Supreme Court on levy of penalty provision of section 11AC of Central Excise Act, 1944

 

 

Penalty under section 11AC is punishment for an act of deliberate deception by the assessee with the intent to evade duty by adopting any of the means mentioned in the section; the decision in Dharamendra Texitles case cannot be said to hold that section 11AC would apply to every case of non-payment or short payment of duty regardless of the conditions expressly mentioned in the section for its application; the decision in Dharamendra Textile must, therefore be understood to mean that thought the application of section 11AC would depend upon the existence or otherwise of the conditions expressly stated in the section, once the section is applicable in a case the concerned authority would have no discretion in quantifying the amount and penalty must be imposed equal to the duty determined under sub-section (2) of 11A; that is what Dharamendra Textile decides.

 

 

 

 

 

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Union of India

v.

Rajasthan Spg. & Wvg. Mills

Civil Appeal No. 3527 of 2009

May 12, 2009

 

RELEVANT EXTRACTS:

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18.   One can not fail to notice that both the proviso to sub section 1 of section 11A and section 11AC use the same expressions: "....by reasons of  fraud, collusion or any wilful mis-statement or suppression of facts, or contravention of any of the provisions of this Act or of the rules made thereunder with intent to evade payment of duty,...". In other words the conditions that would extend the normal period of one year to five years would also attract the imposition of penalty. It, therefore, follows that if the notice under section 11A (1) states that the escaped duty was the result of any conscious and deliberate wrong doing and in the order passed under section 11A (2) there is a legally tenable finding to that effect then the provision of section 11AC would also get attracted. The converse of this, equally true, is that in the absence of such an allegation in the notice the period for which the escaped duty may be reclaimed would be confined to one year and in the absence of such a finding in the order passed under section 11A (2) there would be no application of the penalty provision in section 11AC of the Act. On behalf of the assessees it was also submitted that sections 11A and 11AC not only operate in different fields but the two provisions are also separated by time. The penalty provision of section 11AC would come into play only after an order is passed under section 11A(2) with the finding that the escaped duty was the result of deception by the assessee by adopting a means as indicated in section 11AC.

19.   From the aforesaid discussion it is clear that penalty under section 11AC, as the word suggests, is punishment for an act of deliberate deception by the assessee with the intent to evade duty by adopting any of the means mentioned in the section.

20.   At this stage, we need to examine the recent decision of this Court in Dharamendra Textile (supra). In almost every case relating to penalty, the decision is referred to on behalf of the Revenue as if it laid down that in every case of non-payment or short payment of duty the penalty clause would automatically get attracted and the authority had no discretion in the matter. One of us (Aftab Alam,J.) was a party to the decision in Dharamendra Textile and we see no reason to understand or read that decision in that manner. In Dharamendra Textile the court framed the issues before it, in paragraph 2 of the decision, as follows:

“2. A Division Bench of this Court has referred the controversy involved in these appeals to a larger Bench doubting the correctness of the view expressed in Dilip N.    Shroff vs. Joint Commissioner of Income Tax, Mumbai & Anr. [2007 (8) SCALE 304]. The question which arises for determination in all these appeals is whether Section 11AC of the Central Excise Act, 1944 (in short the ‘Act') inserted by Finance Act, 1996 with the intention of imposing mandatory penalty on persons who evaded  payment of tax should be read to contain mens rea as an essential ingredient and whether there is a scope for levying penalty below the prescribed minimum. Before the Division Bench, stand of the revenue was that said section should be read as penalty for statutory offence and  the authority imposing penalty has no discretion in the matter of imposition of penalty and the adjudicating authority in such cases was duty bound to impose penalty equal to the duties so determined. The assessee on the other hand referred to Section 271(1)(c) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 (in short the `IT Act') taking the stand that Section 11AC of the Act is identically worded and in a  given case it was open to the assessing officer not to impose any penalty. The Division Bench made reference to Rule 96ZQ and Rule 96ZO of the Central Excise Rules, 1944 (in short the `Rules') and a decision of this Court in Chairman, SEBI vs. Shriram Mutual Fund & Anr.[2006(5) SCC 361] and was of the view that the basic scheme for imposition of penalty under section 271(1)(c) of IT Act, Section 11AC of the Act and Rule 96ZQ(5) of the Rules is common. According to the Division Bench the correct position in law was laid down in Chairman, SEBI's case (supra) and not in Dilip Shroff's case (supra). Therefore, the matter was referred to a larger Bench."

After referring to a number of decisions on interpretation and construction of statutory provisions, in paragraphs 26 and 27 of the decision, the court observed and held as follows:

"26. In Union Budget of 1996-97, Section 11AC of the Act was introduced. It has made the position clear that there is no scope for any discretion. In para 136 of the Union      Budget reference has been made to the provision stating  that the levy of penalty is a mandatory penalty. In the Notes on Clauses also the similar indication has been given.

"27. Above being the position, the plea that the Rules 96ZQ and 96ZO have a concept of discretion inbuilt cannot be sustained. Dilip Shroff's case (supra) was not correctly decided but Chairman, SEBI's case (supra) has analysed the legal position in the correct perspectives. The reference is answered.........".

21.   From the above, we fail to see how the decision in Dharamendra Textile can be said to hold that section 11AC would apply to every case of Non-payment or short payment of duty regardless of the conditions expressly mentioned in the section for its application.

23.   The decision in Dharamendra Textile must, therefore, be understood to mean that though the application of section 11AC would depend upon the existence or otherwise of the conditions expressly stated in the section, once the section is applicable in a case the concerned authority would have no discretion in quantifying the amount and penalty must be imposed equal to the duty determined under sub-section (2) of section 11A. That is what Dharamendra Textile decides.

24.    It must, however, be made clear that what is stated above in regard to the decision in Dharamendra Textile is only in so far as section 11AC is concerned. We make no observations (as a matter of fact there is no occasion for it) with regard to the several other statutory provisions that came up for consideration in that decision.

25.   In light of the discussion made above it is evident that in both the appeals, orders were passed by the Tribunal on a wrong premise. In both the appeals, therefore, the impugned orders passed by the Tribunal are set aside and the matters are remitted to the respective Tribunals for fresh consideration, in accordance with law, and in light of this judgment. As the matters are quite old it is hoped and expected that the Tribunal would pass the final order within four months from the date of the receipt of this order.

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