Gold Control measures: India
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The Srilal Goenka case
For three generations, many rich Mumbai families fought against the revenue department’s 1966 decision to seize undeclared family gold, succeeded in getting a stay from the Supreme Court in 1973 and after 52 years, the grandchildren of the original petitioners got relief from the SC.
It all began with the petitioners’ failure to avail the amnesty scheme under which they were entitled to declare their gold stock till May 31, 1966, and invest them in gold bonds to escape penalty under the Defence of India Rules. Chiranjilal Srilal Goenka, resident of Goenka House in Mumbai’s Walkeshwar Road, pleaded with the revenue department that he could not do so as by that time his gold was seized by the department. The authorities fined him Rs 25,000 on January 3, 1970, while allowing him to buy gold bonds from State Bank of Indore.
In June 1971, the department issued showcause notice for confiscation of the gold and imposition of enhanced penalty. This was challenged by the current petitioner’s grandfather, which was dismissed by Delhi high court in September 1972. The SC on August 9, 1973, stayed the HC order till final disposal of the appeals. Among other appellants were a family residing in Rungta House, Napean Sea Road, Mumbai.
These appeals came up for disposal before a bench of Justices RF Nariman and Navin Sinha on October 30, 2018, that is after 45 years, and the court recorded interesting details about the case. It found that during four-decade pendency of the appeals, the Gold Control Act of 1968 was repealed in 1990 by Parliament on the ground the results achieved under the 22-year law “have not been encouraging and the desired objectives for which the Act was introduced have not been achieved due to various socio-economic and cultural factors in the vast multitude of the country’s population and the lack of administrative machinery”.
Parliament also noted that the Gold Control Act was regressive and caused considerable dissatisfaction among the public and caused “hardship and harassment to artisans and small self-employed goldsmiths who have not been able to develop their skills and earn proper living on account of the rigours which this Act imposed on them”.
Though the proceedings spanned five decades and the Act was repealed more than a quarter century ago, the revenue department did not appear to have had enough of it and insisted before Justices Nariman and Sinha that though the Act was repealed, the proceedings initiated under it would survive under the General Clauses Act.
Justice Nariman, writing the judgment for the bench, rejected the argument to continue with the proceedings under General Clauses Act and said, “We are of the view that the showcause notice dated June 1, 1971, which is the subject matter of this appeal, no longer survives. In this view of the matter, the appeal is disposed of.”
However, the SC made the appellants liable under the Wealth Tax Act. “Given the fact that the showcause notice and proceedings thereafter have now disappeared as a result of the repeal of the Gold Control Act, we give liberty to both parties to add to or amend or delete the questions in the Wealth Tax Reference within a period of eight weeks from today,” the bench said and asked HCs to take up pending appeals on this issue expeditiously.