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Paramount Tea Marketing (SI) Private Limited, Coimbatore v/s Tea Board of India, Represented by its Executive Director, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Department of Commerce, Govt. of India, The Nilgiris

Company & Directors' Information:- PARAMOUNT CORPORATION LIMITED [Active] CIN = U99999MH1999PLC118070

Company & Directors' Information:- P G INDUSTRY LIMITED [Active] CIN = L74899DL1993PLC056421

Company & Directors' Information:- PARAMOUNT LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74120GJ1976PLC002956

Company & Directors' Information:- INDIA E-COMMERCE LIMITED [Active] CIN = L99999MH1968PLC014091

Company & Directors' Information:- R S M TEA COMPANY LIMITED [Amalgamated] CIN = U01132WB2000PLC092591

Company & Directors' Information:- TEA (INDIA) LTD [Active] CIN = U51226WB1992PLC055229

Company & Directors' Information:- L K TEA COMPANY PVT LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15491AS1997PTC005202

Company & Directors' Information:- S H COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51109WB2008PTC121420

Company & Directors' Information:- A. M. COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51909WB2011PTC168744

Company & Directors' Information:- M K TEA PVT LTD [Active] CIN = U01132WB1990PTC048457

Company & Directors' Information:- K N TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15491AS2002PTC006903

Company & Directors' Information:- PARAMOUNT TEA MARKETING PVT LTD [Active] CIN = U51226WB1987PTC042352

Company & Directors' Information:- R D TEA LTD [Active] CIN = U19202WB1973PLC028737

Company & Directors' Information:- G S E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U52100KA2013PTC067567

Company & Directors' Information:- J V S TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01132TZ1999PTC009045

Company & Directors' Information:- V K COMMERCE PVT LTD [Amalgamated] CIN = U51109WB1984PTC037122

Company & Directors' Information:- THE INDIA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74999TN1919PTC000911

Company & Directors' Information:- P. R. COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51909WB2008PTC122333

Company & Directors' Information:- G B TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51109UP1997PTC021697

Company & Directors' Information:- M & P E. COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74300DL1999PTC099198

Company & Directors' Information:- D D TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01132WB1999PTC090113

Company & Directors' Information:- R S COMMERCE PVT LTD [Converted to LLP] CIN = U51909WB1995PTC074372

Company & Directors' Information:- S B TEA PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15549DL1995PTC070054

Company & Directors' Information:- P S COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51909WB1997PTC084487

Company & Directors' Information:- TEA MARKETING CO OF INDIA LTD [Active] CIN = U01133WB1944PLC011666

Company & Directors' Information:- J C TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U15491WB1998PTC088102

Company & Directors' Information:- T S R I COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U65910TG1999PTC032173

Company & Directors' Information:- AND E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74120AP2015PTC096206

Company & Directors' Information:- PARAMOUNT MARKETING PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U74140KA1989PTC010598

Company & Directors' Information:- K C TEA CO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01132WB1999PTC089821

Company & Directors' Information:- R V TEA CO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U15500WB2011PTC169754

Company & Directors' Information:- A M TEA LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = L15491WB1996PLC081663

Company & Directors' Information:- INDIA CORPORATION PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U65990MH1941PTC003461

Company & Directors' Information:- R S TEA PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01132PB1997PTC020323

Company & Directors' Information:- D B S COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U52190MH2009PTC190773

Company & Directors' Information:- J B M R INDUSTRY PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U29100HR2020PTC091452

Company & Directors' Information:- P K TEA PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U51226WB1978PTC031643

Company & Directors' Information:- A P COMMERCE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U51909WB1981PLC033798

Company & Directors' Information:- B. G. E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U52500UP2021PTC157159

Company & Directors' Information:- K P INDIA COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U51909AS2001PTC006701

Company & Directors' Information:- K S TEA COMPANY PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01132PB1999PTC022220

Company & Directors' Information:- Y S E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U72200MH2000PTC126344

Company & Directors' Information:- TEA INDIA PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U15491WB1959PTC024311

Company & Directors' Information:- S K TEA COMPANY PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U67120WB1985PTC038815

Company & Directors' Information:- B AND D E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U74999HP2015PTC000945

Company & Directors' Information:- I P E-COMMERCE PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U52399CH2012PTC033585

Company & Directors' Information:- PARAMOUNT (INDIA) PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74999MH1940PTC003215

    W.P. No. 30115 of 2019 & W.M.P. Nos. 30072, 30074 & 30078 of 2019

    Decided On, 24 October 2019

    At, High Court of Judicature at Madras


    For the Petitioner: P.S. Raman, Senior Counsel, Anirudh Krishnan, Advocates. For the Respondent: Ravikumar Paul, Senior Counsel assisted by D. Muthukumar for M/s. Paul & Paul, Advocates.

Judgment Text

(Prayer: Writ Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India praying to issue a Writ of Certiorarified Mandamus, calling for the records pertaining to the impugned order bearing No.Ref.No.6(355)/TMCO/CNR/12/2300 dated 18.10.2019 issued by the Respondent and quashing the same and consequently directing the Respondent to permit the Petitioner to participate in the auction dated 22.10.2019 by re-activating the broker code of the Petitioner in e-auction portal of the Respondent hosted at www.teaauction.gov.in.)

1. Heard Mr. P.S. Raman, Learned Senior Counsel assisted by Mr. Anirudh Krishnan, Learned Counsel appearing for the Petitioner, Mr. Ravikumar Paul, Learned Senior Counsel assisted by Mr. D. Muthukumar, Learned Counsel appearing for the Respondent and perused the materials placed on record, apart from the pleadings of the parties.

2. The Petitioner, who is a tea broker empaneled by the Respondent, has filed this Writ Petition challenging the order Ref. No. 6(355)/ TMCO/CNR/12/2300 dated 18.10.2019 passed by the Respondent suspending the licence of the Petitioner and for consequential direction to the Respondent to permit the Petitioner to participate in the auction dated 22.10.2019 by re-activating the broker code of the Petitioner in e-auction portal of the Respondent hosted at www.teaauction.gov.in.

3. Learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Petitioner contends that inasmuch as hearing of the matter in the proceedings had taken place on 04.07.2019 before Mr. C.S. Hari Prakash D.D.T.D. and E.D. (i/c) of the Respondent, who had reserved the orders, but the impugned order bearing Ref. No. 6(355)/TMCO/CNR/12/2300 dated 18.10.2019 suspending the licence of the Petitioner has been passed by the present incumbent of that post, viz., Mr. M. Balaji, the same is vitiated. In support of the said contention, reliance is placed on the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Gullapalli Nageswara Rao -vs- Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (AIR 1959 SC 308). It is further highlighted by him that the primary liability for failure to follow the specifications/guidelines on the standard of the quality of tea to be maintained is on the manufacturer and that the Petitioner, who is only a ‘broker’ cannot be saddled with such responsibility.

4. Learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Respondent, while justifying the impugned order, contends that the order of suspension of licence has been inflicted on the Petitioner for having failed to perform the obligations to ensure the specifications/guidelines and in particular, Rule 22 of the PAN India Auction Rules and that the grant of personal hearing is not compulsory, especially when the notes made by the officer, who heard the matter, was available in the file for the officer, who has passed the order.

5. Before proceeding further it would be necessary to refer to Rule 19 of the Tea (Marketing) Control Order, 1984, under which the order of suspension of licence of the Petitioner, has been passed by the Respondent, and the same reads as follows:-

“Cancellation/Suspension of a Licence:- (1) The Licensing Authority may, after giving a licensee (organiser of tea auction/broker) an opportunity of being heard, cancel or suspend a licence on any one or more of the following grounds, namely :-

(a) Closure of business by the broker;

(b) Willful refusal to conduct any auction sale by the organiser of auction;

(c) Misrepresentation of any material fact by the applicant at the time of obtaining licence or subsequently;

(d) Violation by the Licensee of any of the provisions of the Act or of this Order;

(e) Failure to carry out the direction of Licensing Authority with respect to the rules for conduct of auction within the period as specified by the Licensing Authority;

(f) Failure to carry out the direction of Licensing Authority with respect to the rules and regulations of the auction organiser in relation to its membership, composition of governing body, election of members of governing body, voting procedure and voting rights of the members, financial and administrative matters etc.;

(g) If the Licensing Authority has reason to believe that the building or equipment or manner of operation of any brokering firm is not of the standard conforming to the guidelines/norms stipulated by the Licensing Authority.

(2) Every Order suspending/cancelling a licence shall be in writing and shall specify the reasons for such suspension/cancellation and shall be communicated to the licensee forthwith or within seven working days of the passing of such Order.”

It is evident on a bare perusal of the said Rule that an opportunity of being heard, has been expressly provided and as such, the contention on behalf of the Respondent that personal hearing was not compulsory, cannot be accepted.

6. Having regard to the rival contentions of the parties, the question as to whether the Petitioner as ‘broker’ has performed the obligations for ensuring the Tea offered for sale through e-auction has met the specifications/guidelines prescribed, is undoubtedly a factual dispute. The opportunity of the personal hearing afforded to the Petitioner is to enable the Petitioner to establish its contentions before the decision making authority so as to facilitate that authority to have subjective satisfaction on the culpability or otherwise of the charges of the violations of the specifications/guidelines made against the Petitioner before taking any final decision entailing adverse civil consequence to the Petitioner. Such a mandatory obligation cast upon the Respondent, in order to be meaningful, has to be judiciously exercised in a pragmatic manner and cannot be treated as an empty formality rendering the statutory requirement nugatory defeating the avowed object of the principles of natural justice, in which the opportunity of prior hearing is a recognized facet, that it has to be ensured that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done. It has been held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Gullapalli Nageswara Rao -vs- Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (AIR 1959 SC 308), cited by the Learned Senior Counsel for the Petitioner, as follows:-

“The second objection is that while the Act and the’ Rules framed thereunder impose a duty on the State Government to give a personal hearing, the procedure prescribed by the Rules impose a duty on the Secretary to hear and the Chief Minister to decide. This divided responsibility is destructive of the concept of judicial hearing. Such a procedure defeats the object of personal hearing. Personal hearing enables the authority concerned to watch the demeanour of the witnesses and clear-up his doubts during the course of the arguments, and the party- appearing to persuade the authority by reasoned argument to accept his point of view. If one person hears and another decides, then personal hearing becomes an empty formality. We therefore hold that the said procedure followed in this case also offends another basic principle of judicial procedure.”

In the light of this unassailable legal position, coupled with the aforesaid reasons, it is not possible to sustain the impugned order and consequently, the same is set aside and the matter is remitted to the Respondent to be decided afresh following the relevant statutory provisions.

7. In order to expedite the proceedings, Learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Petitioner as well as the Respond

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ent, on instructions from the respective parties, agree for conducting the enquiry at 11.30 a.m. on 01.11.2019 before the Respondent to provide opportunity of personal hearing to the Petitioner or its authorized representative, without awaiting issuance of any formal notice for the same and the said submissions made are placed on record. 8. The Respondent, after affording full opportunity of hearing to the Petitioner, shall consider each of the contentions raised, and shall pass reasoned orders on merits in accordance with law, uninfluenced and uninhibited by the impugned order, which has been set aside, and shall communicate the decision taken to the Petitioner under written acknowledgment. 9. The Writ Petition is allowed on the aforesaid terms. Consequently, the connected Miscellaneous Petitions are closed. No costs.