prpri Orders Passed without Fair Opportunity during Lockdown violates Principle of Natural Justice Orders Passed without Fair Opportunity during Lockdown violates Principle of Natural Justice

Case Law Details

Case Name : Walchandnagar Industries Limited Vs Commercial Tax Officer (Andhra Pradesh)
Appeal Number : WP 8425/2020 & 8451/2020
Date of Judgement/Order : 11/05/2020
Related Assessment Year :

Walchandnagar Industries Limited Vs Commercial Tax Officer (Andhra Pradesh); WP 8425/2020 & 8451/2020; 11/05/2020

Hon’ble SC time barring judgment binding on all – An important practical judgement pronounced on Ex-parte Assessment Orders by Vat Commercial Tax Authorities in which Hon’ble HC held that Order passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court is binding on all citizens/ tribunals/ courts of the country, including those exercising quasi judicial functions. HC Directs the respondent to give two weeks notice after the central govt relaxes the lockdown in India.

 Issue Covered:

Request for adjournment for Personal Hearing owing to pandemic situation due to COVID 2019 denied.

Assessment Order passed by the Respondent under the provisions of the Andhra Pradesh Value Added Tax Act 2005 in AO No 207184 dated 17.04.2020 for the period 06/2014 to 03/2016 as illegal, arbitrary, bad in law without jurisdiction and bereft of any valid reasons violative of principles of natural justice and violative of Articles 14, 191g and 265 of the Constitution of India and consequently set aside the same.

Facts of the Case:

The petitioner, an industry , based at Pune was asked by the respondent to appear before him. The series of letter were addressed to the Respondent requesting for exemption to appear because of the pandemic situation.

The petitioner said to submit a detailed reply, they had no opportunity to coordinate with their offices, which were situated in other States and because of the prevalent pandemic COVID-19, they could not file reply.

All the requests for adjournment were refused and that the impugned order and the penalty order were also passed without hearing the petitioner.

Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has extended the period of limitation in all matters and therefore, the apprehension of the respondents that unless a consequential order is passed, within three years from the date of original order, the same will not be valid, is not a correct interpretation.

According to him, the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India will also take care and safeguard the interests of the State.

Prayer Made:

The petitioner pleaded this is a matter which has to be remanded and heard afresh, with a personal hearing.

Order Pronounced:

The existence of an alternative remedy is also not a bar on this Court. The writ in the opinion of this court is maintainable, as this Court opines that there is a failure of the rules of natural justice which entail a ‘fair’ hearing.

This Court finds sufficient strength in the statement made that old records had to be accessed in order to prepare a detailed reply.

This Court also notices that 1st respondent has also noticed the orders passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the ‘taken up’ matters by which limitation was extended for all matters, including limitation prescribed in the Statutes.

This Court does not wish to go further into the matter but would not like to remind the 1st respondent that the order passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is binding on all the citizens/Tribunals/Courts of this country, including those exercising Quasi-Judicial functions.

It appears that 1st respondent’s understanding of the law as declared by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is clearly misconceived.

In these circumstances, without going further into this issue, this Court is of the opinion that the petitioner is entitled to the reliefs as prayed for.

The impugned order dated 17.04.2020 and the consequential order 23.04.2020 are both set aside.

Therefore, both writ petitions are allowed, with the following directions:

1) Immediately after the pandemic situation eases and the restrictions are lifted on the movement of men and material etc., 1st respondent is directed to issue a notice to the petitioner giving him two weeks time to appear along with his reply and all his documents.

2) In view of the fact that the petitioner is aware of the case set up against him, he is directed to use the interim period to prepare his counter and also his objections to the extent possible.

3) 1st respondent is therefore, directed to give two weeks notice, after the Central Government relaxes the lock down in India, fix a suitable date for the appearance of the petitioner and for disposal of the matter. It is made clear that if the petitioner seeks time or otherwise tries to delay the matter, 1st respondent is at liberty to proceed strictly in accordance with law.

Our Comments:

This pronouncement highlights very important lining :

1. The order passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is binding on all the citizens/Tribunals/Courts of this country, including those exercising Quasi-Judicial functions.

2. For Any Ex-parte orders passed during lockdown, without giving sufficient opportunity of being heard, need to be reviewed and set aside.

3. Principles of natural justice shall apply in all cases including those of Quasi-Judicial Functions.

4. This judgement would assume immense importance, once lockdown opens and if ex-parte orders have been passed by the assessment authorities.

FULL TEXT OF THE HIGH COURT ORDER /JUDGEMENT

Heard the learned counsel for the petitioner and learned Government Pleader for Commercial Taxes.

Without going into the merits and demerits of the matter, the learned counsel for the petitioner pointed out that basing on a notice issued by the 1st respondent, the petitioner which is an industry, based at Pune was asked to appear before 1st respondent. The learned counsel drew attention of this Court to a series of letters that were addressed to 1st respondent, requesting for exemption from personal hearing, because of the prevalent pandemic situation. The learned counsel submits that to submit a detailed reply also, they had no opportunity to coordinate with their offices, which were situated in other States and because of the prevalent pandemic COVID-19, they could not file reply. The learned counsel points out that all the requests for adjournment were refused and that the impugned order and the penalty order were also passed without hearing the petitioner. It is his contention that the petitioner has to file detailed reply setting out the legal and factual aspects and also appear personally before 1st respondent and explain it’s case. In addition the learned counsel also draws the attention of this Court to the fact that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has extended the period of limitation in all matters and therefore, the apprehension of the respondents that unless a consequential order is passed, within three years from the date of original order, the same will not be valid, is not a correct interpretation. According to him, the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India will also take care and safeguard the interests of the State. Therefore, the learned counsel submits that this is a matter which has to be remanded and heard afresh, with a personal hearing.

In reply to this, the learned Government Pleader for Commercial Taxes, states that there is an effective and alternative remedy available and the writ petition is therefore not maintainable. Apart from that, he pointed out that more than adequate opportunity has been given to the petitioner to appear and explain their case. Therefore, the learned Government Pleader for Commercial Taxes states that there are no merits in the writ petition and that the same should be rejected, since more than adequate opportunity was given and the petitioner failed to act on the same.

This Court, after hearing both the learned counsel, notices that all the requests for adjournment from personal appearance etc., were made on the ground that because of the prevalent pandemic situation, namely COVID-19, the petitioner could not file a detailed reply nor appear in person before the 1st respondent. This Court also notices that they have sought time on the ground that they could not access all the records and to prepare their statement of objections. The existence of an alternative remedy is also not a bar on this Court. The writ in the opinion of this court is maintainable, as this Court opines that there is a failure of the rules of natural justice which entail a ‘fair’ hearing. A reading of the impugned order shows that it also relates to the period 2014-2015 onwards. Therefore, this Court finds sufficient strength in the statement made that old records had to be accessed in order to prepare a detailed reply. This Court also notices that 1st respondent has also noticed the orders passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the ‘taken up’ matters by which limitation was extended for all matters, including limitation prescribed in the Statutes. 1st respondent for his own reasons has disagreed with the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. This Court does not wish to go further into the matter but would not like to remind the 1st respondent that the order passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is binding on all the citizens/Tribunals/Courts of this country, including those exercising Quasi Judicial functions. It appears that 1st respondent’s understanding of the law as declared by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is clearly misconceived. In these circumstances, without going further into this issue, this Court is of the opinion that the petitioner is entitled to the reliefs as prayed for.

The impugned order dated 17.04.2020 and the consequential order 23.04.2020 are both set aside. Therefore, both writ petitions are allowed, with the following directions:

1) Immediately after the pandemic situation eases and the restrictions are lifted on the movement of men and material etc., 1st respondent is directed to issue a notice to the petitioner giving him two weeks time to appear along with his reply and all his documents.

2) In view of the fact that the petitioner is aware of the case set up against him, he is directed to use the interim period to prepare his counter and also his objections to the extent possible.

3) 1st respondent is therefore, directed to give two weeks notice, after the Central Government relaxes the lock down in India, fix a suitable date for the appearance of the petitioner and for disposal of the matter. It is made clear that if the petitioner seeks time or otherwise tries to delay the matter, 1st respondent is at liberty to proceed strictly in accordance with law.

With these directions, the writ petitions are allowed. No costs.

Consequently, miscellaneous petitions, pending if any, in the writ petition shall stand closed.

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