on behalf of the respondent.
2. The petitioner has challenged the impugned orders bearing Ref.Nos.ZD330423148157K, ZD330423148300Z, ZD3304231480120, ZD330423148080X and ZD330423147804I dated 29.04.2023 passed by the respondent for the Assessment Years 2017-2018 to 2021-2022.
3. The only ground on which, the impugned orders are under challenge is that the notices, which preceded the impugned orders were hosted in the Dashboard of the petitioner meant for ‘Additional Notices and Orders’ whereas, the notices should have been hosted by the respondent in the Dash Board for ‘View Notices and Orders’.
4. The learned counsel for the petitioner has drawn attention to the manual copy given by the respondent in the web portal, which reads as under:-
“How can I view or download the notices and demand orders issued by the GST tax authorities?
To view or download the notices and demand orders issues by the GST tax authorities, perform the following steps:
1. Access the gst.gov.in URL. The GST Home page is displayed.
2. Login to the GST Portal with valid credentials.
3. Click the Services > User Services > View Notices and Orders command.”
5. It is submitted that had the notice been uploaded in the correct place, the petitioner would have seen it and replied to the same and participated in the proceedings. Since the Notices and the Orders were hosted in the Dashboard of the petitioner meant for “Additional Notices and Orders”, the petitioner failed to notice and file a reply to the Show Cause Notice.
6. On the other land, the learned Additional Government Pleader for the respondent would submit that the impugned orders are all dated 29.04.2023. The petitioner still has time to file an appeal before the Appellate Commissioner under Section 107 of the respective GST Acts.
7. That apart, it is submitted that the notices were uploaded, although under the heading meant for ‘Additional Notices and Orders’, it is submitted that there was no violation of principles of natural justice, they were communicated to the petitioner and therefore, the impugned orders do not call for any interference. Hence, prays for dismissal of the writ petitions.
8. I have considered the arguments advanced by the learned counsel for the petitioner and the learned Additional Government Pleader for the respondent.
9. The problem has arisen on account of the complex architecture of the web portal. It has been designed to facilitate easy access of informations. It has however resulted in the petitioner failing to notice the notice that was issued to the petitioner prior to the impugned order on 20.03.2023. It went unnoticed by the petitioner, as a result of which, the impugned orders have been passed on 29.04.2023.
10. Considering the above, the impugned orders are quashed and the case is remitted back to the respondent to pass a fresh order within a period of 60 days from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.
11. The impugned orders which stand quashed shall be treated as a corrigendum to the notices dated 29.04.2023. The petitioner shall file its reply to the Show Cause Notice within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.
12. The Writ Petitions stand allowed with the above observations. No costs. Consequently, connected Writ Miscellaneous Petitions are closed.