Assessing Officer-IV a part of the inspection team? Calcutta High Court remands matter for re-evaluation under Electricity Act, 2003

calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a writ petition questioning the sustainability of the appellate authority’s order passed under Section 127 of the Electricity Act, 2003 and seeking rescission and cancellation of the provisional and final assessments, a single-judge bench comprising of Partha Sarathi Chatterjee,* J., noted the necessity of reasoned orders and requirement of the assessing officer’s presence during inspection. The Court set aside the appellate authority’s order and remanded the case back to reevaluate specific issues regarding the assessment’s validity within six weeks after affording the petitioner an opportunity to be heard.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioner operated a Dal Mill at a specified location and obtained electricity from the respondent, Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC). Following an inspection by a CESC team on 11-03-2004, the assessing officer provisionally assessed the electricity charges at Rs. 3,83,790, alleging unauthorized use of electricity and disconnected and the electricity supply to the mill.

The petitioner challenged this provisional assessment through a writ petition (W.P. no. 4423 (W) of 2004), resulting in an order directing removal of the meters for examination, payment of certain amounts, and restoration of electricity. A subsequent inspection by the Bengal Engineering College found tampering with meter seals. The petitioner filed several writ petitions challenging assessments and FIRs against them under the Electricity Act, 2003. The petitioner filed another writ petition (WP no. 6214 (W) of 2005) seeking to quash the provisional assessment and associated legal actions, but the Court dismissed the writ petition and concluded that the final assessment was appealable.

Subsequently, another writ petition (WP no. 26519 (W) of 2006) led to a directive for final assessment with proper hearing, resulting in the final assessment order by the assessing officer on 23-02-2007. The petitioner appealed this final assessment, which was disposed of by the appellate authority 14-03-2007. The petitioner brought forth the present writ petition challenging the sustainability of order dated 14-03-2007, passed by the appellate authority and sought to rescind, cancel, and prevent the enforcement of the provisional assessment, final assessment, and the appellate authority’s order.

Moot Point

  1. Whether the assessing officer part of the inspection team?

  2. If the assessing officer was not part of the team, whether the assessments made by them are valid according to the precedent set in W.B. State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd. v. Jadavpur Tea Co. Ltd., 2011 SCC OnLine Cal 208?

Parties’ Contentions

The petitioner argued that the assessment was invalid as the inspection violated statutory norms by occurring at 2:00 A.M. without prior notice. The petitioner also argued that since the assessing officer wasn’t part of the inspection team, the subsequent assessments are invalid. The petitioner relied on several precedents including Jadavpur Tea Co. Ltd. (Supra), to support their argument. The respondent argued that the legality of the inspection was previously settled and not appealed, hence binding. The respondent further argued that the assessing officer’s absence from the inspection team doesn’t invalidate the assessments as the same was not necessary.

Court’s Assessment

The Court noted that a previous order had addressed the inspection issue, which had not been appealed and was thus binding. The Court noted that the petitioner raised crucial issues, the assessing officer’s presence during inspections, before the appellate authority, and the same was not addressed adequately. The Court acknowledged the necessity for reasoning and decision-making, especially when subject to appeal.

Citing Jadavpur Tea Co. Ltd. (Supra), the Court observed that “the assessing officer must be a person who was actually a member of the inspection team at the time of detecting pilferage or unauthorized use of electricity so that he can pass the order of assessment not on the basis of the papers placed before him but after actually visiting the site at the time of detection of illegality.” The Court held that the assessing officer must be part of the inspection team for valid assessments.

Court’s Decision

The Court set aside the appellate authority’s order and remanded the matter to the appellate authority for further consideration on specific issues, i.e.,

  1. Whether the Assessing Officer-IV was part of the inspection team?

  2. If not, provisional and final assessments made by the Assessing Officer-IV shall be valid in view of Jadavpur Tea Co. Ltd. (Supra)?

The Court directed the appellate authority to decide within six weeks, limiting the issues framed in the order. The writ petition was disposed of with the above directions.

[Umashankar Gupta v. CESC Ltd., 2024 SCC OnLine Cal 1522, order dated 13-02-2024]

*Judgment by Justice Partha Sarathi Chatterjee

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. S.S. Sarkar, Mr. Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Ms. Tanusri Chandra, Ms. Anindita Banerjee, Mr. Palash Kanti Chakraborty and Ms. Debopriya Chakraborty, Counsel for the Petitioner

Mr. Debanjan Mukherjee and Mr. Aziz Amin, Counsel for the CESE

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