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Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd vs. ITAT (Bombay High Court)
October, 29th 2013

Tribunal has no power to dismiss appeal for non-appearance of appellant. It has to deal with the merits. An application for recall of an ex-parte dismissal order is under s. 254(2) & must be filed within 4 years from the date of the order. The Tribunal must permit “mentioning” of matters

The assessee’s appeal was fixed for hearing before the Tribunal on 4.12.2007. As nobody appeared for the assessee, the Tribunal dismissed the appeal for want of prosecution. The assessee filed a Miscellaneous Application before the Tribunal on 6.8.2012 seeking to recall the exparte order. The Tribunal dismissed the MA on the ground that the application for recall had been filed beyond a period of 4 years from the date of the ex-parte order. The assessee filed a Writ Petition contending that (a) the Tribunal had no power under Rule 24 to dismiss an appeal for want of prosecution, (ii) an application for recall of an ex-parte order does not fall u/s 254(2) and the time limit of 4 years does not apply to it. It was also contended that the Tribunal ought to allow the system of “mentioning” matters as is done in the High Court. HELD by the High Court dismissing the Petition.

(i) It is a little strange that the Tribunal does not permit the practice of mentioning matters at any time of the day. If it had done so, the exercise of filing an application for recall may not have been necessary. The ultimate object of the Tribunal is to decide a dispute between the revenue and assessee in accordance with law to ensure that justice is done. In the aid of ensuring that justice is done, the Tribunal cannot as a matter of practice bar any Advocates/representative from mentioning their matters before the Tribunal. If indeed this is so, the Tribunal must do away with such a practice. The mentioning of matters should be allowed by the Tribunal. It is of course in the Tribunal’s discretion to allow the request made by the parties while mentioning but prohibiting mentioning of matters before a Court/Tribunal is a likely recipe for injustice. We request the Tribunal to henceforth do away with such a practice and allow mentioning of matters;

(ii) Under Rule 24, the Tribunal has no power to dismiss an appeal for non-appearance of the assessee. It has to decide the appeal on merits. The dismissal order is consequently erroneous and the assessee is entitled to have the order set aside (S. Chenniappa Mudaliar 74 ITR 41 (SC) followed; Chemipol (244) ELT 497 (Bom) distinguished);

(iii) However, because dismissing an appeal for non-prosecution in the face of Rule 24 is an error apparent on the face of the record, an application to set right the error of dismissal for non-prosecution is an application u/s 254(2) and not under s. 254(1). Where Parliament has provided a specific provision to deal with a particular situation, it is not open to ignore the same and apply some other provision. Such an application has to be filed within a period of 4 years from the date of the order;

(iv) Though the Proviso to Rule 24 empowers the Tribunal to recall an ex-parte order without specifying any period of limitation, this applies only where the appeal is decided ex-parte on merits. Where the appeal is dismissed ex-parte for non-prosecution, it is a case of an erroneous order which only be rectified u/s 254(2). Also an order passed in breach of Rule 24 is an irregular order but not a void order. Assuming the said order is a void order, yet it continues to be binding till it is set aside by a competent authority (Sultan Sadik v/s. Sanjay Raj Subba 2004 (2) SCC 277 followed)

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