From Coal PSU appeal to trademark dispute, here're the top court orders

The Orissa High Court has rejected the appeal of public sector Mahanadi Coalfields against the order of the claims commissioner
Leniency for mistakes in IT returns

An assessee who makes a bona fide mistake while filing returns should not face penal action on a “mechanical application” of Section 143(1-A) of the Income Tax Act, the Supreme Court declared in its judgment in Rajasthan Electricity Board vs Dy Commissioner. That provision can be invoked only when it is found on facts that the smaller amount stated in the return was a result of an attempt to evade tax. In this appeal, the board claimed 100 per cent depreciation according to the old rule, while the new rule allowed only 75 per cent. The revenue authorities demanded additional tax in view of the lower figure quoted. The board challenged the demand in the Rajasthan High Court, but it was rejected by a division bench. On appeal, the Supreme Court set aside the high court judgment and quashed the demand. The court stated that it was because of bona fide mistake and oversight that the assessee claimed 100 per cent depreciation, instead of 75 per cent. The burden of proof is on the revenue authorities to show that the assessee attempted to evade tax. It may be discharged by them by establishing facts and circumstances from which a reasonable inference can be drawn that the assessee has, in fact, tried to evade tax. “While interpreting tax law, the consequences and hardship are not looked into but the purpose and object by which taxing statutes have been enacted cannot be lost sight of,” the judgment emphasised.

Coal PSU takes tribals for a ride

The Orissa High Court has rejected the appeal of public sector Mahanadi Coalfields against the order of the claims commissioner, who allowed the claim of certain tribal persons in Sundergarh district for compensation. Their land was taken over for prospecting coal. It was acquired in 1989 but disputes over compensation reached the Supreme Court. It appointed the claims commissioner to resolve the differences. However, the claims allowed by the commissioner were rejected by the government company. The commissioner maintained that the company filed 43 “misconceived and frivolous” civil cases, which “not only caused harassment to the innocent, illiterate tribal persons and oustees/project-affected persons but also prevented them from getting their legitimate dues flowing from the order of the Supreme Court”. Many company petitions were filed with bogus names and it also produced satellite images to prove that the structures of the landowners were raised after the cut-off dates to claim compensation. The high court rejected the evidence as not trustworthy.

Customs tender scrapped as arbitrary

The Delhi High Court set aside the award of a contract by e-tender, observing that there was “complete arbitrariness in the decision-making process”. There was also a violation of various conditions of the tender. In this case, Almighty Techserv vs Directorate of Logistics, the Central Board of Excise and Customs, had floated an e-tender for supply, installation, and maintenance of 74 videoscopes used by custom officers to detect contraband at seaports, air cargo complexes and container depots. When the tender was given to one firm, Almighty moved the high court alleging that though it had quoted the lowest price, the contract was given to a rival bidder. It also alleged that the price sheet of the bidders disappeared from the portal of the authority and reappeared only after the contract had been awarded to the rival. The high court examined the process and found arbitrariness. It clarified that though the judicial review was limited in matters of tender, a constitutional court is duty-bound to intervene when there is substantial public interest involved, or where the transaction is mala fide or there is arbitrariness in the award of contract.

Challenge to London award rejected

The Rajasthan High Court last week dismissed the appeal of Hindustan Zinc, which had challenged the award of the London arbitrators in its dispute with Swiss firm Glencore International. The parties had entered into an agreement providing that arbitration will be governed by the law of England and the venue will be London, and it would follow the Rules of the London Court of International Arbitration. The Indian company invoked the arbitration clause but the award was against Hindustan Zinc. It then invoked the appeal clauses in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act to assail the award. The single judge of the high court rejected the application as not maintainable. The company appealed to the division Bench arguing on the interaction between the Commercial Courts Act and the Arbitration Act. However, the division Bench also dismissed the appeal stating that when Hindustan Zinc invoked arbitration, it averred that the seat of arbitration will be London and therefore the appeal was not maintainable.

Descriptive words have no copyright

In a trademark dispute, the Delhi High Court stated that the rights of a registered owner of the trademark, though exclusive, are subject to various provisions and thus not absolute. The right of the registered owner is not greater than the right of a person using an identical trademark or resembling it in relation to similar goods and services if the other party has been continuously using the mark prior to the registered user. The court reiterated the rules in its order in Peps Industries vs Kurlon. The dispute was over the use of the words “No Turn” on mattresses, indicating that they need not be turned around. The court rejected the plea for an injunction as the words were descriptive and not used as a trademark.

Economic distress plea must be proved

If a firm wants to plead that it accepted an insurance amount under economic distress, it must show with evidence that the payment received by it was not a true settlement but it was foisted on it by the insurance company. The complaint should also be made without delay. The Bombay High Court stated so while dismissing the appeal, Agrocel Industries vs United India Insurance. The insured company was engaged in the manufacturing of pesticides in its Kutch unit. There was heavy rain damaging the chemicals. The company sought the insured amount, but there was a difference of estimate even after the surveyor’s report. The company accepted an amount offered by the insurance company without raising any objection. But later the matter was taken to the arbitration and the award was against it. The tribunal rejected the plea of economic distress. The high court upheld the award as the plea of financial crunch was raised five months after accepting the amount from the insurer.

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