Passing ex-parte order when assessee could not attend the proceedings due to lockdown is not justified in law. Since Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, vide letter dated 24th March, 2020 had issued directions for stopping of the work of all offices for a period of 21 days starting from 25/03/2020 but learned CIT(A) passed the order on 27/03/2020 which is not in accordance with the law.
FULL TEXT OF THE ITAT JUDGEMENT
This is an appeal filed by the assessee against the order of learned CIT(A)-I, Lucknow dated 27/03/2020 pertaining to assessment year 2017- The appeal was heard through video conferencing.
2. In this appeal the assessee has taken various grounds by which it has argued that the assessee cannot be subjected to tax as the assessee is a society registered u/s 12A of the I.T. Act and in the earlier years it enjoyed exemption u/s 11 of the Act. It was further argued that the CIT(A) has hurriedly passed the order on 27/03/2020, which was a lockdown period and thereafter the Department has taken a huge amount of about Rs.125 crores from its bank account as part of the demand created illegally. It was argued that Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, vide letter dated 24th March, 2020 had issued directions for stopping of the work of all offices for a period of 21 days starting from 25/03/2020 but learned CIT(A) passed the order on 27/03/2020 which is not in accordance with the law and the circumstances prevailing at that point of time as due to lockdown the assessee could not represent itself before CIT(A). Learned counsel for the assessee was asked as to whether he will be willing to go back to CIT(A) for readjudication as none had appeared before him due to lockdown, learned A.R. stated that he is willing to go back to CIT(A) but requested that a particular time frame may be fixed for passing the appropriate order.
3. Learned D.R. was asked about his comments to which he agreed with the proposal.
4. We have heard the rival parties and have gone through the material placed on record. We find that the CIT(A) had fixed the date of hearing for 03/03/2020, 12/03/2020 and 23/03/2020 and on 27/03/2020 he passed the order. We also observe that the assessee had requested for adjournment vide letter dated 12/03/2020 which was given by the office staff of CIT(A). Learned CIT(A) has mentioned in his order that staff of his office were not authorized to adjourn the hearing and therefore telephonically it was informed to the A.R. of the assessee and further notice was issued on 13/03/2020 for compliance on 23/03/2020, on which date, all Government Offices in Lucknow were closed due to lockdown imposed by the U.P. State Government and the assessee could not attend the proceedings before the CIT(A) which proceedings themselves could not have been conducted as such. Complete lockdown was imposed in the country due to COVID-19 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, vide letter dated 24/03/2020 who had issued instructions wherein it is stated that offices of the State/Union Territory Governments, Autonomous Bodies, Corporations etc. shall remain closed for a period of 21 days with effect from 25/03/2020. Therefore, under such circumstances, the CIT(A) should not have passed the order on 27/03/2020 and that too ex-parte qua assessee. Under such circumstances, we deem it appropriate to remit the issue back to the file of learned CIT(A) for readjudication. He should pass the order after giving reasonable opportunity of being heard to the assessee. The request of learned A.R. that CIT(A) be given a time frame to pass the order cannot be accepted under the present circumstances of COVID-19. However, CIT(A) will pass the order as soon as the circumstances permit.
5. Since we have remitted the appeal to the file of CIT(A), the Stay Application filed by the assessee becomes infructous and is therefore dismissed.
6. In the result, the appeal is allowed for statistical purposes and the Stay Application is dismissed as infructuous.
(Order pronounced in the open court on 01/07/2020)