The issues that arise in the present appeal lie within a short circumference. As the warrant of authorization under Section 132, which is required to be founded on a reasonable belief of the authorized official regarding the existence of the conditions precedent to the exercise of the power to issue the same, has been interdicted under Article 226 of the Constitution, the ambit of the power of the High Court to do so may be noticed at the outset.
The “classical” notion of the extent of power that the High Court would have in the exercise of its writ jurisdiction to cause such interference is formulated in ITO vs. Seth Brothers 1969 (74) ITR 836 (SC) and Pooran Mal vs. Director of Inspection (Investigation), Income Tax (1974) 93 ITR 505 (SC). The parameters of permissible interference as laid down in the aforesaid two decisions have stood the test of time and continue to hold the field even today. We may, therefore, advert to ITO vs. Seth Brothers (supra) in the first instance.
Considering the scope of Section 132 of the Act in ITO vs. Seth Brothers (supra), this Court at page 843 held that :-
“The section does not confer any arbitrary authority upon the Revenue Officers. The Commissioner or the Director of Inspection must have, in consequence of information, reason to believe that the statutory conditions for the exercise of the power to order search exist. He must record reasons for the belief and he must issue an authorisation in favour of a designated officer to search the premises and exercise the powers set out therein. The condition for entry into and making search of any building or place is the reason to believe that any books of account or other documents which will be useful for, or relevant to, any proceeding under the Act may be found. If the Officer has reason to believe that any books of account or other documents would be useful for, or relevant to, any proceedings under the Act, he is authorised by law to seize those books of account or other documents, and to place marks of identification therein, to make extracts or copies therefrom and also to make a note or an inventory of any articles or other things found in the course of the search. Since by the exercise of the power a serious invasion is made upon the rights, privacy and freedom of the tax-payer, the power must be exercised strictly in accordance with the law and only for the purposes for which the law authorizes it to be exercised. If the action of the officer issuing the authorization, or of the designated officer is challenged the officer concerned must satisfy the Court about the regularity of his action. If the action is maliciously taken or power under the section is exercised for a collateral purpose, it is liable to be struck down by the Court. If the conditions for exercise of the power are not satisfied the proceeding is liable to be quashed. But where power is exercised bona fide, and in furtherance of the statutory duties of the tax officers any error of judgment on the part of the Officers will not vitiate the exercise of the power. Where the Commissioner entertains the requisite belief and for reasons recorded by him authorises a designated officer to enter and search premises for books of account and documents relevant to or useful for any proceeding under the Act, the Court in a petition by an aggrieved person cannot be asked to substitute its own opinion whether an order authorising search should have been issued. Again, any irregularity in the course of entry, search and seizure committed by the officer acting in pursuance of the authorisation will not be sufficient to vitiate the action taken, provided the officer has in executing the authorisation acted bona fide.
The Act and the Rules do not require that the warrant of authorisation should specify the particulars of documents and books of accounts a general authorisation to search for and seize documents and books of account relevant to or useful for any proceeding complies with the requirements of the Act and the Rules. It is for the officer making the search to exercise his judgment and seize or not to seize any documents or books of account. An error committed by the Officer in seizing documents which may ultimately be found not to be useful for or relevant to the proceeding under the Act will not by itself vitiate the search, nor will it entitle the aggrieved person to an omnibus order releasing all documents seized.”
7. In Pooran Mal vs. Director of Inspection (supra) the constitutional validity of Section 132 was under challenge. While negating the said challenge, this Court at page 515 of its report had held that:
“Dealing first with the challenge under Article 19(1)(f) and (g) of the Constitution it is to be noted that the impugned provisions are evidently directed against persons who are believed on good grounds to have illegally evaded the payment of tax on their income and property. Therefore, drastic measures to get at such income and property with a view to recover the government dues would stand justified in themselves. When one has to consider the reasonableness of the restrictions or curbs placed on the freedoms mentioned in Article 19(1)(f) and (g), one cannot possibly ignore how such evasions eat into the vitals of the economic life of the community. It is a well-known fact of our economic life that huge sums of unaccounted money are in circulation endangering its very fabric. In a country which has adopted high rates of taxation a major portion of the unaccounted money should normally fill the Government coffers. Instead of doing so it distorts the economy. Therefore, in the interest of the community it is only right that the fiscal authorities should have sufficient powers to prevent tax evasion.”
What is significant and, therefore, must be noticed is that in both the aforesaid two decisions while this Court has emphasized the necessity of recording of reasons in support of the ‘reasonable belief’ contemplated by Section 132, nowhere, in either of the decisions any view had been expressed that the reasons recorded prior to authorizing the search needs to be disclosed or communicated to the person against whom the warrant of authorization is issued. The same is the view expressed by this Court in Dr. Pratap Singh vs. Director of Enforcement (1985 (155) ITR 166 (SC) while considering a pari material provision in the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.
“The material on which the officer has reasons to believe that any documents will be useful for or relevant to any investigation need not be disclosed in the search warrant; such material may be secret, may have been obtained through intelligence, or even conveyed orally by informants. In the said case, the petitioner contended that, if the court is going to look into the file produced on behalf of the officer who authorized the search, it must be disclosed to the petitioner so that the petitioner “can controvert any false or wholly unreasonable material set out in the file”, but the Supreme Court did not accept this submission. The Supreme Court also referred to an earlier decision in S. Narayanappa v. CIT  63 ITR 219 (SC), to hold that whether grounds for ordering search were sufficient or not is not a matter for the court to investigate. However, the court may examine the question whether the reasons for the belief have a rational connection or a relevant bearing to the formation of the belief and are not extraneous or irrelevant for the purpose of the section.”
The principles that can be deduced from the aforesaid decisions of this Court which continue to hold the field without any departure may be summarized as follows :
(i) The authority must have information in its possession on the basis of which a reasonable belief can be founded that‑
(a) the concerned person has omitted or failed to produce books of account or other documents for production of which summons or notice had been issued
such person will not produce such books of account or other documents even if summons or notice is issued to him.
(b) such person is in possession of any money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article which represents either wholly or partly income or property which has not been or would not be disclosed.
(ii) Such information must be in possession of the authorized official before the opinion is formed.
(iii) There must be application of mind to the material and the formation of opinion must be honest and bonafide. Consideration of any extraneous or irrelevant material will vitiate the belief/satisfaction.
(iv) Though Rule 112(2) of the Income Tax Rules which specifically prescribed the necessity of recording of reasons before issuing a warrant of authorization had been repealed on and from 1st October, 1975 the reasons for the belief found should be recorded.
(v) The reasons, however, need not be communicated to the person against whom the warrant is issued at that stage.
(vi) Such reasons, however, may have to be placed before the Court in the event of a challenge to formation of the belief of the authorized official in which event the court (exercising jurisdiction under Article 226) would be entitled to examine the relevance of the reasons for the formation of the belief though not the sufficiency or adequacy thereof.