Decided on April 07,1969



PARTHASARATHI,J. - (1.)ALL these appeals raise identical questions and arise out of suits by certain dealers in copra for refund of moneys specified in their respective plaints. The case that is put forward by the plaintiffs is that they are dealers registered under the Andhra Pradesh General Sales Tax Act and carry on business in copra. They had been assessed on the turnover of purchases relating to copra for the year 1957-58 as also for the subsequent years. At the time of the assessment, the provisions of the Act provided for separate levy of sales tax on coconuts and copra as two distinct commodities. Subsequently, the provisions of the Act had been amended by Act 26 of 1961 by deleting copra from out of the commodities that are assessable under the Third Schedule. The amending Act introduced an explanation providing for an inclusive definition of the word "coconut" so as to comprehend copra as well. This provision of the amending Act was made retrospective with effect from 15th June, 1957. The claim set out in the plaints is that as a result of the amending legislation, the levy of the tax and its collection had become illegal, and that they are consequently entitled to a refund of the amount paid by them under coercion.
(2.)THE suits were resisted by the State Government. It pleaded, inter alia, that the levy and collection of the purchase tax in question is neither illegal nor without jurisdiction and that the plaintiffs are not entitled to the refund claimed by them. The assessment, when made, was according to law and the amounts were voluntarily paid. The levy was legal and cannot be deemed to have been made under a mistake of law or of fact. Nor can the payment be said to be vitiated by a mistake of law or by coercion. It was further pleaded that the assessments were finalised before the commencement of the amending Act. As the pleadings and the contentions in the several suits were almost identical, the issues that had been settled for trial were likewise similar in all the suits. The learned Subordinate Judge upheld the claim of the plaintiffs and granted the prayer for refund in each of the suits. He held that consequent on the explanation inserted in the amending Act, the word "coconut" includes copra, and copra cannot be separately taxed. He was of opinion that the amending Act was applicable to assessments finalised prior to its commencement. The learned trial Judge negatived the objection taken by the defendant to the maintainability of the suit. He held that the claim in the suits did not pertain to the merits or propriety of the assessment and that the jurisdiction of the civil court to entertain the suit is not barred. A plea of limitation was also taken by the defendant and it was overruled.
These appeals are preferred by the State of Andhra Pradesh against the decrees made in these several suits. In the memoranda of appeals, the appellant repeated practically all the objections that were urged in the court below; but the argument before us was restricted in its scope and we have to deal only with the contentions that were urged by the learned Government Pleader before us. The main question that was debated before us related to the jurisdiction of civil courts to entertain suits of this description. It was also urged that the claim for the refund is unsustainable, because the assessment itself has not been modified or set aside. Another point that was argued by the learned counsel for the appellant is that the award of interest is in any case unjustified. The argument about the jurisdiction of the civil courts to entertain the suit and decide it, was sought to be presented on a twofold basis. Firstly, learned counsel submitted that the suits are barred by reason of the preclusive provision of section 36 of the Andhra General Sales Tax Act, which, inter alia, is to the effect that no court shall entertain a suit or other providing to set aside, modify or question the validity of the assessment order or decision made under the Act by an officer or authority in respect of any matter falling within its or his scope. It was also contended that the claim for refund is not cognizable by the civil court because the decision to direct a refund can be arrived at only by a process of reassessment or scrutiny of the assessment and this function is clearly outside the jurisdiction of the civil court. How could the court grant the prayer for recovery of the tax unless it be by undertaking a reassessment of the tax and by a determination of the precise amount said to have been illegally levied ? Therefore, counsel urged that quite apart from the bar of jurisdiction enacted by section 36, the suit was beyond the competence of a civil court, inasmuch as the court was necessarily compelled in its inquiry into the merits of the claim, to entrench on the exclusive jurisdiction of the statutory tribunals.

(3.)AT the outset, it may be pointed out that the second aspect of the argument was pressed by counsel apparently on a misapprehension of the turn position. Our attention was invited to paragraph (8) of the judgment of the lower court in O. S. No. 49 of 1963 (A. S. No. 121 of 1965) wherein reference was made to the interrogatories serve on the defendant and the answers thereto, submitted by the latter under exhibit A-5. It is clear from the answers given by the defendant that there was an admission on the part of the defendant that the purchases of copra in respect of which the levy in dispute was made, were proved to have been made from licensed dealers who had admittedly paid tax on their entire turnover. The position, therefore, is that before the sales of copra were effected to each of the plaintiffs in these cases, the vendors paid tax on the coconuts from out of which the copra was extracted. It follows that the single point tax having been paid on the coconuts from out of which copra was extracted, the plaintiffs cannot be denied relief on the ground that a de novo inquiry into facts is necessary to sustain their claim. If the plaintiffs succeed on the question of the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suits, there can be no further controversy as to the admissibility of the claim for refund. This is the effect of the answers to the interrogatories submitted by the defendant. In all these cases the position is stated to be similar, though the answers had not been marked as exhibits in some cases. It is apparently for this reason that in the memoranda of the grounds of appeals in these appeals, no point has been taken relative to the second ground urged by the learned Government Pleader. Our attention was also drawn to the evidence adduced by the plaintiffs in this regard. We hold, therefore, that there is no need for the court to examine the validity of the assessments previously made or to ascertain the refundable sums by any scrutiny of the former assessments. Nothing is required to be done in these suits which pertains to the exclusive domain of the tax tribunals. In support of his main contention, learned Government Pleader urged that the provision under which the assessments had taken place was neither unconstitutional nor ultra vires the competence of the Legislature. His major premise is that the civil court's jurisdiction, if any, is limited only to cases where the levy is disputed on grounds that it was made on foot of an unconstitutional provision or that it was made pursuant to a law which is ultra vires. The instant case is not of the category in regard to which it can be said that there is a saving of the jurisdiction of the courts. If there is an exception to the bar of a civil court's jurisdiction, it is in respect of cases where the law on which levy was based is shown to be ultra vires or unconstitutional. The present case, according to his submission, comes within the ambit of the preclusive provision under section 36. It is not within the exception, which preserves the jurisdiction of civil courts in a limited sphere.

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