Supreme Court: Dealing with the questions relating to interpretation of Section 47-A of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 and the Tamil Nadu Stamp (Prevention of Undervaluation of Instruments) Rules, 1968 as amended from time to time, the bench of UU Lait and Indu Malhotra, JJ has held,
“There is nothing in the scheme of the Act which purports to restrict the exercise of suo motu power under Section 47-A, and confines it to cases where knowledge of any illegality or infirmity in the proceedings undertaken by the subordinate officers must be gathered from sources other than through a pending appeal.”
Under sub-section (1) of Section 47-A of the Act, if there is reason to believe that the market value has not been truly set forth in the Instrument tendered for registration, a reference can be made to the Collector, who (i) after giving the parties reasonable opportunity of being heard; and (ii) after holding an enquiry in such manner as may be prescribed by Rules, has to determine the correct value of the concerned property.
As per Rule 7 of the Rules, after considering the representations in writing and those urged at the time of hearing as well as all the relevant factors and evidence, the Collector must pass an order determining the market value of the concerned property and assess the element of duty payable on the instrument of transfer. Such order is required to be passed “within three months from the date of first notice”.
Here are the issues decided by the Court:
Whether Rule 7 of the Rules prescribing 3 months’ time for the Collector to pass an order determining the market value of the properties and duty payable on the instrument from the first notice, is directory or mandatory?
Explaining why requirement of the passing of order within 3 months from the date of first notice cannot be mandatory, the Court said,
“Form I notice itself must give twenty-one days to the concerned persons to respond. Depending upon their response, their statements would be recorded and/or certain information may be required to be called for, whereafter the Order in Form II is to be issued provisionally determining the market value. The concerned persons are entitled to raise objections in writing and must be afforded hearing. After fulfilling these requirements, the order in terms of Rule 7 can be passed. All these stages may not be completed in three months.”
The Court further explained that Section 47-A by itself does not prescribe any timeline. If the stipulation or fixation of period of three months from the first notice in terms of Rule 6 or from notice in Form II is taken to be mandatory it would lead to a situation of incongruity. The fact that Form II notice had been issued, would mean that on a prima facie view of the record and material, the value stated in the instrument was not the correct value; which in turn would mean that prima facie the Government Coffers were being denied the rightful dues.
“If for any reason the proceedings are not completed within three months and, therefore, must be held to be vitiated, the public interest would suffer, and the persons who were prime facie responsible for suppressing the real value, would stand to gain.”
The Court, hence, held that the amendment of Rule 7 incorporating the period of three months was essentially to guide the public officials to complete the process as early as possible but was not intended to create a right in favour of those who had prime facie conducted themselves prejudicing public interest.
Whether the appellate authority has power under Section 47A of the Act to enhance the market value of the property while deciding the appeal filed by the registrants?
Explaining the scope of appellate authority’s power under Section 47-A, the Court held that while entertaining an appeal, if an obvious illegality is noticed by the revisional authority, it can certainly exercise suo motu power to undo the mistake, or rectify an error committed by the subordinate officer authority, subject to such restrictions as are imposed on the exercise of the power by the statute.
Stating that nothing in the scheme of the Act purports to restrict the exercise of suo motu power under Section 47-A, and confines it to cases where knowledge of any illegality or infirmity in the proceedings undertaken by the subordinate officers must be gathered from sources other than through a pending appeal, the Court said,
“Unless the statute expressly or even by necessary implication restricts the exercise of power, there would be no occasion to read into the power, any other limitations.”
The Court, further, said that it makes no difference as to what was the source of the information or knowledge, so long as the power is exercised within the confines of the limitations or restrictions imposed by the statute, and is in accordance with law. Apart from the restrictions imposed by the statute, none can be read into the exercise of power on the ground as to the nature or source of information.
[Inspector General of Registration, Tamil Nadu v. K. Baskaran, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 509 , decided on 15.06.2020]