SC: Statute Is a Living Organ
10 August, 2006
The Supreme Court has held that procedural laws should be construed to be ongoing statutes like the Constitution of India which is a living organ.
The ruling was handed down by the apex court while trying to respond to the changed scenario in the field of information technology while allowing partly the appeal filed by the Punjab government against the impugned Punjab and Haryana high court judgment dated October 21,2003 imposing a cost of Rs. 2500 each on the officers of the sales tax department of the state of Punjab directing that the cost would be recovered from each member of the raiding party individually and would not be borne by the state.
The cost was imposed on the raiding party who had seized hard discs of M/s Amritsar Beverages Ltd. containing cash book ledger registers and books of accounts.
The documents are to be returned to the concerned party within 60 days under section 14 of the Punjab General Sales Act,1948 which the officers could not do as the respondent company was no co-operating.
A bench comprising Justices S.B. Sinha and Dalveer Bhandari blamed the delay on the lack of expertise on the part of the department officials in respect of modern information technology.
The court in its judgment dated August 8 set aside the directions of the high court directing that the cost would be paid by the officers from their own pockets.
The apex court in its judgment noted ,"Creative interpretation had been resorted to by the court so as to achieve a balance between the age old and rigid laws on the one hand and the advanced technology, on the other. The judiciary always responds to the need of the changing scenario in regard to development of technologies. It uses its own interpretative principles to achieve a balance when Parliament has not responded to the need to amend the statute having regard to the developments in the field of science. Internet and other information technologies brought with them the issues which were not foreseen by law as for example problem in determining statutory liabilities. It also did not foresee the difficulties which may be faced by the officers who may not have any scientific expertise or did not have the sufficient insight to tackle with the new situation. Various new developments leading to various different types of crimes unforeseen by our legislatures come to immediate focus. Information Technology Act 2000 although was amended to include various kinds of cyber crimes and the punishment therefore, does not deal with all the problems which are faced by the officers enforcing the said Act."
The court while partly allowing the appeal noted, "The high court failed to notice that as problem arose for the first time , the officers of the sales tax department might not have been able to formulate or lay down their own procedure as indicated hereinbefore or otherwise. The problem in our opinion, should be dealt with keeping in view the fact that the procedural laws should be construed to be ongoing statutes similar to the Constitution and thus , creative interpretation according to the circumstances is permitted. The court in view of development of science has to meet and contend with challenges as intermediary between the litigant and the court."
The court further said that since copy was required to be made from the hard disc which was not only to be signed by the officer but was by the respondents also and a literal compliance of the said provision in case of a hard disc was impossible as the respondents were not cooperating. The officers of the Sales Tax Department have already returned the hard discs to the respondents and the portion of judgment imposing personal costs on the officers is set aside.