HC dismisses plea against e-Stamping

J&K High Court has dismissed a plea by Srinagar Stamp Vendors’ Association against implementation of e-stamping in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The courts in exercise of their power of judicial review do not interfere with policy decisions of the executive unless the same was faulted on mala fide grounds,” bench of Justice Tashi Rabstan observed in the plea.

“Mere fact that it would hurt business interests of a party in the present case petitioner-association, does not justify invalidating the policy,” the bench said.

The petitioner association was aggrieved of switching over to e-stamping or authorizing any agency to operate the said system in J&K.

They were also seeking to quash government order dated 25 March 2013 wherein sanction had been accorded to  initiating the process of switching over to e-stamping system in the erstwhile J&K. The order had also provided for appointment of Stock Holding Corporation of India Limited (SHCIL) to function as Central Record Keeping Agency (CRA) on the terms and conditions fixed by Industrial Finance Corporation of India Limited (IFCI) and appointing of Commissioner Stamps (Commissioner, Commercial Tax Department) as Nodal Officer of e-stamping project to coordinate between various stakeholders for the said process.

The petitioner association was also aggrieved of order dated 16 September 2013, whereby J&K government through Finance Department, in pursuance of Subsection 24-A of Section 2 the Stamps Act, 1977 implemented e-stamping system in J&K.

Through this order the government also authorized the CRA, government of India, to act as the agency for implementation of the project on the commission basis at the rate sixty-five paisa for every rupee hundred of the value of stamp duty collected through said mechanism.

All branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank Limited in the erstwhile State were appointed as Authorized Collection Centers (ACC) for the collection of stamp duty.

“Orders dated 25th March 2013 and 16th September 2013 . . . are contrary to Section 74 of the Act of 1977 and the Rules framed there under for purchase, sale and supply and use of stamps,”  the petitioners said.

They submitted that involvement of an outside agency would deprive all stamp vendors of their livelihood. “Stamp vendors are doing the job of selling stamps manually from the time of Maharaja Gulab Singh,” they said.

The government through Advocate general D C Raina and Advocate Sajad Ashraf Mir however said the e-stamping was being implemented in J&K by way of amendment in the Stamps Act and was not illegal. “e-stamping was being introduced to avoid revenue losses like the country has faced due to super-scams Karim Telgi, counterfeiting of stamp papers” it added.

“. . . (the) writ petition on hand has become infructuous consequent upon issuance of J&K Stamps (Payment of Duty by Means of e-Stamping) Rules, 2020,” the court.

The court however directed the government to look into the plight of members of the petitioner association vis a vis their livelihood by imparting training and granting of permission/licences to them  for sale of stamps.