Interest on Refund of self assessment tax allowed :P & H HC

By | October 11, 2015

self assessment tax Assessee would be entitled to interest under section 244A(1)(b) on amount of refund which was deposited by it by way of self assessment tax under section 140A

HIGH COURT OF PUNJAB AND HARYANA

Commissioner of Income-tax

v.

Punjab Chemical & Crop Protection Ltd.

AJAY KUMAR MITTAL AND FATEH DEEP SINGH, JJ.

IT APPEAL NO. 153 OF 2007(O&M)

AUGUST  25, 2014

Ms. Urvashi Dhugga, Advocate for the Appellant. Ms. Manisha Gandhi, Sr. Adv. and Tarurag Gaur, Adv.for the Respondent.

JUDGMENT

Ajay Kumar Mittal, J. – This appeal has been preferred by the Revenue under section 260A of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (in short, “the Act”), against the order dated August 31, 2006, annexure A 3 passed by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, Chandigarh Bench “A” (in short, “the Tribunal”) in I. T. A. No. 236/Chandi/2005 for the assessment year 1989-90, claiming the following substantial questions of law :

“(1) Whether the hon’ble Income-tax Appellate Tribunal was right in directing to allow interest under section 244A(1)(b) by treating the tax paid on self-assessment as pre paid tax for the purpose ?
(2) Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the hon’ble Income-tax Appellate Tribunal is correct in law in holding that the Explanation below clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 244A is merely to stipulate the period for which the interest is to be granted ?
(3) Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, for the purpose of the Explanation below clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 244A, the date of payment of tax can be understood to mean date of payment of self assessment tax ?
(4) Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the inference drawn by the hon’ble Income-tax Appellate Tribunal from the Explanation below clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 244A is correct ?”

2. A few facts relevant for the decision of the controversy involved as narrated in the appeal may be noticed. The assessee-company was allowed interest under section 244A of the Act at Rs. 7,02,044 while giving effect to the order of the Tribunal. The interest was allowed on the refund due for the period from April 1, 1989, to the date of issue of refund. However, later on the interest allowed under section 244A of the Act was withdrawn, vide order dated July 11, 2003, under section 154 of the Act. Aggrieved by the order, the assessee filed an appeal before the Commissioner of Income-tax (Appeals) (“the CIT(A)”). The Commissioner of Income-tax (Appeals) dismissed the appeal, vide order dated December 30, 2004, annexure A 2 and sustained the order of the Assessing Officer withdrawing interest under section 244A of the Act. Still not satisfied, the assessee filed an appeal before the Tribunal. Vide order dated August 31, 2006, annexure A 3, the Tribunal partly allowed the appeal. It was held that in terms of clause (b) of section 244A(1) read with Explanation thereof, the period for which the interest can be granted is from the date on which the self assessment tax was adjusted against the assessed income-tax and up to the date of actual grant of refund. Hence, the instant appeal by the Revenue.

3. We have heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the record.

4. Learned counsel for the Revenue submitted that the Revenue was not liable to pay interest on the self assessment tax which was deposited by the assessee under section 140A of the Act. Reference was made to the judgments reported in Saurashtra Cement & Chemical Industries Ltd. v. ITO [1992] 194 ITR 659 CIT v. J. Pitambardas & Co. [1995] 216 ITR 172 Saraya Sugar Mills Ltd. v. ITO [1997] 226 ITR 475 E. Philip Joseph v. ITO [1998] 234 ITR 846 (Ker.), National Horticulture Board v. Union of India [2002] 253 ITR 12  CIT v. Ashok Leyland Ltd. [2002] 254 ITR 641 , CIT v. Shelly Products [2003] 261 ITR 367 Kerala State Civil Supplies Corpn. Ltd. v. Jt. CIT [2006] 282 ITR 647/151 Taxman 55 (Ker.) and CIT v. Cholamandalam Investment & Finance Co. Ltd. [2007] 294 ITR 438/[2008] 166 Taxman 132 (Mad.)

5. On the other hand, learned counsel for the assessee on the strength of the judgments in National Horticulture Board’s case (supra), CIT v. Sutlej Industries Ltd. [2010] 325 ITR 331/190 Taxman 136 (Delhi), CIT v. M. M. T. C. Ltd. [2000] 246 ITR 725/112 Taxman 647 (Delhi) and Cholamandalam Investment & Finance Co. Ltd.’scase (supra), contended that the assessee was entitled for interest under section 244A(1)(b) of the Act on tax deducted at source, advance tax as well as self assessment tax. The Tribunal had rightly held that the assessee was eligible for interest under section 244A(1)(b) of the Act on the refund.

6. The primary question that arises for adjudication in the present appeal is whether the assessee is entitled to interest under section 244A(1)(b) of the Act on the amount of refund which was deposited by it by way of self assessment tax under section 140A of the Act.

7. Chapter XIX of the Act deals with “refunds’ and contains various provisions relating to refund of the amount paid by an assessee and payment of interest thereon. Section 244A(1) and (2), which finds place in this Chapter and which governs the award of interest on refund, at the relevant time, reads as under :

“244A. Interest on refunds.—(1) Where refund of any amount becomes due to the assessee under this Act, he shall, subject to the provisions of this section, be entitled to receive, in addition to the said amount, simple interest thereon calculated in the following manner, namely :-

(a) where the refund is out of any tax collected at source under section 206C or paid by way of advance tax or treated as paid under section 199, during the financial year immediately preceding the assessment year, such interest shall be calculated at the rate of one per cent. for every month or part of a month comprised in the period from the 1st day of April of the assessment year to the date on which the refund is granted :
Provided that no interest shall be payable if the amount of refund is less than ten per cent. of the tax as determined under sub-section (1) of section 143 or on regular assessment ;
(b) in any other case, such interest shall be calculated at the rate of one per cent. for every month or part of a month comprised in the period or periods from the date or, as the case may be, dates of payment of the tax or penalty to the date on which the refund is granted.
Explanation.-For the purposes of this clause, ‘date of payment of tax or penalty’ means the date on and from which the amount of tax or penalty specified in the notice of demand issued under section 156 is paid in excess of such demand.

(2) If the proceedings resulting in the refund are delayed for reasons attributable to the assessee, whether wholly or in part, the period of the delay so attributable to him shall be excluded from the period for which interest is payable, and where any question arises as to the period to be excluded, it shall be decided by the Chief Commissioner or Commissioner whose decision thereon shall be final.”

8. The aforesaid provision came up for interpretation and consideration in National Horticulture Board’s case (supra) wherein it was held as under (page 16 of 253 ITR) :

“A conjoint reading of the provisions quoted above shows that the assessee is entitled to receive interest on the amount of refund at the rates prescribed in clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (1) of section 244A. The rationale underlying this provision is to compensate the assessee in lieu of the deprivation of his property right by virtue of unlawful collection of tax. If the proceedings resulting in the refund are delayed due to reasons attributable to the assessee, then the period of delay has to be excluded from the period for which the interest is payable. In other words, if the assessee is responsible for the delay in the finalisation of the proceedings on the basis of which he becomes entitled to refund, then the period of delay is to be excluded from the total period for which interest becomes payable. However, there is nothing in the plain language of sub-section (1) and (2) of section 244A from which it can be inferred that the assessee can be deprived of the interest in respect of the period during which his application for refund remains pending before the competent authority.”

9. The issue whether refund of self assessment tax on account of excess amount of tax paid by the assessee would entitle an assessee to claim interest thereon at the time of refund was considered by the Delhi High Court in Sutlej Industries Ltd.’s case (supra). Following the judgment of the Madras High Court in Cholamandalam Investment & Finance Co. Ltd.’s case (supra), it was observed as under (page 337 of 325 ITR) :

“In the case of CIT v. Cholamandalam Investment & Finance Co. Ltd. [2007] 294 ITR 438 (Mad), the Madras High Court dealt with the question of whether the assessee is entitled to interest under section 244A as per clause (1)(b) of that section, when the refund arises on account of payment of self assessment tax. The Madras High Court observed as under (page 442 of 294 ITR) :

‘Even though the short title to section 140A reads as self-assessment, the charging phrase employed in section 140A namely “Where any tax is payable on the basis of any return required to be furnished under section 115WD or section 115WH or section 139 or section 142 or section 148 or section 153A, as the case may be ; the assessee shall be liable to pay such tax together with interest payable under any provision of this Act for any delay in furnishing the return”, makes it clear that there is no difference between :

(i) the tax paid under section 115WJ, which deals with advance tax in respect of fringe benefits ; or

(ii) the tax collected at source under section 206C ; or

(iii) any tax paid by way of advance tax or any tax treated as paid under section 199, which deals with credit for tax deducted, which are provided under section 244A(1)(a).

The proviso to section 244A(1)(a) makes it clear that no interest shall be payable if the amount of refund is less than 10 per cent. on regular assessment with regard to the refund of advance tax paid under section 115WJ in respect of fringe benefits ; (ii) tax collected at source under section 206C ; and (iii) advance tax or any tax treated as paid under section 199. But, with respect to other tax as per section 244A(1)(b), the interest shall be payable even if the amount is less than 10 per cent. of the tax as determined under section 143(1) or on the regular assessment, because there is no proviso to section 244A(1)(b) as provided under section 244A(1)(a).’

The Madras High Court further observed (page 443 of 294 ITR) :

‘It is also trite law that wherever the assessee is entitled to refund, there is a statutory liability on the Revenue to pay the interest on such refund on general principles to pay the interest on sums wrongfully retained (reference Sandvik Asia Ltd).’

The Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition (SLP) No. 16877 of 2008 filed by the Revenue against the decision in Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Co. Ltd. [2007] 294 ITR 438 (Mad), vide order dated December 3, 2009. The Supreme Court has also, recently, in the case of CIT v. H.E.G. Ltd.reported in [2010] 324 ITR 331 (SC), vide its order dated December 3, 2009, held that the expression ‘refund of any amount’ would include interest under section 244A (on refund of tax deducted at source) to which the assessee was lawfully entitled but had been wrongly withheld by the Department.”

10. It was further held that the amount of tax due on the returned income is to be paid by way of tax deducted at source (section 199), advance tax (section 209) or by way of self assessment tax (section 140A). In the event of refund, the assessee is entitled to payment of interest on the excess amount of tax paid. It was noticed as under (page 338 of 325 ITR) :

“The tax due on the returned income has to be paid by way of tax deducted at source (section 199), advance tax (section 209) or by way of self assessment tax (section 140A). In addition, where the assessment is completed at an income higher than the returned income, the tax payable by the assessee is specified in the notice of demand issued under section 156 of the Act. Where there is a shortfall in payment on tax vis-a-vis the tax finally due on the assessed income, the assessee is liable to pay interest under section 234B of the Act. Conversely, where the Revenue makes a high-pitched assessment which is subsequently reduced/modified in appeal, any payment of taxes made, which are subsequently refunded as a consequence of relief obtained in appeals, etc., are monies legitimately belonging to the taxpayers and wrongly withheld by the Government. This is based on the principle that if the Revenue had, in the first instance, made correct assessment of the tax liability of the assessee, the assessee would not have been deprived by the use of money. In such a situation, where pre-paid taxes are in excess of the assessed tax, the assessee is entitled to refund of such tax along with interest thereon.

Where an assessee out of abundant caution pays self-assessment whilst staking a claim in the return, which claim is accepted, resulting in refund of self assessment tax, the assessee should be equally entitled to interest thereon.

Section 244A was inserted in the statute as a measure of rationalization to ensure that the assessee is duly compensated by the Government, by way of payment of interest for monies legitimately belonging to the assessee and wrongfully retained by the Government, without any gaps.

Therefore, in our view where the self assessment tax paid by the assessee under section 140A is refunded, the assessee should be, on principle entitled to interest thereon since the self assessment tax falls within the expression ‘refund of any amount’.”

Similar view was expressed by the Delhi High Court in M.M.T.C. Ltd.’s case (supra).

11. It may be observed that in so far as the nature of payment of tax is concerned, the tax deducted at source, advance tax and also tax paid by way of self-assessment, after its adjustment in the tax liability of the assessee on regular assessment loses its original character and becomes tax paid in pursuance of the liability. Once that is so, it cannot be held that the assessee is only entitled to interest under section 244A(1)(b) on tax deducted at source or advance tax and not on self assessment tax paid under section 140A of the Act which was found to be paid in excess. The assessee shall be entitled to interest under section 244A(1)(b) of the Act on the refund of self assessment tax as well.

12. The Tribunal, while adjudicating the issue, had noticed as under :

“6. We have considered the rival submissions carefully on this issue. Section 244A deals with the grant of interest on refund of any amount of tax which becomes due to the assessee in terms of the provisions of Act. Clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (1) of section 244A deal with two different situations. Clause (a) deals with refund of taxes which have been paid under section 115WJ or collected at source under section 206C or paid by way of advance tax or treated as paid under section 199 of the Act. Clause (b) deals with refund of taxes in any other case. Clearly, in so far as the present case is concerned, the provisions of clause (a) are not attracted inasmuch as it is undisputed that the refund accruing to the assessee by the order of the Assessing Officer dated December 12, 2001, was not of taxes, which have been paid in the manner stated in clause (a). The tax refunded in the instant case has been paid as self assessment tax under section 140A of the Act and, thus, as per the assessee, clause (b) governs the field. The Revenue contends that clause (b) is confined to situations where the tax refunded has been paid in terms of a notice of demand issued by the Assessing Officer under section 156. In our view, the implication of clause (b) as is understood by the Department, is not borne out of the language of the statute. No doubt, self assessment tax is paid by an assessee on the basis of the income declared in the return. Once the tax so paid gets adjusted against the tax determined by the Assessing Officer upon assessment, such self assessment tax takes the imprint of a tax paid in pursuance to an assessment. In fact a similar issue was considered by the Ahmedabad Bench of the Tribunal in the case of Dhanvi Trading and Investment (P.) Ltd. (supra) the relevant portion of which we reproduce herein :

‘So long as the self assessment tax possesses and retains the character of self-assessment, there is no question of reckoning the same for the purposes of treating it as excess payment and allowing interest as envisaged under section 244A till the regular assessment is made under section 143 or section 144, it is only on the date the assessment is made that the deeming fiction contained under section 244A(2) comes into play and the self assessment tax is deemed to have been paid towards the regular assessment. It is, therefore, on the date of the regular assessment that the self assessment tax loses its identity and assumes the character of the tax paid for the purpose of quantification of any excess of tax payment in response to the notice of demand issued under section 156. The explanation appended to section 244A(1) amply clarifies the position as explained above.’

From the above, it, therefore, follows that tax paid under section 140A is also taken as paid in pursuance of an assessment after the completion of assessment.

7. Moreover, the rationale of the provisions of section 244A has been a subject matter of review by the hon’ble jurisdictional High Court of Punjab and Haryana in the case of National Horticulture Board(supra). It has been opined that the rationale underlying the provision was to compensate the assessee for deprivation of his property right which was by virtue of an unlawful collection of tax. In fact, tested on such anvil, interest under section 244A on refund of tax paid as self assessment tax cannot be considered as outside the purview of section 244A of the Act. The significance of the Explanation below clause (b) is merely to stipulate the period for which the interest has to be granted. For the purpose of clause (b), the interest is payable for the period starting from the date of the payment of tax ending up to the date on which such refund is granted. Therefore, in principle, we uphold the stand of the assessee that it was eligible for interest under section 244A(1)(b) on the refund accruing to it as a result of the order of the giving appeal effect on December 12, 2001. However, while computing the eligible interest, it appears that the period was considered from 1st day of April 1989 up to the date of refund. Whereas in terms of clause (b) of section 244A(1)(b) read with the Explanation thereof the period for which the interest can be granted is the date on which the self assessment tax was adjusted against the assessed income and up to the date of actual grant of refund. Therefore, to this extent, we find that there was a mistake apparent in the order of the Assessing Officer dated December 12, 2001, by way of which interest under section 244A amounting to Rs. 7,02,044 was allowed to the assessee. We, therefore, set aside the order of the lower authorities and direct the Assessing Officer to recompute the interest eligible to the assessee in the manner indicated above.”

13. Learned counsel for the assessee had made reference to plethora of judgments noticed in paragraph 4 hereinbefore. A careful perusal of the said judgments clearly spells out that the issue in these judgments was different in the light of the factual matrix involved therein and in none of the cases, the issue whether the assessee was entitled to interest on refund of self assessment tax paid under section 140A of the Act in terms of section 244A or not, was under consideration. Thus, no advantage can be derived by the learned counsel for the revenue from the aforesaid pronouncements.

14. In view of the above, the substantial questions of law are answered accordingly and finding no merit in the appeal, the same stands dismissed.

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