It is well known through series of judgments of the Supreme Court that where there is clear breach of principles of natural justice, availability of alternative remedy would not prevent the High Court from exercising this jurisdiction: Tripura High Court

While quashing the very order of assessment on the ground of inadequate hearing, it is not necessary to examine the legality of the order passed by the Assessing Officer on rectification application as held by the Tripura High Court through the learned bench lead by Justice Akhil Kureshi in the case of ITC Ltd. v. The State of Tripura and Ors. (W.P.(C) No. 340 of 2021)

The brief facts of the case are that the petitioner challenged an order passed by the Superintendent of Taxes, Agartala demanding a sum of Rs.1,18,79,583/- by way of unpaid taxes with interest and penalty for the assessment year 2015-16 under Tripura Value Added Tax Act. The petitioner has also challenged an order rejecting the petitioners’ application for rectification of the assessment order.

Learned counsel for the petitioner contended that the Assessing Officer in the impugned order has compared the dealer’s value with “office value” and that this office value was gathered by the Assessing Officer behind the back of the petitioner and utilized in the order of assessment without sharing it with the petitioner. Counsel further submitted that the Assessing Officer failed to take into account several documents on record and erroneously came to the conclusion. The Assessing Officer failed to exercise the power of rectification provided under section 74 of the TVAT Act though strong grounds were made out by the petitioner. Due to high number of cases of Corona in the country, a request was made for virtual hearing. The Assessing Officer, however, did not grant any such liberty.

On the other hand, the case of the department is that no one was present on behalf of the petitioner before the Assessing Officer in the first half. The Assessing Officer had other commitments in the second half and therefore the hearing could not be conducted on that day. Thereafter, several notices were sent to the petitioner for fresh dates of hearing, however, the representative of the petitioner did not participate. Learned Government Advocate for the respondents submitted that the office value of the goods is nothing but the value indicated in the transportation permits granted to the petitioner for movement of the goods. In view of statutory appeal available, this court should not entertain the writ petition directing against the order of assessment. Learned Government advocate submitted that the rules framed under TVAT Act do not envisage virtual hearing of assessment proceedings. In any case the Assessing Officer has no facility for conducting the same. He had, therefore not accepted the request of the petitioner for virtual hearing. 

After hearing the learned counsel for the respective parties at length, the Hon’ble Court held, “When we are quashing the very order of assessment on the ground of inadequate hearing, it is not necessary to examine the legality of the order passed by the Assessing Officer on rectification application. Resultantly, the order rejecting the petitioner’s application for rectification does not survive. The assessment proceedings are revived and restored to file of the Assessing Officer. Such hearing shall take place through virtual mode. Now that the assessment is set aside, the fresh assessment shall be made after hearing the petitioner. All contentions of the petitioner are kept open.”

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Judgment reviewed by Vandana Ragwani

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