The Gauhati High Court (“HC”) vide its judgement dated August 12, 2021, in the matter of M/s Jyothy Labs Ltd. has decisively answered question regarding eligibility of concerned taxpayers to requisition fixation of special rate of refund in respect of manufactured goods in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s VVF judgement.
The petitioner M/s Jyothy Labs Ltd. had established a manufacturing unit within the Northeastern Region. As per the Northeastern Industrial Policy, the petitioner was earlier entitled to an exemption to excise duty vide the Original Notification (Notification No.32/99-CE dated 18.07.1999) which was later curtailed by the Subsequent Notification (notification No. 31/2008-CE dated 10.06.2008) thereby diminishing the refund entitlement while allowing the assesses to have a special rate fixed depending on value addition in each case. The Subsequent Notification was thereafter challenged by the petitioner, resulting into a High Court order in its favor.
To denote finality, the Hon’ble Supreme Court (“SC”) vide its common order dated 22.04.2020 in VVF Ltd (“VVF”) upheld the constitutional validity of the Subsequent Notifications based on public interest and revenue interest. The SC inter alia held that pending refund applications for related cases are to be decided as per the Subsequent Notifications.
In the aforesaid background, the petitioner in the current case had to finetune its refund entitlements in line with the Subsequent Notification. It is the petitioner’s case that under the Subsequent Notifications, the manufacturer is given the option to apply to the jurisdictional Commissioner of Central Excise for fixation of a special rate representing the actual value addition in respect of eligible goods manufactured. Also, the time provided for filing such application for fixing of the special rate is provided thereunder as 30th September of that given financial year, but the petitioners argued that due to the unsettled legal position, they were unable to request for a special rate of refund and hence should presently not be barred considering inadvertent circumstances.
Therefore, post the VVF Judgement, the petitioner submitted an application on 18.05.2020 before the Commissioner of Central Excise and GST, Guwahati making a request for fixation of a special rate. As the applications of the petitioner were not entertained and the department invoked the attachment of some properties of the petitioner, the petitioner approached the Gauhati HC by way of a Writ Petition. The petitioner contended that the requirement of requesting for fixation of a special rate in respect of the value addition to the manufactured goods had arisen only after the VVF judgment of the Supreme Court and that the dominant purpose of the Subsequent Notification was intended to bestow a legal right on the assessee to opt for special rate.
The central issues that came before the Gauhati HC were:
1. Whether under the Subsequent Notification, the manufacturers have an option to not avail the rates contained in the notifications and whether they have a legal right to request the authorities for fixation of a special rate as per the actual value additions to the manufactured goods?
2. Whether such applications requesting for fixation of a special rate are to be made within 30th September of the given financial year as prescribed under the Subsequent Notification, and hence are now time barred?
The HC took note that once the occasion had again arisen for the petitioner to seek for fixation of a special rate, the application for such request was made immediately. It was therefore held that the petitioner cannot be prevented from claiming its legal right for fixation of a special rate as the timeline provisions were merely incorporated to streamline the process.
The HC also observed that even if there would have been an earlier determination of such special rate, the same would have remained ineffective and un-implementable till SC had finally decided the issue and further the relevance of such determination would again be dependent on the outcome of the appeal that was pending before SC.
Further, the HC noted that the respondent GST Department did not raise any apprehensions on the ground that such applications had to be submitted prior to 30th September of the given financial year. Thus, the HC stated that on the principle of constructive res-judicata, the ground for rejecting such application because it was not submitted within prescribed timeline was not available to the respondent authorities. The HC thus directed the Principal Commissioner, GST, Guwahati to consider the application of the petitioner seeking for fixation of a special rate of refund based on the actual value addition to the manufactured goods during the given financial year and decide the same as per law and on merits.
While the VVF judgment directed the revenue department to dispose pending refund applications as per the Subsequent Notifications, it is critical to note that the applications seeking fixation of special rate for many affected assessees were not pending in cases where the assessees had not filed the said applications.
In this situation, the Gauhati HC judgement is a welcome step reinforcing the right of the assessees to claim special rate of excise refund based on actual value addition. It shall be highly beneficial for not just North-Eastern assessees but affected stakeholders in other regions as well (Kutch and Jammu) where the applications for fixation of special rate of refund may be preferred. It is imperative that the impacted assessees move swiftly to file application with the jurisdictional authorities within a reasonable time to avail the legally upheld benefit of special rate of refund for their manufactured goods.
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