Chandigarh, April 18, 2022: While dealing with a case involving the liability of the petitioner to pay the Employees Provident Fund contribution and the consequent issuance of warrants of detention in civil prison, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the liabilities against the petitioner are statutory in nature and there cannot be any estoppel against the statute as such.
The Bench of Justice Rajbir Sehrawat held, “The liabilities against the petitioner are statutory in nature. There cannot be any estoppel against the statute as such.Hence, the mere fact that the petitioner claims to be not able to make the payments, cannot bring any benefit to the petitioner, as such. He would still be liable to face all the legal consequences, as prescribed under Section 8-B of the EPF Act and other consequences prescribed anywhere in any statutory provision.”
In this case, the Court was dealing with a petition filed by the petitioner-Jatinder Singh Saini under Articles 226 & 227 of the Constitution of India seeking issuance of a writ in the nature of certiorari for quashing the warrant of detention in civil prison passed by Regional Provident Fund Commissioner, Punjab Region, Chandigarh (the first respondent, while the second petition was filed by the petitioner-Vivek Goel praying for issuance of a writ in the nature of certiorari for quashing the recovery certificate and Warrant of Arrest.
The brief facts giving rise to the present petitions were that the authorities by an order assessed an amount of Rs. 5,79,417/- as the principal amount and Rs. 2,78,120/- as interest under Section 7-A of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 (EPF Act). Hence, as per the assessment order total amount payable was Rs. 8,57,537/-. The said amount was not paid. Hence, the detention warrant was issued.
The case of the petitioner’s counsel was that the petitioner already paid an amount of Rs. 8,84,550/. Thereafter, during the pendency of the present petition, the petitioner also deposited an amount of Rs. 50,000/- in 2015. Therefore, the petitioner already met the liability under the assessment order. It was further submitted that the respondents did not even provide the list of the beneficiaries of the amount to be deposited by the petitioner despite being asked by this court by an order of 2017. Therefore, the Counsel argued that there was no beneficiary who demanded the money from the respondents-department and the petitioner was not liable to deposit any more amounts.
The Counsel further contended that the petitioner already remained in civil imprisonment for non-payment of the dues for various periods from December 1996 to October 1999. The petitioner did not have any more property, therefore, he was not in a position to pay any more amounts, submitted the Counsel while urging that no purpose would be served by execution of the impugned warrants and by putting the petitioner in jail.
On the other hand, the counsel for the respondents submitted that the amounts demanded from the petitioner were the statutory amounts. The assessment order was passed only on the basis of the record available with the petitioner regarding the employment at the relevant time. The Counsel added that the said order was not even under challenge anywhere, hence, the order attained finality. The subsequent proceedings being undertaken by the respondents were only the statutory consequences, hence the present petitions were not maintainable, concluded the Counsel.
Having heard the counsel for the parties, the Court found substance in the arguments of the counsel for the respondents. The Court observed the undisputed fact that the petitioner employed a number of employees at the relevant time. The petitioner was earlier depositing the EPF amounts as per law, however, from December 1996 to October 1999 the petitioner stopped paying. Hence, the proceedings of assessment under Section 7-A of the EPF Act were initiated.
The Court observed that in the said process the record of the employment of the employees with the petitioner was verified and only thereafter the assessment order was passed against the petitioner. Hence, the Court found that the argument that there were no beneficiaries of the amount, which was being demanded from the petitioner, was totally non-sustainable.
Further, taking note of the statutory obligation that the petitioner had, the Court opined that the liabilities against the petitioner were statutory in nature and there cannot be any estoppel against the statute as such. Hence, the Court was of the view that the mere fact that the petitioner claimed to be not able to make the payments, cannot bring any benefit to the petitioner, as such.
The Court opined that the petitioner would still be liable to face all the legal consequences, as prescribed under Section 8-B of the EPF Act and other consequences prescribed anywhere in any statutory provision. Otherwise also, added Justice Rajbir Sehrawat, the aspects of whether there is any beneficiary to claim the benefit or not and the fact what the respondents would be doing with the money which they are demanding from the petitioner, was totally irrelevant.
“The demand raised by respondents is only as per the statutory assessment order which has not been complied by the petitioner”, held the Court.
Accordingly, finding no merit in the case, the Court dismissed the petition.