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Excise duty on beer from stage of fermentation: SC
October, 03rd 2011

The Supreme Court has set aside the ruling of the Allahabad high court and held that manufacturers of beer in the state are liable to pay excise duty from the stage of fermentation and not when beer was fit for human consumption. Mohan Meakin Breweries and other distilleries had challenged the imposition of duty from the stage of fermentation. The high court struck it down, stating that the point at which the liquor was exigible to duty was when it was capable of being consumed by human beings as a beverage. Therefore, the state government appealed to the Supreme Court. The question was at what stage does the beer exigible to duty. The court declared that when the fermentation process is completed, it becomes an alcoholic liquor for human consumption and there is no legal impediment for subjecting beer to excise duty at that stage.

Directors not vicariously liable for crime of company
Though civil law recognizes the principle of vicarious liability of directors of companies, the concept is not acknowledged in criminal law, the Supreme Court stated while allowing the appeal case, M/s Thermax Ltd vs K M Johny. The company was accused of criminal offences and the directors were also named in the complaint case moved by a contracting party due to disputes over the termination of the agreement. The Bombay high court allowed the prosecution to proceed. On appeal, the Supreme Court quashed the complaint and set aside the high court order. The Supreme Court stated that there was no specific allegation against the members of the board of directors or senior executives but they have been roped in for being in the management of the company. The offence of cheating and misappropriation of property could be filed only against the company and not against the persons in such circumstances, the court said. Provisions of the Negotiable Instruments Act and the Industrial Disputes Act cannot be imported into the offences under the Indian Penal Code, the judgment explained.

Tests for lifting veil on company ownership
When two establishments are run by the same family under a common management with common work force and with financial integrity, they are expected to be treated as branches of one establishment for the purposes of the Provident Fund Act, the Supreme Court ruled last week. In this appeal case, M/s L N Gadodia & Sons vs Regional PF Commissioner, the firm argued that the authorities had clubbed two establishments as one and demanded provident fund contribution from both. It argued that they were in separate business enterprises and registered as separate private limited companies. However, the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court accepted the contention of the PF Commissioner that they were not separate entities. It said that the tests in such cases was whether there was unity of ownership, unity of management and control, unity of finance and unity of labour and unity of functional integrity.

Jurisdiction in case of bounced cheques
In a case of bounced cheque, the Delhi high court has ruled that the magistrate in the place where the cheque was drawn and where the drawee bank is situated has jurisdiction to deal with the complaint. The power under the Negotiable Instruments Act is not with the magistrate where the cheque was presented or from where the notice was issued to the offending party, the high court stated in the case, Shree Raj Travels & Tours Ltd vs Destination of the World. Shree Raj issued some 45 cheques drawn on State Bank of India in Mumbai to Destination of the World in New Delhi. When the payee company presented them to ICICI Bank in Delhi, they were dishonoured by bank for want of funds. The Delhi company sent 15 days notice to the Mumbai firm, as required by law before complaining to the magistrate. As the payment was still not made, a complaint was filed before a Delhi magistrate by the Delhi firm against the Mumbai firm and six of its directors. Shree Raj contested the jurisdiction of the Delhi magistrate, arguing that it was Mumbai where the complaint had to be filed as the cheques were drawn on the bank there. Merely because the cheques were presented in Delhi and notice was issued from Delhi did not give the Delhi magistrate jurisdiction. The high court asked the magistrate to return the complaint. It also remarked that due to electronic clearing in recent times, the situation has changed. However, the changed scenario will be taken note of in an appropriate case in future.

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