In a concise judgment, a Division Bench of the Patna High Court provided relief to a taxpayer who was made liable under Section 129, CGST Act, 2017 for transporting goods on an expired e-way bill. The High Court held that the proper officer levied penalty without application of mind.
The petitioner was transporting goods without a valid e-way bill. The petitioner argued that since the vehicle broke down it could not travel the State of Bihar before the expiry of the e-way bill. And that the petitioner’s bona fide reason was not considered by the authorities which levied a penalty mechanically. To emphasise the latter point, the petitioner highlighted that the notice and order of penalty were issued on the same date. The proper officer issued a notice to the petitioner on 28.03.2022 and followed it by levying a penalty on the petitioner under Section 129(3) by an order dated 28.03.2022 itself.
The Revenue, on the other hand, argued that the e-way bill was valid only upto 16.03.2022 while the petitioner’s vehicle was intercepted on 23.03.2022 when the goods were still in movement. The State argued that under Section 129, CGST Act, 2017 the petitioner had a window of 8 hours to renew an expired e-way bill and thus was liable to face penalty for transporting goods accompanied by an expired e-way bill.
The Patna High Court took cognizance of the fact that the proper officer had issued the notice and order imposing penalty simultaneously. It also noted that the order passed by the proper officer did not record the presence or hearing of the petitioner prior to passing of the order.
Further, the High Court observed that:
This Court would find that the notice issued under Section 129(1)(a) was nothing more than an empty formality as no time/opportunity has been allowed pursuant to the notice, and immediately, on the same date, penalty has been recorded under Section 129(3). The determination of penalty under Section 129(3) is, therefore, in contravention of the statutory requirement under Section 129 of the Act. The requisite compliance with principles of natural justice, inherent in Section 129(4) has thus been violated. (para 9)
The order imposing penalty was thus held to be unsustainable and was quashed. The High Court noted that the petitioner’s response to the notice should be considered and an opportunity of being heard should be provided as per the statutory mandate.
It is important to highlight that Section 129 mandates the proper officer to not only issue a notice to the taxpayer before imposing a penalty, but also provide an opportunity of being heard to the taxpayer before passing an order imposing penalty. In the impugned case, the Patna High Court clearly endorsed that the issuance of notice should not be a mechanical exercise and providing an opportunity of being heard to the taxpayer cannot be dispensed with. Hopefully, the latter will not be adhered to in a mechanical fashion by the Revenue.
 M/S Sangam Wires v The State of Bihar. Available at https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/ca825b59-583c-4d04-995d-6b0436d311ea-481343.pdf