Case Law: Commissioner of Customs vs. Dilip Kumar (Supreme Court) (Constitution Bench)

Entire law on interpretation of statues relating to ‘purposive interpretation’, ‘strict interpretation’, ‘literal interpretation’, etc explained. Difference in interpretation of statutes vs. exemption notifications explained. Q whether there is doubt or ambiguity in interpretation of a statute or notification benefit of doubt should go to the taxpayer or to the revenue explained. Law on Doctrine of substantial compliance and “intended use” also explained

Literally exemption is freedom from liability, tax or duty. Fiscally, it may assume varying shapes, specially, in a growing economy. For instance tax holiday to new units, concessional rate of tax to goods or persons for limited period or with the specific objective etc. That is why its construction, unlike charging provision, has to be tested on different touchstone. In fact, an exemption provision is like an exception and on normal principle of construction or interpretation of statutes it is construed strictly either because of legislative intention or on economic justification of inequitable burden or progressive approach of fiscal provisions intended to augment State revenue. But once exception or exemption becomes applicable no rule or principles requires it to be construed strictly. Truly speaking liberal and strict construction of an exemption provision are to be invoked at different stages of interpreting it. When the question is whether a subject falls in the notification or in the exemption clause then it being in nature of exception is to be construed strictly and against the subject, but once ambiguity or doubt about applicability is lifted and the subject falls in the notification then full play should be given to it and it calls for a wider and liberal construction

Commissioner of Customs vs. Dilip Kumar (Supreme Court) (Constitution Bench)


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