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Tax-payer cannot be burdened with govt employees' salary, says SC
May, 01st 2007

Excise department posts its staff at distilleries to ensure that denatured spirit is properly prepared in strict adherence to prescribed procedure and to stop its pilferage. For this, should a distillery owner be asked to meet part of excise department employees' salary?

Answering the question with a loud and clear 'no', the Supreme Court went on to allow a Jammu and Kashmir distiller to recover the amount it had paid to the state excise department in the past on this account.

The logic behind the apex court's verdict appeared to be the fact that the government renders various services like policing, sanitation and health and a tax- payer cannot be asked to meet part of the salaries of the personnel providing these services.

Defending the demand for money from the distillery owner, the state argued before a Bench comprising Justices H K Sema and V S Sirpurkar that the government was rendering services to the distiller by deputing excise staff to supervise the manufacturing and utilisation of denatured spirit, which was also in the interest of manufacturer.

Justice Sema, writing the judgment for the Bench, said imposition of charge for administrative services was a tax and not a fee, which could not be demanded unless a law was enacted empowering the department to do so.

"Imposition of tax or fee on citizens for services that the state renders to itself and not to the tax-payers is clearly impermissible, arbitrary and unjustifiable," it said. Setting aside the orders of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the Bench ordered the excise department to refund the amount collected in the past from the distiller, Gupta Modern Breweries.

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