From Yatin’s Desk: Income escaping assessment – A revamped law on reassessment proceedings

As the dust settles and the excitement subsides over Budget 2021 announcements, it is now an opportune time to examine the fine print of tax proposals. One such proposal which have drawn considerable attention and has the effect of substantially rewriting the law relates to the provision of Income Escaping Assessment i.e. Reassessment Proceedings.

A Look back at the extant provisions

The extant law relating to reassessment are codified under S. 147, to S. 153 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 (‘the Act’). The provisions enable the Assessing Officer (‘AO’) who has ‘reason to believe’ that an income has escaped assessment to reopen concluded assessment years to reassess the escaped income and any other income which comes to his notice subsequently in the course of such proceedings. However, where the assessee has been subject to scrutiny assessment in relation to a year, no reassessment can be made beyond a period of 4 years from the end of relevant assessment year (‘AY’) unless the assessee has failed to ‘disclose fully and truly all material facts necessary for his assessment’ for the year. Where the income likely to have escaped amounts to Rs. 1 lac or more, assessment can be reopened upto 6 years from the end of relevant AY[1]. Before making any reassessment, the AO is required to ‘record his reasons’ for reopening the assessment and serve a notice requiring the assessee to file a tax return. Re-opening of assessment beyond a period of 4 years requires sanction of the Principal Chief Commissioner/Chief Commissioner/Principal Commissioner/Commissioner.

Reopening of assessment – an evergreen controversy  

Reassessment proceedings, often, have been challenged in writ proceedings before the High Courts on the ground that the notice for reassessment lacks legal validity on account of failure by the AO to follow due process of law enshrined in the provisions and established under common law.  Rather than the merits of concealment, courts are overwhelmed with cases to decide upon the sustainability of the core issue of initiation of reassessment i.e. whether the AO had ‘reasons to believe’, did he ‘record his reasons’ appropriately, did the assessee fail to ‘disclose fully and truly all material facts necessary for his assessment’, was proper ‘sanction’ of the appropriate authorities taken, etc.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of GKN Driveshafts (India) Ltd. vs. ITO & Ors. has laid that when a notice for reopening of assessment u/s 148 of the Act is issued, the proper course of action for the assessee is to file the return and, if he so desires, to seek reasons for issuing the notices. The AO is bound to furnish reasons within a reasonable time. On receipt of reasons, the assessee is entitled to file objections to issuance of notice and the AO is bound to dispose the same by passing a speaking order.

Recently the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of New Delhi Television Limited v DCIT (Civil Appeal No. 1008 Of 2020), in the context of disclosure of ‘fully and truly all material facts necessary for his assessment’ has held that the obligation of the assessee is to disclose all primary facts before the AO and he is not required to give any further assistance to the AO by disclosure of other facts.  It is for the AO at this stage to decide what inference should be drawn from the facts of the case.  The court went on to hold that non-disclosure of other facts which may be termed as secondary facts is not necessary.

Further, numerous court decisions have repeatedly stated that while the AO has to record reasons for reopening, there should be proper application of mind and it should not just be a mechanical process.

As the reality stands, proper reopening in the manner provided under law has remained wanting. The courts have over and again expressed anguish over the mechanical approach of reopening assessment without adherence to the provisions which have resulted, more often than not, reassessment proceedings being quashed on the issue of proper exercise of jurisdiction itself.

Budget proposal 2021 – revamp of reassessment procedure

The Finance Minister brought smiles by announcing in her budget speech the proposal to reduce time-limit for reopening of assessment to 3 years from the present 6 years, and in serious cases where there is evidence of concealment of income in a year of Rs. 50 lakh or more, upto 10 years. However, on examining the details, one can observe that far-reaching changes have been proposed to the entire scheme of reassessment.

The proposals substitute the exiting provisions of S. 147 with a new section which pari materia contain similar provisions to the extent enabling the AO to assess the escaped income and any other income which comes to his notice subsequently in the course of proceedings. The new substituted S. 148 however makes a significant departure from the existing provisions which put the onus upon the AO to form a belief that an income has escaped assessment.  The new provisions propose to provide a monitored criterion, having application across jurisdiction and assesses, to establish when the AO would be considered to have information which suggests that the ‘income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment’.

Defined meaning of expression ‘income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment’

The expression, forming the basis for triggering reassessment proceedings has now been defined in a restrictive manner to mean –

(i) any information flagged in the case of the assessee for the relevant assessment year in accordance with the risk management strategy formulated by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) from time to time. Such flagging would largely be done by the computer based system;

(ii) any final objection raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to the effect that the assessment in the case of the assessee for the relevant assessment year has not been made in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

In case of Search & Seizure (S. 132), Survey (S. 133A), Requisition of books of accounts, etc relating to the assessee (S. 132A)  or where money, bullion, jewellery or other valuables articles are sized in case of another person but belong to the assessee or books of accounts or documents seized or requisitioned in case of another person pertain to the assessee or contain information related to the assessee, the AO is ‘deemed to have information suggesting escapement of income’ chargeable to tax for 3 AY preceding the AY relevant to the year in which the aforesaid proceedings is conducted (i.e. 4 preceding financial years). These provisions principally seek to simplify and align the special procedure presently applicable to matters relating to search & seizure etc., with the new procedure for reassessment.

It is pertinent to note that the information flagged in accordance with the risk management strategy should necessarily pertain to ‘the assessee’ and thus it appears that information flagged in the case of thirds party, even if implicating the assessee cannot be made a basis of issuance of notice. Perhaps it may have to be seen whether the mechanism to be formulated by the CBDT ensures checks and balances to identify such delinquent taxpayers also.

Procedure to be followed before issuing notice for reassessment

The new provisions further codify the procedure to be followed by the AO before issuing a notice for reassessment. The provisions required the AO to:

  • Conduct any enquiry, if required, with prior sanction of the specified authority, with respect to the information suggesting escapement of income;
  • Provide the assessee an opportunity of being heard by serving a notice to show cause within such time (being not less than 7 days and not exceeding 30 days) as to why a notice under section 148 should not be issued on the basis of information suggesting escapement of chargeable income and results of enquiry conducted, if any;
  • Consider the reply of assessee, if any, furnished and basis the material including reply of the assessee, decide whether a notice is to be issued by passing an order, with the prior approval of specified authority, within 1 month from the end of the month in which the reply referred to in received/ time allowed to furnish a reply expires.

The aforesaid procedure is not required to be followed in cases relating to search and seizure, or where books of account, other documents or any assets are requisitioned under section 132A, etc. (i.e. situations where AO is deemed to have information suggesting escapement of assessment.)

Time limit for issuance of reassessment notice

The new provisions reduce the time-limit for re-opening of assessment to 3 years from the end of relevant AY. For instance, in relation FY 2017-18 corresponding to AY 2018-2019, the reassessment proceedings can be opened only upto 31 March 2022 (being 3 years from the end of relevant AY). FY 2016-17 and prior years will henceforth be barred by limitation if a notice is issued after 31 March 2021 (as against FY 2013-14 and prior years under existing law). In case where the AO has in his possession books of accounts or other documents or evidence which reveal that the income chargeable to tax, ‘represented in the form of assets’, which has escaped assessment amounts to Rs. 50 lacs or more, the assessment can be re-opened upto 10 years.

Grandfathering period of limitation for AY 2021-22 and prior years

The new reassessment provisions are applicable from April 1, 2021. The provisions grandfather issuance of notice for reopening of assessment for financial years (FY) ending till 31 March 2021 upto the end of 6 assessment years relevant to such assessment year (for which notice is issued) as prescribed under the existing provisions. This would imply that if a notice for reassessment was to be issued in FY 2021-22, notice for reassessment can be issued only for FY 2017-18 and subsequent years (i.e. 3 years limitation under new provisions). Further, if it is a case where the quantum of income escaped is Rs.50 lacs or more, notice for reassessment can be issued only for FY 2015-16 and subsequent years on account of grandfathering provisions. The extended period of 10 years would not apply in such case.

Analysing the changes

The proposals, in all fairness are in the right direction. Reduction of period of limitation from 6 to 3 years would provide much desired certainty and closure to a large section of taxpayers. Further restricting reopening based on risk management strategy of CBDT and objections raised by CAG will bring an end to the often-abused powers of reopening exercised by AO, typically at the fag end of the limitation period. By providing a clear mechanism of inquiry, issuance of notice and its timeframe, the proposal will, to a major extent, aid in streamlining the procedure. The unpleasant surprise of receiving reassessment notice on the last day of the financial year will now be a thing of the past given that the new provisions require a detailed procedure to be followed and opportunity to be granted to the assessee to provide his reply before issuance of notice.  

The proposal for extended 10 years limitation where the alleged income, ‘represented in the form for assets’, has escaped assessment exceeds ‘Rs. 50 lacs or more’, principally seem reasonable. Prima-facie, it appears that since the revelation of escaped income has to be ascertained from ‘the books of accounts or other documents or evidence in possession of the AO’, this may typically apply to cases of search and seizure, survey, requisition of books, etc. However there seems to be some ambiguity which could have far reaching implications.

The new provision in so far as relate to matters of search & seizure, requisition of books etc. prescribe that where the aforesaid proceeding are initiated, the AO shall be deemed to have information suggesting escapement of chargeable income for 3 AY immediately preceding AY relevant to the FY in which such proceedings are undertaken. Thus, for instance, if search proceedings are initiated against an assessee in FY 2021-22 (relevant AY being 2022-23), income will be deemed to have been concealed for 3 immediately preceding AY i.e. AY 2019-20, AY 2020-21& AY 2021-22, (corresponding to FY 2018-19, FY 2019-2020 & FY 2020-21). Thus, notice would be issued for all the 3 years. Consider this in light of the operative provision which prescribes that where income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment for any assessment year, the AO shall reassess such income for such assessment year. The combined reading of law appears to suggest that in case of aforesaid matters, reassessment proceedings can be undertaken only for 3 years prior to the year in which search proceedings are initiated. If this was to hold good, the question arises whether the extended period of 10 year is really redundant for search & seizure/survey/requisition of books, etc. matters?

This leads to the next pertinent question – in which situations will the 10-year limitation period apply?

The limitation period beyond 3 year and upto 10 year is applicable where the AO ‘is in possession’ of books of accounts or other documents or other evidence which reveal escapement of income chargeable to tax and represented in the form of assets. Ordinarily, AO obtains possession of bocks of accounts/other documents/evidence in proceedings relating to search & seizure/survey/requisition of books, etc. matters. As discussed above, given the provisions as presently stated, one possible reading is that reassessment proceedings can only be undertaken for 3 years prior to the year in which search proceedings, etc are initiated. Would this imply that the extended period of 10 years would apply to matters other than search & seizure/survey/requisition of books, etc.?

In light of the aforesaid, the expression “Assessing Officer has in his possession books of accounts or other documents or evidence which reveal that…”, a necessary condition for exercising extended limitation of 10-year, merits consideration. Would it therefore mean that the documents gathered during regular assessment proceedings may well be regarded as relevant ‘documents or evidence’ being in the possession of the AO. ‘Books of accounts’ are typically not given in possession during assessment proceedings, and therefore how it fits into the scheme of things remains a grey area. Further, would the information mined and provided under the ‘risk mitigating strategy’ of CBDT also be regarded as ‘evidence’ in possession of the AO.

While this may still be debatable, any such inference would be a huge damper as it would now enable reopening assessment for 10 years (subject to Rs. 50 lacs threshold) as against 4 year under the existing law even where the assessee has made full and true disclosure of material facts during the course of prior assessment. Take for instance a case where risk management strategy of CBDT flags substantial increase in loans and advances or investments as a data point for triggering reassessment. The same would logically have been disclosed in the balance sheet. In such a situation, inspite of such disclosure, there could perhaps be possibility to reopen reassessment proceedings upto 10 year (subject to monetary threshold), effectively giving the CBDT a 10-year timeframe to refine its data intelligence and risk-based criterion. This would certainly be an area of concern.

Overall, it is encouraging to note a transformational change in the provisions relating to reassessment proceedings. There is a fundamental shift from an obscure and discretionary regime to systematic and risk-based criterion applicable uniformly across jurisdictions and taxpayers, without bias and subjectivity. It will however be interesting to see how the authorities go about enforcing the extended period of limitation given the ambiguity involved. One can hope the same is not enforced against the interest of taxpayer, specifically taking a liberal interpretation of 10 years extended limitation period, which otherwise will be a huge disappointment.   

[1] Extended period of 16 years is prescribed in case of escaped income in relation to an asset located outside India.

Yatin can be reached at yatin.sharma@aureuslaw.com. Views are personal. 

High Court Denies Refund of Credit under Inverted Duty Structure

In a recent judgment of Madras High Court in the case of TVL Transtonnelstroy Afcons Joint Venture v. UOI,[1] the Court denied refund of tax paid on input services on account of inverted tax structure. This marks significant blow to taxpayers who operate under ‘inverted duty structure’, and have been claiming refund on account of paying higher rate of tax on input supply.  Earlier in July, the Gujarat High Court in VKC Footsteps India Private Limited v. UOI[2], had read down the explanation (a) to Rule 89(5) of Central Goods & Services Tax Rules, 2017 (“Rules”), and had allowed refund of tax paid on input services as well.

What is “Inverted Tax Structure”?

Inverted Tax Structure is a situation where the supplier pays higher rate of tax on its input supplies, and discharges comparatively lower rate of tax while making its output supply. Consequently, a large pool of credit of tax paid on input supplies is accumulated. This would result in cascading effect of taxes in the form of unabsorbed excess tax on inputs with consequent increase in the cost of product which is against the very tenet of GST being a consumption tax. In order to address the said anomaly, GST law provides for refund of accumulated unutilised input tax credit (“ITC”).

Issue

Section 54 of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 (“Act”) provides for refund of GST in certain cases. Sub-section (3) provides for refund of unutilized ITC in cases of zero rated supplies and ITS i.e. where credit has accumulated on account of rate of tax on inputs being higher than the rate of tax on output supplies. ITC has been defined under Section 2(63) of CGST Act to mean credit of ‘input tax’. Section 2(62) defines ‘input tax’ to mean tax charged on supply of goods and / or services. Accordingly, the taxpayers were eligible to claim refund of unutilised ITC accumulated due the inverted tax structure basis the formula prescribed under Rule 89(5) of CGST Rules. Said rule was amended with retrospective operation from July 1, 2017 by an amendment introduced in 2018 to exclude ‘tax paid on input services’ from the meaning of ‘Net ITC’. In effect, the amended Rule 89(5) by employing the expression “input tax credit availed on inputs’, has the effect of granting refund of tax paid only on ‘inputs’ and denying the same on ‘input services’. Said amendment was challenged in multiple proceedings by contending that amended Rule 89(5) by restricting the refund to ‘inputs’ only, runs contrary to the substantive provision i.e. Section 54(3), and is ultra vires to this extent.

Gujarat High Court’s view in the VKC (supra)

Court observed that Section 54(3) employs the expression ‘any unutilised input tax credit’, and ITC is defined under Section 2(63) to mean credit of input, and ‘input tax’ as defined in Section 2(62) means central tax, state tax, integrated tax or union territory tax charged on any supply of goods and / or services. Hence, Section 54(3) must be read to include tax paid on input services as well. Accordingly, upon conjoint reading of Act and Rules, Court held the explanation (a) to Rule 89(5) ultra vires the provision of Section 54(3), and observed that by prescribing formula under the Rules, the Executive cannot restrict the substantive provision enacted by the Legislature. Accordingly, Revenue was directed to process the refund of unutilised ITC by including the tax paid on ‘input services’ as well.

Madras High Court’s view in TVL (supra)

Madras HC did not subscribe to the view taken by the Gujarat HC in VKC (supra) by observing that the import of proviso to Section 54(3) was not discussed in VKC (supra). It was observed that Section 54(3) undoubtedly enables a registered person to claim refund of any unutilised ITC. However, the principal of the said enacting clause is qualified by the proviso which states that "provided that no refund of unutilised input tax credit shall be allowed in cases other than". It was observed that unless a registered person meets the requirements of clause (i)[3] or (ii)[4] of Sub-section 3, no refund would be allowed. Under clause (ii), the expression used is ‘inputs’, which must mean to include goods[5] only and not input services[6]. Hence, Explanation to Rule 89(5) by prescribing the formula, thereby limiting the ambit of ‘Net ITC’ to mean tax paid on ‘inputs’ only, is valid and vires to Section 54(3).

Court also observed that refund is a statutory right, and the Parliament is within its legislative competence to impose a source-based restriction in order for a supplier to be eligible for refund of unutilized ITC.

Conclusion

Fundamental principle behind the overhauling of erstwhile indirect tax regime by replacing it with much-awaited GST law, was to remove cascading effect of taxes by way of set-off in order to ensure continuous chain of credits from supplier to the last retail point. Law relating to credits has evolved over time as CENVAT was introduced in place of MODVAT to allow of credits of service tax as well. Under the GST regime as well, un-amended Rule 89(5) did not differentiate between the taxes paid on ‘inputs’ and ‘input services’. However, the restriction imposed by retrospective amendment to Rules, seeks to create a source-based parameter for refund entitlement of unutilised ITC.

In view of the dissenting views of Madras HC and Gujarat HC, Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of said amendment remains to be seen. In the meantime, taxpayers may continue to claim refund of unutilised ITC relating to ‘input services’ as time limit for claiming such refund is only two years.

Contributed by Manish Parmar. Manish can be reached at manish.parmar@aureuslaw.com.

Views are personal.

 


[1] Madras High Court’s decision dated September 21, 2020

[2] Gujarat High Court’s decision dated July 24, 2020

[3] (i) Zero rated supplies made without payment of tax;

[4] (ii) Where the credit has accumulated on account of rate of tax on inputs being higher than the rate of tax on output supplies (other than nil rated or fully exempt supplies), except supplies of goods or services or both as may be notified by the Government on the recommendations of the Council:

[5] Section 2(59) of CGST Act defines ‘input’ to mean goods other than capital goods used or intended to be used by supplier in the course or furtherance of business;

[6] Section 2(6) of CGST Act defines ‘input services’ to mean services used or intended to be used by a supplier in course or furtherance of business;

COVID 2019: Relaxation from Statutory and Regulatory compliances

From Yatin Sharma‘s  desk with Astha Srivastava and Sayli Petiwale

These unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. As one of the first steps taken by the Government of India (“GoI”) to counter the impact of COVID -19 on the economy, the Union Finance & Corporate Affairs Minister on March 24, 2020 announced certain relief measures with respect to statutory and regulatory compliance matters across various sectors. Further, relief in the area of taxation — both direct and indirect have also been announced. This note provides a short summary of the various measures.

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Corporate Affairs

Under the Companies Act, 2013 (“CA, 2013”)

  • A moratorium period has been introduced from April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020, whereby an additional fee would not be levied on late filing of any document, return, statement, etc. required to be filed with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (“MCA”) registry. This will reduce the compliance burden on companies/ Limited Liability Partnerships (“LLPs”) and also help in reduction of financial cost involved in adherence to these compliance for the prescribed time period.
  • The requirement for holding a board meeting within the prescribed time period (i.e. 120 days) as per section of 173 of the CA, 2013 has been relaxed by 60 days, which would be applicable for the next two quarters i.e. till September 30, 2020. Therefore, the gap between two consecutive meetings of the board may extend to 180 days for the next two quarters.
  • The Companies Auditors’ Report Order, 2020 would be applicable from Financial Year (“FY”) 2020-2021. A notification bearing F. No. 17la5l2015-CL-V Part I dated March 25, 2020 (“Notification”) has been issued by the MCA in this regard.[1]
  • No violation of law shall be considered if the independent directors are unable to hold even a single meeting as per Schedule lV of the CA, 2013, for the FY 2019-2020.
  • The time period for filing a declaration within 6 months of incorporation of a company regarding commencement of business in Form 20A, has been extended by additional 6 months. This will reduce the compliance burden on newly incorporated companies as the commencement of business may pose certain challenges in these testing times.
  • No violation of law shall be considered if a director is unable to comply with minimum residency requirement of 182 days as per section 149 of CA, 2013. This would be relevant considering the travel restrictions imposed by the countries across the globe as well as lockdown in India.
  • The requirement of creation of reserve for 20 percent of all the deposits maturing in the next FY before April 30, 2020 has been deferred till June 30, 2020.
  • The requirement of investing 15 percent of the amount of maturing debentures during a year by April 30, 2020 as per section 173 of CA, 2013 read with Rule 18 of the Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014, has been deferred up to June 30, 2020.

Please note that MCA has issued a circular bearing No. 11/2020 dated March 25, 2020 (“Circular”) with respect to the above.[2] These relaxations would help easing compliance burden upon the companies/ LLPs.

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“IBC”)

Following critical measures have been introduced under the IBC:

  • The minimum threshold for filing a petition under IBC has been increased from INR 1 Lakh to INR 1 Crore with immediate effect. This will provide immediate relief to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, which will bear direct and adverse effect of COVID-19 on a large scale. It is important to note here that the notification bearing F. No. 30/9/2020-Insolvency dated March 24, 2020 (“IBC Notification”) issued by the MCA does not prescribe any time limit for increase in the threshold.[3] Therefore, it appears that the increase in threshold has not been notified for a certain time period.
  • In the event the situation in relation to COVID-19 persists beyond April 30, 2020, the operation of Sections 7, 9 and 10 under IBC may be considered for a 6 month suspension. Section 7 of the IBC relates to initiation of corporate insolvency resolution by a financial creditor, while Section 9 and 10 talk about initiation of corporate insolvency resolution by operational creditor and corporate applicant.   As a result, initiation of insolvency resolution proceedings against defaulting corporates will be suspended for a limited time period once the measure is introduced. This will provide some relief to the small and medium-sized businesses which may be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy due to this black swan event.
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Income Tax Act, 1961

The following measures have been announced in relation to the Income Tax Act, 1961 (“IT Act 1961”):

  • In relation to FY 2018-19, the last date for filing of belated income tax returns has been extended to June 30, 2020 from March 31, 2020.
  • In relation to delayed payments of advanced tax, self-assessment tax, regular tax, TDS, TCS, equalization levy, STT, CTT made between March 20, 2020 and June 30, 2020, an interest at a reduced rate of 9 percent (as opposed to 12 percent or 18 percent per annum) would be charged. Hence, on a monthly basis, a rate of 0.75 percent would be charged (instead of 1 percent or 1.5 percent). Further, there would be no late fees or penalty chargeable on delay in relation to this period. This is a welcome step as it would ease up the financial burden on the assessee.
  • The last date for Aadhaar-PAN linking has been extended to June 30, 2020.
  • Certain waivers have been offered in relation to payments under the Direct Tax Vivaad Se Vishwas Act, 2020. This legislation was introduced with an objective of resolving direct tax disputes. Under this Act, tax payers availing this scheme and making payment of amount of tax under dispute on or after April 1, 2020 were required to pay additional 10 percent of the determined tax amount. However, payments made by March 31, 2020 did not attract such charge. Vide the measures announced by, no additional payment of 10 percent would be required for payments made till June 30, 2020. This would enable the relevant assessee to take benefit of this legal amnesty scheme without incurring any additional cost.
  • The due dates in relation to the following, which are due for expiration between the period of March 20, 2020 and June 29, 2020 shall be extended till June 30, 2020:
    • issuance of notice, intimation, notification;
    • passing of approval order and sanction order;
    • filing of appeal;
    • furnishing of return, statements, applications, reports and any other documents;
    • time limit for completion of proceedings by the authority; and
    • any compliance by the taxpayer including investment in saving instruments or investments for roll over benefit of capital gains under various laws including IT Act 1961, Prohibition of Benami Property Transaction Act, 1988, The Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, STT law, CTT Law, Equalization Levy law, Direct Tax Vivad se Vishwas Act, 2020.

It may be noted that necessary circulars and legislative amendments in this regard would be issued by the relevant Ministry / Department in the due course.

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Goods and Service Tax 

The following measures have been announced in relation to Central Goods and Service Tax Act, 2017 and the Indirect Taxes:

  • The due date for filing of Form GSTR-3B which is due in March, April and May, 2020, for companies having aggregate annual turnover less than INR 5 Crores, has been extended to the last week of June, 2020. Further, no interest, late fee, and penalty shall be chargeable in this regard. This is carried out to ease the compliance burden on the small and medium scale enterprises.
  • In relation to companies having aggregate annual turnover of more than INR 5 Crores, for filing of Form GSRT-3B which is due in March, April and May, 2020, the same has been extended till last week of June, 2020. However, if the return is filed after fifteen (15) days from the due date, a rate of interest at 9 percent per annum (instead of 18 percent per annum) would be chargeable. In this regard, no late fee and penalty would be charged if compliance is done prior to June 30, 2020.
  • The date for opting for composition scheme has been extended till June, 2020. Additionally, the last date for making payments for the quarter ending March, 2020 and for filing returns for FY 2019-20 by composition dealers would be extended till the last week of June, 2020.
  • The date for filing of GST annual returns of FY 2018-19, has been extended to the last week of June, 2020 from March 31, 2020.
  • The due dates in relation to the following compliances under the GST regime, wherein the time limit is due for expiration between March 20, 2020 to June 29, 2020 has been extended to June 30, 2020:
    • issuance of notice, notification;
    • approval order, sanction order;
    • filing of appeal;
    • furnishing of return, statements, applications, reports and any other documents;
    • time limit for any compliance under the GST laws.

It may be noted that the necessary legal circulars and legislative amendments in this regard shall follow with the approval of GST Council.

  • Payment date under the Sabka Vishwas (Legacy Dispute Resolution) Scheme, 2019 shall be extended to June 30, 2020 and no interest for this period shall be charged if the payments are made by June 30, 2020.

Customs

The following decisions have been taken with respect to compliances under Customs Act, 1962 (“Act of 1962”):

  • Customs clearance has been categorized as an essential service, which shall be available 24×7 till June 30, 2020.
  • The time limit for issuance of notice, notification, approval order, sanction order, filing of appeal, furnishing applications, reports, any other documents, etc., time limit for any compliance under the Act of 1962 and other allied laws where the time limit is expiring between March 20, 2020 to June 29, 2020, has been extended till June 30, 2020.
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Financial Services

The following measures have been introduced in relation to financial services:

  • A waiver on additional charges for cash withdrawals via debit-cards of a particular bank from an ATM of other banks would be granted for 3-months. This would entail charge free cash withdrawal, as it would be difficult to access an ATM with which an individual holds a bank account, during the lockdown period.
  • The requirement for minimum balance fee for bank accounts would be waived for a period of 3-months.
  • The bank charges would be reduced for digital trade transactions for all trade finance consumers. This step has been taken to ensure that people prefer digital transactions over traditional modes due to easy access.

Department of Commerce

In relation to the commerce sector, the GoI has announced that there would be an extension of timelines in relation to compliances and procedures. The detailed notification in this regard would be released by the Ministry of Commerce.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant preventive measures have affected the business sector and given rise to various complications. With a view to reduce the reeling effects of this pandemic, the GoI through the Ministry of Finance has introduced a slew of measures to relax the statutory and regulatory compliances for businesses. These relaxations have been introduced for ease of day-to-day functioning and compliances. Further, these measures would also sustain in management of the financial and operational burdens vis-à-vis statutory and regulatory related compliances. Small and medium scale businesses have been affected the most due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and these measures would go a long way in easing their financial burdens. From an individual perspective, certain relaxations have been introduced in the financial services sector to reduce bank charged for digital transactions. In addition to the above, the due date of ongoing proceedings (regulatory, quasi-judicial and judicial) under the tax regime (direct and indirect) has been extended. This is a much-needed relief for the hour, as given the circumstances, the courts and tribunals across the nation are not functioning or hearing selective matters, and hence taking a legal recourse in this regard would pose a challenge. The formal circular / notification in this regard from the relevant Ministry / Department is expected soon.

[1] The Notification could be accessed here.

[2] The Circular could be accessed here.

[3] The IBC Notification could be accessed here.

From Yatin’s Desk: Delhi High Court favorably rules on alternate Writ remedy against DRP directions

The Delhi High Court (HC), in a recent ruling in the case of P.D.R SOLUTIONS FZC has allowed the Writ petition filed by the petitioner and set aside the order of the Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP) holding that the DRP erred in not taking into consideration all the material and contentions furnished by the petitioner before the DRP. The matter was remanded back to the DRP for considering the objections raised by the petitioner in detail and for passing a fresh order on merits by giving reasons and findings. To put in perspective, the petitioner was a UAE tax resident company engaged in the business of selling domain names, providing web hosting services & server space to clients. The petitioner had claimed a non-taxable position under India-UAE DTAA , which was one of the objection raised before the DRP. The DRP however, without examining the objection, passed an adverse direction following the decision of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in case of GoDaddy.com, taxability in which case was determined only under the domestic tax laws.

As a norm, Writ remedies are generally not entertained when there is alternate appellate remedy available to the taxpayer. However, in this case the HC observed that since no assessment order had yet been passed by the Assessing officer (AO), the alternate remedy was not available as yet. Further, the DRP did not adjudicate petitioner’s categorical objections on the taxability under the India-UAE DTAA which violated the principles of natural justice, there was a fundamental error relating to the exercise of jurisdiction and the approach of the DRP rendered the entire process of the dispute resolution as per the scheme of law farcical.

In the ordinary course, a taxpayer would be required to go through the tedious process of litigation – filing appeal before the next level appellate forum (ITAT) against the final order once issued by the AO (based on DRP direction). In a matter like this where the DRP has not examined the technical merits of the case, generally the ITAT would remand the matter back to  AO/DRP for consideration on merits. Procedurally, this may take substantial time, perhaps years, before appeal is considered by the ITAT. Given the favourable consideration by HC at the draft order stage (where only DRP direction has been passed), there may now be another opportunity for tax payer to perhaps explore the Writ option and expedite their litigation where there is a blatant non considerations of the objection raised before the DRP. Having said that, one needs to take note (as observed by the HC) that not every order, where there is a non-application of mind, would become open to challenge under Writ jurisdiction, but only fundamental error which are glaring and noticeable.

The HC has made a fine balance in all fairness and brings forth an alternate remedy where the taxpayer is aggrieved against DRP direction, albeit which may be considered judiciously in exceptional circumstances.

From Yatin’s Desk: Government clarifies on proposed residency rule for Indian Citizens

The Finance Bill (FB) 2020 has proposed a significant change by regarding an Indian citizen (who otherwise is not resident in India under the basis stay rule of 182/120 days or more) as ‘deemed resident’ if the individual is ‘not liable to tax in any other country’ by reason of his domicile or residence or other criteria of similar nature. Memorandum to the FB 2020 explains the intent by stating that the change is proposed to address the practice by individuals to arrange affairs in a fashion such that he is not liable to tax in any country or jurisdiction during a year. Such arrangements are typically employed by high net worth individuals to avoid paying taxes to any country/ jurisdiction on income they earn. The change, at first sight, is bound to give jitters to certain category of citizens who are genuinely employed in tax free countries, for instance UAE which does not have personal income tax.

It will be interesting to take note of the text proposing the change which states as follows – “an individual, being a citizen of India, shall be deemed to be resident in India in any previous year, if he is not liable to tax in any other country or territory by reason of his domicile or residence or any other criteria of similar nature.”;

The use of the expression “by reason of his domicile or residence” is intriguing given the effect could have perhaps been achieved simply by specifying that ‘a citizen of India shall be deemed to be resident in India if he is not liable to tax in any other country’. One wonders whether the use of expression “by reason of his domicile or residence” gives some scope for argument that the deeming residency rule may not apply to citizens where non-taxability is on account of general exclusion of ‘Individual’ from taxation and not on account of lack of meeting threshold of domicile/residence? The debate may have just begun and will certainly open another area of protracted litigation.

While the analysis continues, one way to wriggle out of this conundrum is to take shelter of ties breaker rule under tax treaties, which is again a complex exercise involving interpretations. It will further be pertinent to take note that individuals qualifying as “resident but not ordinarily resident” (RNOR) are not taxable in relation to income which accrues or arises outside India unless it is derived from a business controlled or a profession setup in India. As further proposed in FB 2020, a person will qualify as “RNOR” in India in any previous year, if he has been a non-resident in India in 7 out of 10 previous years preceding that year. Thus, even if an individual is regarded as a “deemed resident” under the new framework from FY 2020-2021, he may still qualify as “RNOR“ thereby safeguarding income accruing outside India from India taxation during the years “RNOR” status is maintained. The 7/10 rule for RNOR status while provides some comfort to citizens who have been settled overseas for over 7 years, this will have far reaching implications for recent emigrants.

The government is ceased of the issue and to its credit has issued a press release clarifying that in case of an Indian citizen who becomes ‘deemed resident’ of India under this proposed provision, income earned outside India by him shall not be taxed in India unless it is derived from an Indian business or profession. Further clarification is expected to be incorporated in the relevant provision of law. Hope the government also ensures there is no associated filing/reporting burden cast on the overseas citizens.

Whether it is at all worthwhile to change the status quo only for targeting a few HNI’s misusing the law..perhaps not!

From Yatin’s Desk: Non-resident taxpayers get partial breather from filing Indian tax returns

Filing of Indian income tax return by non-residents earning passive income in the nature of royalty, fee for technical services (FTS) and interest, subjected to WHT in India, has been a sore point for non-resident tax payers. Such taxpayers either being oblivious of the requirement or otherwise regarding such compliance as an unnecessary burden, in many instances have not been filing the tax return in India. The Government over the last 2-3 years has been focusing on ensuring compliance, even going to the extent of issuing notices for reassessment and making penal provisions stringent to enforce compliance by delinquent tax payers. In a reversal, the Finance Bill (FB) 2020 now proposes to exempts non-residents from tax filing obligation, though with limitations.

Under the extant provisions, non-resident tax payers earning interest and dividend income are exempted from filing tax returns provided appropriate WHT has been deducted [at rate applicable under Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) or domestic tax law – as beneficial]. Tax payers earning FTS & royalty income are mandatorily required to file tax return, even if income has been subject to WHT. FB 2020 proposes to materially change this requirement by providing the non-residents an exemption from tax filing in relation to FY 2019-2020 and subsequent years. The exemption will be available where the income is in the nature of royalty/FTS (taxable on gross basis), interest and dividend and WHT has been deducted at the rate prescribed under the domestic tax law (Act), if higher than the rate applicable under DTAA.

For instance, WHT rate for Royalty/FTS in most DTAA is 10% vis-à-vis 10.92% (for foreign companies) under the Act. The exemption from filing will be applicable if WHT has been made at 10.92%. While difference is not stark with respect to Royalty/FTS and non-residents may perhaps consider WHT deduction at higher rate to avail the benefit, adopting the same approach for interest and dividend income will have its limitation. General rate of WHT applicable on interest/dividend income is  21.84% (peak rate for foreign companies) as against 10%/15% applicable under most DTAA [certain categories of interest income is subject to lower WHT of 5% under Act e.g. interest on foreign currency loan, rupee denominated bonds, etc.]. Significant difference in WHT rates would be a dampener leaving non-resident tax payers with limited scope of benefiting from the proposed non-filing regime.

The budget proposal has made a cross-over perhaps benefiting non-resident tax payers earning FTS/royalty income (given lower arbitrage between domestic and DTAA WHT rates) while obligating those earning interest/dividend income to file tax return if they wish to take benefit of lower rates under DTAA. The provisions also leave another area unaddressed i.e. with regard to undertaking transfer pricing compliance even where there is no filing obligation (in absence of specific carve out). Non compliance has significant penal implications.

The Government has apparently taken back, to an extent, what it proposed to give by way of relief to non-resident taxpayers. It may not be ease of compliance yet !

From Yatin’s Desk: Income Tax Settlement Scheme – An opportunity to close tax litigation

Update: 22.02.2020 – The tax settlement scheme which was initially proposed to cover litigation pending before Commissioner (appeals), Tax Tribunal, High Court, Supreme Court and international arbitration as on 31 January 2020 is expected to also cover matters under review by Dispute Resolution Panel (DRP), Revision applications before Commissioner and orders for which timeline for filing appeal has not expired as on 31 January 2020. The Government is going all guns blazing to make this scheme a success. A great opportunity for litigants.

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The Finance Minister, in her budget speech introducing the Finance Bill 2020 had announced bringing a direct tax settlement scheme with the intent of reducing over 4.8 lacs direct tax cases pending before various appellate authorities. In furtherance of the announcement, “The Direct Tax Vivad Se Vishwas Bill, 2020” has been introduced in the Parliament for consideration. The same will become effective from the date to be notified post approval by the parliament and presidential assent.

The scheme provides an opportunity to settle arrears of tax against appeals pending as on 31 January 2020 before the appellate forums [Commissioner (Appeal), Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, High Court and Supreme Court]. Where the arrears relates to disputed tax and interest & penalty on such disputed tax, there is a complete waiver of interest and penalty on payment of disputed tax by 31 March 2020. Payment beyond 31 March 2020 but within the last date (to be notified), will require additional payments of 10% of the disputed tax. Further where the tax arrears relates to disputed interest, penalty or fee, there will be a waiver of 75% of such amount if paid by 31 March 2020 and 70% where payment made beyond 31st March 2020 till the last date to be specified. The scheme further provided for immunity from prosecution.

The scheme requires the taxpayer to file a declaration before the designated Commissioner of Income tax who will within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt grant a certificate containing particular of tax arrears and the amount of tax to be paid. The taxpayer will thereafter be required to pay the tax determined within 15 days from the date of receipt of the certificate and intimate the payment thereof to the authorities. On issue of certificate, pending appeal before the Commissioner (Appeal) and Income tax Appellate Tribunal will be deemed to be withdrawn. With regard to appeals before High Court/Supreme Court or where proceedings for arbitration, conciliation or mediation have been initiated, the taxpayer will be required to withdraw the appeals. Rules and forms in relation to the scheme are yet to be notified.

The scheme leaves some open questions such as eligibility of tax payers who are yet to file appeal as on 31 January 2020 (within the timeline prescribed), impact on appeals deemed to be withdrawn before the appellate authorities upon issue of certificate where the taxpayer is unable to pay the liability with the 15 day timeline, adjustment of past pre-deposits, etc. Hopefully some FAQ’s will clarify on such aspect. Further, given the 15 days payment timeline, this may be a challenge for foreign companies not having operative bank account in India to facilitate money transfer. The Government may consider a mechanism to facilitate this.

Overall the tax settlement scheme is a welcome move by the government to reduce pending litigation. Tax payers should critically review their litigation exposure and avail the opportunity to get closure specifically where exposure of interest (due to long pending disputes), penalty and prosecution is high.

From Yatin’s Desk: MAT credit dilemma under 25% corporate tax rate option

In light of last week’s historical reduction in the corporate tax rates applicable during FY 2019-20, existing domestic companies (not availing tax exemptions/specified deductions) have the option to avail reduced corporate tax rate of ≈25%. Such companies have also been exempted from applicability of Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT). Companies not opting for such scheme will continue to be taxed at the current rate (≈29%/35%) and subject to MAT, albeit at the reduced rate of ≈ 17.5% vis-a-vis 21.5%.

In absence of MAT application to such companies or any change in MAT credit provisions specifically permitting set-off of MAT credit against 25% liability, the debate will continue for the next few days on the entitlement to set of unutilized MAT credit. However, if the view emerges against the set-off, it will be vital for companies to consider their MAT credit position before jumping into the perceptibly lucrative 25% tax regime. As a big picture, so long the companies have sufficient MAT credit, the liability can be restricted to 17.5% (MAT liability) by setting off excess liability computed (at general rate of 29%/35%) against MAT credit entitlement. Accordingly, it may be beneficial for companies to continue with the existing regime till the MAT credit is completely absorbed. There is always the option to exercise the 25% regime in future.

While the taxpayers do their math, it will be worthy if the government clarifies its position.

From Yatin’s Desk: Withholding tax (TDS) default, no more business as usual

Indian tax laws mandate payers to withhold taxes at source on payments to residents (in case of specified payments) and also non-residents (where their income is taxable in India). Non-compliance has penal consequences. While failure to withhold tax has interest and penalty implications (i.e. financial costs), consequences are severe in case of non-deposit or late deposit of tax collected leading to additional prosecution implications (financial+ criminal implications). Given the humongous amount of data collated by the Revenue Authorities and use of data analytic, it is not unusual to find show cause notices being issued to defaulter now days. However what should raise alarm for the defaulters is the fact that where the default relates to non/delayed deposit of taxes leading to prosecution proceedings, the Magistrate Courts are taking a serious view on the matter with defaulters being sentenced to imprisonment.

One recent case before the Ballard Pier Magistrate Court (Mumbai), related to a delayed payments of approx. INR 850K, which was paid with interest and also penalty. The Magistrate Court disregarded the plea of financial constraint and proceeded to convict the defaulter sentencing to 3 months imprisonment. Though, the decision is appealable before higher Appellate Courts, one needs to take note that such proceedings are highly complex, time consuming and financially expensive. Take for instance this specific matter – it related to withholding default in financial year 2009-10, criminal complaint before Magistrate Court was filed in 2004 and after almost 30 odd hearings/adjournments before the Magistrate Court, the proceedings concluded in April 2019; a 10 year saga, which will further continue for years before higher Courts.

It is also relevant to take note that where the defaulter is a Company, the direct impact is on the directors, who generally are proceeded against leaving it for them to defend their innocence. A clear message – by no means delay or fail to deposit taxes deducted if you want to be on the right side of law, else don’t complain of government action!!

From Yatin’s Desk: Changes proposed to the rules for attribution of income to Permanent Establishment

Attribution of profits to a Permanent Establishment (PE) of a Multinational Enterprises (MNE) in India has been a commonly ligated matter and marred with uncertainty. The Indian tax administration has placed for public comments report of the Committee constituted to examine the existing scheme of profit attribution to PE, with the intent of framing guidelines for profit attribution, bringing certainty and transparency. While the debate on the proposals will surely continue for long, the document is a valuable read for India’s position which highlight India reservation to the authorized OECD approach for PE income attribution.

The Committee in its report emphasizes the fact that the Indian tax treaties are predominantly based on UN Model Convection which under Article 7 legitimizes attribution of profits to a PE on the basis of apportionment of the total profits of the enterprise to its various parts. Such methods is adoptable where profits cannot be determined through a direct method i.e. based on verifiable books of accounts prepared as per acceptable accounting standards. In contrast, Article 7 of OECD model convention post 2010 advocates the approach of allocation taking into account the functions performed, assets used and risks assumed (FAR analysis) by the enterprise through the permanent establishment and through the other parts of the enterprise.

The Committee has observed that business profits are contributed by both demand and supply of the goods. Article 7 of the OECD Model Tax Convention and approach recommended by OECD (based on FAR) is purely supply side approach towards profit attribution and disregards the role of demand in contributing to profits attributable to PE. Further, the Indian tax treaties have not included the concept of Income attribution based on FAR as advocated by OECD model convention, thereby permitting attribution of profits in a manner different from the authorized OECD approach i.e. by resorting to the direct accounting method and where that may not be possible, by apportionment of profits.

Accordingly, the Committee has suggested PE profit attribution based on a combination of (i) profits derived from Indian operations and (ii) three factor method based on equal weight accorded to sales (representing demand), manpower and assets (representing supply including marketing activities). In other words, profits of the multinational enterprise will first be apportioned for India sales (amount arrived at by multiplying the revenue derived from India x Global operational profit margin). As a second step, such profits will be attributed proportionately to (a) sales within and outside India; (b) employees and wages within and outside India; and (c) assets deployed within and outside India for Indian operations, each with 33% weightage. Further to address a situation whether the multinational enterprise suffers losses or has profit margin less than 2%, a margin of 2% of revenue derived from India sale is proposed to be regarded as deemed profit for India operation, thereby recommending minimum base level taxation. With regard to digital economy, where nexus to taxation is attributed to the concept of significant economic presence, considering the role of users, a fourth factor (i.e. user intensity) needs to be further built into the income attribution formulae.

The OECD approach for income attribution based on FAR analysis, which the Committee regards as factoring only supply side attributes (and not demand) finds favour with the Committee where no sales takes place in India. For instance, where a multinational enterprise constitutes a PE in India and compensates the PE at arm’s length basis FAR analysis and further such enterprise does not have any sales in India, no further income will be attributable to India (in absence of any play of demand side factor). However, where sales are made in India, the reading of the Committee report suggests formulae based attribution would become the rule and additional income attributable would become taxable in India (post allowance of income apportioned to supply factors and offered to tax in India).

Given the development, there will be a significant transformation to the concept and impact on income attribution to permanent establishments in India, should the proposed recommendation be formulated into mandatory rules. The demand side factors which the Committee consider as an important consideration would seemingly lead to attribution of 33 percent of the profits derived from sale in India even if no further attribution is required to be made in absence of other factors. It will be interesting to see how the courts view the principles around income attribution in light of the divergence in OECD approach and Indian tax administration position.