Tata Trusts Case | When can a Corpus be treated as a Capital or Investment? ITAT Mumbai

Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai (ITAT): Dealing with the issue on nature, scope, and explanation Section 263 (2)(a) to the effect that an order is deemed to be erroneous and prejudicial to the interests of the revenue or not. Further, what a prudent, judicious and responsible Assessing is to do in the court of Assessment Proceeding, whether an income is exempt under section 10(34) or not. The tribunal was pleased to conclude that, the true test for finding out whether Explanation 2(a) has been rightly invoked or not is, not simply existence of the view, but an objective finding that the Assessing Officer has not conducted, inquiries and verifications expected, in the ordinary course of performance of duties, of a prudent, judicious and a responsible public servant that the Assessing Officer is expected to be. Further, the investments in questions were held as the corpus, and, as such, the provisions of Section 13 (1)(d) were not attracted

The Assessee before us is a public charitable trust, set up in the year 1932, registered under the Bombay Trusts Act, 1950. The Assessee trust is also registered as a charitable institution under Section 12A of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The Assessee trust had filed its return of income, and its assessment, under section 143(3) of the Act, was completed determining ‘Nil’ taxable income. Subsequently, however, learned Commissioner of Income Tax (Exemptions) [hereinafter referred to as ‘the Commissioner’] issued a show-cause notice requiring the Assessee to show cause as to why this order not be subjected to revision under Section 263 of the Act. A subsequent show cause notice was also issued whereby the commissioner framed the issues on lack of inquiry by the Assessing Officer, the inadequacy of inquiry of the Assessing Officer, or taking up the pertinent line of inquiry but not following it to its logical conclusion by the Assessing Officer. Whereby the Commissioner was pleased to conclude that: –

  1. The investments in shares are covered by an exception provided in proviso (i) & (ia) to section 13(1)(d) and unless it is covered by exceptions, it results into denial of exemptions. Therefore, the AO has failed to make basic but necessary verification on this issue.
  2. It is the failure of Assessing Officer to make due verification on the basis of which jurisdiction under Section 263 can be invoked.
  3. Despite the material being available on records, which could lead to prima facie opinion that the trustees are having control over the affairs of Tata Sons Ltd., the Assessing Officer has failed to take the issue to any logical conclusion. Hence, the show-cause notice issued under Section 263 of I.T Act was reasonable and justified.
  4. In reference to Section 10, the Assessing Officer ought to have asked the assessee to demonstrate that the entire income of the Trust was applied or being applied for the purpose of the Trust. Not conducting due verification amounts to the order being erroneous and prejudicial to the interest of revenue. Similarly, adopting the pertinent line of inquiry but not taking it to the logical end also renders the order erroneous and prejudicial to the interest of revenue.
  5. Therefore order u/s 143(3) dated 30.12.2016 for the assessment year 2014-15 is erroneous in so far as it is prejudicial to the interests of the revenue. The Assessing Officer shall make a denovo assessment after proper examination of various issues.

Being Aggrieved by the stand of the Commissioner the Assessee preferred an Appeal before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai whereby the tribunal was pleased to conclude that

  1. The true test for finding out whether Explanation 2(a) has been rightly invoked or not is, not simply existence of the view, but an objective finding that the Assessing Officer has not conducted, inquiries and verifications expected, in the ordinary course of performance of duties, of a prudent, judicious and responsible public servant that the Assessing Officer is expected to be.
  2. Whether an income is exempt under Sections 10(34) or under 11, it does not prejudice the interests of the revenue in any way. Accordingly, even if the order can be said to be ‘erroneous’ for any reason, it cannot be said to be ‘prejudicial to the interests of the revenue’, and, therefore, section 263 could not have been invoked on this point either. Further, the investments in questions were held as the corpus, and, as such, the provisions of Section 13 (1)(d) were not attracted.
  3. What essentially follows is that it’s not the declaration of an investment being a corpus investment but the fact of its being treated as capital and rather than using the investment for the purposes of the trust, using the income from investment for the purposes of the trust, which is determinative of its being in the nature of corpus investment. How the trust is treating the investment, i.e., in the capital field or not, is thus truly determinative of the investment being part of the corpus. Viewed thus, the mere fact of these investments being held as capital for at least more than four decades as conclusively established by the material before the Assessing Officer, and only income from these investments being applied for the purposes of the trust clearly establishes the fact of these investments being part of the corpus of the trust.
  4. A prima facie view of the Assessing Officer cannot be reason enough to decline the assessee certain tax treatment which has been given to the assessee all along for decades, but it can surely be reason enough to leave a window for appropriate action being taken against the assessee, if so warranted- and that is exactly what the Assessing Officer has done. The stand of the Assessing Officer is, in our humble understanding, quite apt and bonafide. It cannot be faulted.

The ITAT was pleased to set aside the order and judgment passed by the Commissioner “Learned Commissioner was clearly in error in invoking powers under section 263 on the ground that the Assessing Officer failed to examine the investments of the trust complying with the provisions of Section 11(5) and Section 13(1)(d) of the Act. We disapprove his action.” Further, the learned Commissioner was not justified in subjecting the assessment order to revision proceedings on the ground that the Assessing Officer did not examine the matter regarding assessee’s control over Tata Sons Ltd, and whether, by virtue of such alleged control, any of the specified persons under section 13(3) received any benefits, and whether the investments made by the assessee trust were in violation of Section 13(2)(h). Subsequently, ITAT held that  “we are unable to see any reasons for holding the suspicion that some of the interest income may be from sources that are not qualified for exemption under section 11, and, for that reason, the verification about sources of interest income is required to be done extensively. Once all these details were on record, and there is not even a suggestion that any part of interest income is not qualified for exemption under section 11, we are unable to uphold the stand of the learned Commissioner that the subject assessment order was erroneous and prejudicial to the interest of the revenue for want of verifications of interest income sources.”

[Sir Ratan Tata Trust v. Deputy Commr. of Income Tax, ITA No. 3737/Mum/2019, decided on 28-12-2020]


Akshat Malpani, Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court

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