1. The appeal is against order dated 13-9-2011 of Commissioner (Appeals-I), Indore. The appellants, an autonomous institute fully funded by the Government of India, are engaged in, mainly, management education. They also conducted various conferences, seminars and workshops to discuss various important subject matters in various fields and topics. Considering these activities liable to service tax under the category of convention services in terms of Section 65(32) read with Section 65(105)(zc) of the Finance Act, 1994, proceedings were initiated against the appellant to demand and recover service tax for the period 1-4-2005 to 24-2-2009. The Original Authority dropped the proceedings against the appellant holding that the appellants are not liable to service tax. Thus, for the period 2004-05 to 2005-06, the tax liability held was not tenable as the appellants cannot be considered as 'commercial concern'. For the remaining period, it was held that the appellants are not holding any 'convention' as defined under Section 65(32) of the Act. On appeal by the Revenue, the Commissioner (Appeals) vide the impugned order set aside the original order and held that the appellants are liable to service tax of Rs. 2,37,813/-. He also imposed penalty under Sections 76 and 77 of the Act. Being aggrieved, assessee-appellant have filed the present appeal.
2. With this background, ld. Counsel for the appellant submitted that the appellant is one of the premier Management Institute of India. They are conducting various conferences, seminars and these are open to general public. The activities of conducting such conferences cannot be taxed under 'convention services' as per the statutory definition. He also contested the demand on limitation as no allegation of suppression, fraud can be sustained against the Institute. He prayed for setting aside the impugned order. He accepts that no penalty was imposed under Section 78 holding that there is no mens rea on the part of the appellant.
3. On the other hand, ld. AR for the Department has submitted that the appellants were providing taxable services. These aspects have been examined in detail in the impugned order. He supported the findings of the impugned order.
4. After hearing both the sides and upon perusal of the appeal records, we note that on merit, the issue is whether or not the appellant provided convention services liable to service tax. Section 65(32) of the Act defined "Convention" - "convention" means a formal meeting or assembly which is not open to the general public, but does not include a meeting or assembly, the principal purpose of which is to provide any type of amusement, entertainment or recreation". The dispute narrows down as to whether the conferences and seminars organized by the appellant for which they received considerations from the participants are open to the general public. We note that even the Original Authority recorded that these conferences and seminars are open to scholars and students from various academic institutions including delegates from industries with whom the appellant has to interact closely and continuously. The Original Authority proceeded to record that all individuals and groups connected with field of specialization are amongst the public and hence, the activities go outside the scope of "convention service". We note such assertion by original authority has been rejected in the impugned order. The Commissioner (Appeals) examined the various accepted/dictionary meaning of the terms "general public" and thereafter, arrived at the findings with reference to the scope of activities undertaken by the appellant. He also quoted, illustratively, the scope of certain conferences organized by the appellant. Admittedly, any person of a specialized group is also a part of general public for other purpose. In a general way, all persons, in given situation, are part of "general public". However, when a person takes part in a activity with reference to his expertise, skill, etc. he is no more a part of general public and becomes a part of a select group or recognized group of public with certain common basis. In these aspects, we are not in agreement with the plea of the appellant that the conferences, seminars and workshops organized by the appellant are meant for or open to general public. The analysis and reasoning in the impugned order is more close to the statutory definition for the tax entry. As such, on merit, we are in agreement with the impugned order. The appellants contested the demand on limitation. In this connection, we note that the impugned order itself while examining th
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e liability of the appellant for penalty under Section 78, held that there is no mens rea behind the non-payment of service tax on the part of the appellant. That being so, we find that the ingredients for invoking extended period for demand is absent in the present case. Accordingly, while upholding the merit of the tax liability, we hold that the said liability should be restricted to normal period of limitation. The penalty imposed on the appellants are set aside. The appeal is partly allowed on the above terms.