SC: Imposition of extreme penalty u/s 40(1)(b), Indian Stamp Act can’t be based on mere factum of evasion of duty

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on  17th September 2020, in the matter of Trustees of H.C. Dhanda Trust v. State Of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. pronounced that imposition of extreme penalty u/s 40(1)(b) of Indian Stamp Act cannot be based on the mere factum of evasion of duty. The reason such as fraud or deceit in order to deprive the Revenue or undue enrichment are relevant factors to arrive at a decision as to what should be the extent of penalty.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

According to Section 40(1)(b) if the Collector is of opinion that such instrument is chargeable with duty and is not duly stamped, he shall require the payment of the of the proper duty or the amount required to make up the same, together with a penalty of the five rupees; or, if he thinks fit, an amount not exceeding ten times the amount of the proper duty or of the deficient portion thereof. The statutory scheme of Section 40(1)(b) as noticed above indicates that when the Collector is satisfied that instrument is not duly stamped, he shall require the payment of proper duty together with a penalty of the five rupees. (Para 16)

The amount of penalty thus can be an amount not exceeding ten times. The expression “an amount not exceeding ten times” is preceded by expression “if he thinks fit”. The statutory scheme, thus, vest the discretion to the Collector to impose the penalty amount not exceeding ten times. Whenever statute transfers discretion to an authority the discretion is to be exercised in furtherance of objects of the enactment. The discretion is to be exercised not on whims or fancies rather the discretion is to be exercised on rational basis in a fair manner. The amount of penalty not exceeding ten times is not an amount to be imposed as a matter of force. Neither imposition of penalty of ten times under Section 40(1) (b) is automatic nor can be mechanically imposed. (Para 17)

The legislative intent which is clear from reading of Sections 33,35,38 and 39 indicates that with respect to the instrument not duly stamped, ten times penalty is not always retained and power can be exercised under Section 39 to reduce penalty in regard to that there is a statutory discretion in Collector to refund penalty. (Para 19)

The purpose of penalty generally is a deterrence and not retribution. When a discretion is given to a public authority, such public authority should exercise such discretion reasonably and not in oppressive manner. The responsibility to exercise the discretion in reasonable manner lies more in cases where discretion vested by the statute is unfettered. Imposition of the extreme penalty i.e. ten times of the duty or deficient portion thereof cannot be based on the mere factum of evasion of duty. The reason such as fraud or deceit in order to deprive the Revenue or undue enrichment are relevant factors to arrive at a decision as to what should be the extent of penalty under Section 40(1)(b). (Para 21)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_17-Sep-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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