Bom HC | Export of service isn’t a “local supply”, cannot be taxed as one; HC delivers polarizing verdict on Constitutionality of S. 13(8) (b) of IGST Act

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Ujjal Bhuyan and Abhay Ahuja, JJ., gave a splitting verdict on the constitutionality of Sections 13(8)(b) and 8(2) of the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017.

The petitioner, who was engaged in providing marketing and promotional services to customers located outside India had challenged the validity of Sections 13(8)(b) and 8(2) of the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) Act, 2017 contending that these provisions were ultra vires Articles 14, 19, 245, 246, 246A, 269A and 286 of the Constitution and also ultra vires the provisions of the Central Goods and Services Tax  (CGST) Act, 2017, IGST Act, 2017 and Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax (MGST) Act, 2017. The case of the petitioner was that he is a proprietor of a proprietorship firm  Dynatex International having its registered office in Mumbai which was engaged in providing marketing and promotion services to customers located outside India. It was registered as a supplier under the provisions of the CGST Act, 2017.

Grounds for Challenge

  1. The petitioner contended that Section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act seeks to levy GST on services provided to, used and consumed by recipients located outside India and treating the same as intra-state supply leviable to CGST and MGST which is not only illegal, void, arbitrary and unreasonable but also ultra vires Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 21, 286, 246A, 265, 269A and 300A of the Constitution Section 9 of the CGST Act and the MGST Act.
  2. Though all service providers like the petitioner should be treated in the same manner, service providers like marketing agents, marketing consultants, professional advisers etc. provide similar services. But by virtue of the exception carved out under section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act, the service rendered by the petitioner despite satisfying all the conditions of section 13(2) read with section 2(6) of the IGST Act would be subject to GST. Therefore, the levy was most unreasonable and arbitrary, thus violative of Article 14.
  3. Article 269A only grants power to the Parliament to frame laws for interstate trade and commerce i.e., for determining inter-state trade or commerce. It does not permit imposition of tax on export of services out of the territory of India by treating the same as a local supply. Hence, section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act was ultra vires Articles 246A and 269A of the Constitution.
  4. That Article 286(1) provides that no law of a state shall impose or authorize the imposition of a tax on the supply of goods or services or both where such supply takes place outside the state or in the course of import of the goods or services or both into the territory of India or export of goods or services out of the territory of India. Thus no state has authority to levy local tax on export of services. Section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act had deemed an export to be a local supply. This was violation of Article 286(1).
  5. That section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act leads to double taxation and more as the same supply would be taxed at the hands of the petitioner and following the destination based principle it would be an import of service from India for the foreign service recipient and would be taxed at his hands in the importing country.

Analysis by the Court

In All India Federation of Tax Practitioners, it was held that service tax is a VAT which in turn is a destination based consumption tax in the sense that it is on commercial activities. It is not a charge on the business but on the consumer and it would logically be leviable only on services provided within the country. Similarly, in Commissioner of Service Tax Vs. SGS India Pvt. Ltd., 2014 (34) STR 554 (Bom.), the High Court had held that if services were rendered to such foreign clients located abroad then such an act can be termed as ‘export of service’ which act does not invite a service tax liability.

Section 13 of the IGST Act deals with place of supply of services where location of supplier or location of recipient is outside India. However, as per the proviso, where the location of the recipient of services is not available in the ordinary course of business, the place of supply shall be the location of the supplier of services. Thus sub-section (2) lays down the general proposition that place of supply of services shall be the location of the recipient of services barring the exceptions carved out in sub-sections (3) to (13). Thus what sub-section (8)(b) says is that in case of supply of services by intermediary the place of supply shall be the location of the supplier of services i.e., the intermediary which is an exception to the general rule as expressed in sub-section (2) of section 13.

The Bench explained, while Article 246A deals with special provision with respect to GST, Article 269A provides for levy and collection of GST in the course of inter-state trade or commerce. Therefore,

“A conjoint reading of the two Articles would show that the Constitution has only empowered Parliament to frame law for levy and collection of GST in the course of inter-state trade or commerce, besides laying down principles for determining place of supply and when such supply of goods or services or both takes place in the course of inter-state trade or commerce. Thus the Constitution did not empower imposition of tax on export of services out of the territory of India by treating the same as a local supply.”

Further, Article 286 lays down restrictions as to imposition of tax on the sale or purchase of goods. Similarly, Article 286(1) imposes an expressed bar that no law of a state shall impose or authorize imposition of a tax on the supply of goods or services or both where such supply takes place in the course of import into or export out of the territory of India. The Bench expressed, though Article 286(2) empowers the Parliament to make laws formulating principles for determining supply of goods or of services or both certainly the same could not be used to foil or thwart the scheme of clause (1).

Noticeably, the petitioner fulfilled the requirement of an intermediary as defined in Section 2(13) of the IGST Act, and all the conditions stipulated in sub-section (6) of Section 2 for a supply of service to be construed as export of service were complied with. The overseas foreign customer of the petitioner fell within the definition of ‘recipient of supply’ in terms of section 2(93) of the CGST Act read with Section 2(14) of the IGST Act. Therefore, it was an ‘export of service’ as defined under section 2(6) of the IGST Act read with Section 13(2) thereof. Hence, Justice Ujjal Bhuyan opined,

“Evidently and there is no dispute that the supply takes place outside the State of Maharashtra and outside India in the course of export. However, what we notice is that section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act read with section 8(2) of the said Act has created a fiction deeming export of service by an intermediary to be a local supply i.e., an inter-state supply. This is definitely an artificial device created to overcome a constitutional embargo.”

In State of Travancore – Cochin Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court referred to Article 286(1) and held that whatever else may or may not fall within Article 286(1)(b), sales and purchases which themselves occasion the export or the import of the goods, as the case may be, out of or into the territory of India would come within the exemption. Reliance was placed on GVK Industries Ltd., wherein the Supreme Court had held that the Parliament is constitutionally restricted from enacting extra-territorial legislation but such restriction should be made subject to certain exigencies, such as, it should have a real connection to India which should not be illusory or fanciful.

Similarly, in Electronics Corporation of India Limited v. Commissioner of Income Tax, 1989 Supp (2) SCC 642 , it was held that unless a nexus with something in India exists, Parliament would have no competence to make the law. Article 245(1) empowers Parliament to enact law for the whole or any part of the territory of India. The provocation for the law must be found within India itself. Such a law may have extra-territorial operation in order to subserve the object and that object must be related to something in India. It is inconceivable that a law should be made by Parliament in India which has no relationship with anything in India.

Thus, the Bench held that it was apparent that Section 9 of the CGST Act cannot be invoked to levy tax on cross-border transactions i.e., export of services. Likewise from the scheme of the IGST Act, it is evident that the same provides for levy of IGST on inter-state supplies. Import and export of services have been treated as inter-state supplies in terms of Section 7(1) and Section 7(5) of the IGST Act. On the other hand sub-section (2) of Section 8 of the IGST Act provides that where location of the supplier and place of supply of service is in the same state or union territory, the said supply shall be treated as intra-state supply. However, the Bench remarked,

“By artificially creating a deeming provision in the form of Section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act, where the location of the recipient of service provided by an intermediary is outside India, the place of supply has been treated as the location of the supplier i.e., in India. This runs contrary to the scheme of the CGST Act as well as the IGST Act besides being beyond the charging sections of both the Acts.”

In the light of the above, Ujjal Bhuyan, J., held that Section 13(8)(b) of the IGST Act, 2017 was ultra vires the said Act besides being unconstitutional. However, Abhay Ahuja, J., stated that he was unable to share the opinion of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and directed to list the matter on 16-06-2021 to express his opinion.[Dharmendra M. Jani v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 839, decided on 09-06-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief


Appearance before the Court by:

Counsel for the Petitioner: Adv. Bharat Raichandani a/w. Adv. Pragya Koolwal Counsel for Union of India: ASG Anil C. Singh a/w. Sr. Adv. Pradeep S. Jetly
Counsel for Respondent 1 to 4: Adv. J. B. Mishra
Counsel for State of Maharashtra: AGP S.G. Gore

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