Unless it expresses a clear or manifest intention to the contrary, the rule of law cannot be construed as retrospective: Supreme Court

A rule or statute cannot be read as retrospective unless it shows a clear or manifest purpose to do so, the Supreme Court stated in the matter of Assistant Excise Commissioner, Kottayam Vs Esthappan Cherian LL 2021 SC 419.

Delegated legislation in the shape of rules or regulations cannot function retrospectively in the absence of specific statutory authorisation, according to the bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat.

In this case, the High Court of Kerala decided that the revised Rule 13 of the Abkari Shops Departmental Management Rules, 1972, is inapplicable to contracts awarded or entered into before the change took effect, citing an earlier decision in Lucka v State of Kerala. The Departmental Management fee obtained from a shop when it was under Departmental Management due to nonpayment of security, kist, excise duty, and other fees was subject to confiscation, according to the rule. A liquor licensee’s writ petition disputing a demand for a particular amount towards the balance sought to be recovered after a country liquor licence was terminated granted by the High Court.

The Apex Court bench noted in its appeal that there is no indication that Rule 13 was applied retroactively and that retrospectively cannot be assumed until the new rule or amendment expressly states so, the Court was in the view that

“There is profusion of judicial authority on the proposition that a rule or law cannot be construed as retrospective unless it expresses a clear or manifest intention, to the contrary. In Commissioner of Income Tax v Vatika Township4 this court, speaking through a Constitution Bench, observed as follows:

….The idea behind the rule is that a current law should govern current activities. Law passed today cannot apply to the events of the past. If we do something today, we do it keeping in view the law of today and in force and not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it…”

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