In a reprieve for Wizcraft Entertainment Agency Private Limited, the Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni last week allowed it to withdraw over Rs 12.33 crore including the principal amount of Rs 3.33 crore it had deposited in the court way back in 1997. The amount was deducted after the Maharashtra goverment exempted the firm from paying entertainment tax of around Rs 4 crore for arranging a music show of late singer Michael Jackson in October 1996.
Initially, the Nagpur bench of the HC had ordered the company to deposit Rs four crore, it was exempted from paying by the state, with the court. The order was then challenged in the Supreme Court that did not interfere with the HC's interim orders and remitted the matter back to the HC.
Subsequently, in 2011 another bench of the HC led by Justice D K Deshmukh quashed the state government's orders of exempting Wizcraft from paying the entertainment duty.
However, the bench had then ordered the state to reconsider its decision and pass a reasoned order by giving a fresh hearing to both Wizcraft as well as the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP), which had challenged the state's waiver order.
Now, in February this year, the state after again hearing MGP and Wizcraft decided that the company was eligible for exemption of entertainment duty and accordingly decided not to insist the firm to pay the Rs 3.33 crores, it had deposited with the HC.
Accordingly, Wizcraft through senior counsel Milind Sathe petitioned the bench led by Chief Justice Datta seeking permission to withdraw the amount it had deposited way back in 1996.
However, the prothonotary and senior master of the HC informed the bench that the after calculating the interest accrued to the principal amount of the company, a total of Rs 12.33 crores was payable while the maturity date of the fixed deposit was August 2021 by which the amount would become Rs 15.33 crores.
The HC however, said it was okay for the firm to withdraw the amount prior to its maturity date.
However, MGP through advocate Uday Warunjikar contended that since Wizcraft deposited only Rs 3.33 crore it should be only allowed to withdraw this amount and not the interest on it.
"It is not in dispute that in pursuance of the orders passed by the Supreme Court, an amount of Rs 3.33 crore from the company's account came to be deposited in this Court. As the state has decided the company's plea in it's favour, admittedly there exists no liability for payment of such duty by the firm," the chief justice said in his May 7 orders.
The bench further noted that state in its order hasn't made any reference to the interest, "possibly for the reasonthat it was none of the concern of the state when the amounts stood deposited in this Court."
"In these circumstances, in our opinion, the company is entitled for refund of not only the principal amount but also to the accrued interest on such amount," the bench ruled.