A two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court has held that the tax appeals must be filed before the benches allotted to the districts where the dispute arose.
The sole issue before the bench comprising Justices M S Sanklecha and Riyaz I Chagla was that whether the appeals arising under Section 130 of the Customs Act and Section 35G of the Central Excise Act from the orders of the Tribunal at Mumbai, can be presented and heard before the principal seat of the High Court, even when the impugned order of the Tribunal arises out of places which are allotted to the Benches at Nagpur and Goa?
On behalf of the appellant, it was submitted that the preliminary issue is concluded in favour of the Appellants by the decision in the case of Vinar Ispat Ltd. where an identical objection by the Revenue was rejected.
The Respondents objected to the hearing of these appeals by the High Court at Mumbai and prayed for its transfer to the Nagpur and Goa benches of the Bombay High Court.
It was urged that in these appeals the forum conveniens are the respective benches at Nagpur and Goa as not only the dispute/cause of action arise within the area allocated to the respective benches at Nagpur and Goa as assigned by the Appellate Side Rules but even the Officers of the respondents are stationed there to instruct its advocates.
The bench observed that the only issue was procedural i.e. the place where such appeals are to be filed and heard i.e. at the principal seat at Mumbai or at the benches.
It was clarified that the Benches were no less part of the Court and enjoyed the same authority as the Principal seat of the court.
The High Court observed that the decisions cited by the Appellant were all rendered prior to the insertion of Chapter XXIV-A on 27th October, 2014 and thus had no occasion to consider and deal with it. Inasmuch as the aforesaid amendment clearly restricted the filing of tax appeals before the appellate side of the Principal Bench of this Court to only such appeals from orders of the Tribunal which arise out of the specified districts therein.
“In passing we may point out that the number of Excise and Customs Appeals pending before the benches are very small in number then those pending before the principal seat of this Court. In fact, we called for figures of pending Excise, Customs and Service tax appeals from the Registry. As on 17th September 2018 the Registry informs us that the Excise and Customs Appeals pending in Mumbai are a little over 1000; at Aurangabad Bench 22 (this is disputed by Mr. Shah for the Appellant); at Nagpur Bench 36; and at Goa Bench 74. These are official figures and there is no reason not to accept the same merely because it is disputed. Therefore, there is greater likelihood that the dispute raised in these appeals may be resolved earlier at the benches then at the principal seat, if after admission it is kept pending here,” the bench said.To Read the full text of the Judgment CLICK HERE