No settlement application under section 245 if taxes and interest not paid

By | November 3, 2015

Assessee had not paid requisite amount of taxes and interest on revised undisclosed income on or before specified date, settlement application filed by assessee under section 245D stood abated

HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT

Grahshilpa Construction (P.) Ltd.

v.

Income-tax Officer

MS. HARSHA DEVANI AND MS. SONIA GOKANI, JJ.

SPECIAL CIVIL APPLICATION NO. 9037 OF 2014

SEPTEMBER  26, 2014

Manish J. Shah, Advocate for the Petitioner. Mrs. Mauna M. Bhatt, Advocate for the Respondent.

ORDER

Ms. Harsha Devani, J. – This petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is directed against the order dated 4th March, 2014 made by the Income Tax Settlement Commission (hereinafter referred to as the “Commission”) whereby the Commission has held that in view of non-compliance of the provisions of section 245D(2D) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”), the proceedings before it abate as per provisions of section 245HA (1)(II) of the Act.

2. The facts stated briefly are that the petitioner is being assessed in the status of a Company under the Act. There was a search on the petitioner on 13.12.1995 under section 132(1) of the Act. Thereafter, a notice under section 158BC of the Act came to be served on the petitioner directing it to file return of income for the block period 1.4.1985 to 12.12.1995. In response thereto, the petitioner filed its return of income. Thereafter, on 22.10.1996, the petitioner filed a settlement application dated 14.10.1996 under section 245C of the Act declaring undisclosed income of Rs.5 lakhs. Subsequently, by a letter dated 27.12.1996 addressed to the Commission, the petitioner revised the application by substituting the undisclosed income at a higher amount of Rs.7 lakhs. During the pendency of the application under section 245C of the Act, the Assessing Officer passed an order under section 158BC of the Act on 22.8.1997. By way of abundant caution, the petitioner filed an appeal against the said order before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as “the Tribunal”) being ITA No.169/Ahd/1997. Thereafter, the Settlement Commission passed an order dated 10.9.1999 whereby it permitted the petitioner to proceed with the application under section 245D(1) of the Act directed the petitioner to pay the additional amount of income tax payable on the income disclosed in the application within a period of 35 days from the receipt of the said order.

3. Later on, when the appeal came up for hearing before the Tribunal on 10.1.2001, in view of the fact that the Settlement Commission had allowed the application to be proceeded with, the petitioner requested the Tribunal to adjourn the appeal. However, on 16.1.2001, bowing to the opinion of the Tribunal, the Chartered Accountant of the petitioner filed a letter before the Tribunal stating that in view of the admission of the matter of the petitioner by the Commission, the petitioner does not want to pursue the appeal before the Tribunal. Accordingly, the appeal came to be allowed to be withdrawn by an order dated 23.1.2001. It appears that, thereafter, on 20.2.2008, the Chartered Accountant of the petitioner addressed a letter to the Superintendent, Income Tax Settlement Commission stating that as per the hearing on 15.2.2008 before the Settlement Commission, they were submitting copies of submissions on payment of additional tax as per the orders passed under section 245D(1) dated 10.9.1999 and interest under section 158BFA with a request that the same may kindly be put up before the Members of the Bench for their consideration. In the said submission, the petitioner stated that in its case search proceedings came to be carried out by the Department on 12.12.1995, during the course of which cash amounting to Rs.4,90,000/- was seized from the residence of the petitioner. That the income disclosed in the settlement application was revised to Rs.7,00,000 and the additional tax payable at the rate of 60% works out to Rs.4,20,000/-. The cash seized of Rs.4,90,000/- has been adjusted by the department on 29.9.1997 which is much before the date of the order of 245D(1) which is 10.9.1999, in view of which the additional tax on income disclosed in the settlement application stands fully paid in time. It was further submitted and no interest is payable because section 158BFA applies to search on or after 1.1.1997 whereas in the case of the petitioner, the date of search is 12.12.1995. Eventually, the petitioner received a notice of hearing under section 245D(2D) read with section 245HA(1)(ii) of the Act fixing the hearing on 16.9.2013, which came to be adjourned to 25.11.2013.

4. At the time of the hearing before the Settlement Commission, the Commissioner of Income Tax representing the Department pointed out that the petitioner had not paid the requisite amount of taxes and interest on the revised undisclosed income of Rs.7,00,000/- on or before 31.03.2007. Hence, the application cannot be further proceeded with and should be abated. On behalf of the petitioner, it was pointed out to the Commission that though the petitioner had not made any payment of tax and interest after the order under section 245D(1) of the Act was passed, the amount of Rs.4,90,000/- which was already seized and adjusted on 29.9.1997 prior to that order should be treated as tax paid and, accordingly, the application need not be abated. It was submitted that while adjusting the cash seized towards the block assessment demand on 29.9.1997, no intimation had been given by the Assessing Officer and hence, the same should be considered as an adjustment against the demand created by the order under section 245D(1) of the Act. It was also submitted that in case this proposition of cash adjustment against the order under section 245D(1) is not accepted, the petitioner is still ready to deposit the tax amount to cover for the deficiency.

5. By the impugned order dated 2.12.2013 made under section 245D(2D) read with section 245HA(1)(ii), the Commission held that the Assessing Officer had already adjusted the seized cash on 29.9.1997 and in the absence of any further payment, consequent to the order under section 245D(1), there has been a distinct failure on the part of the petitioner to pay the taxes and interest as provided in the amendment made by the Finance Act, 2007. That the petitioner ought to have taken due care to pay the required taxes and interest on or before 31.7.2007 so as not to be hit by the amendment made by the Finance Act, 2007. The Commission further observed that the submission of the petitioner that he is still ready to make the payment to make good the deficit is of no avail as the act of making payment now cannot take away the restriction imposed under law. The Commission, accordingly, held that there has been a violation of section 245D(2D) of the Act and in view of the noncompliance with the provisions of section 245D(2D) of the Act, the proceedings in the case abate as per the provisions of section 245HA(1)(ii) of the Act. The Commission further observed that the Assessing Officer shall now dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of sub-sections (2), (3) and (4) of section 245HA of the Act. Being aggrieved, the petitioner has presented this petition seeking the reliefs noted hereinabove.

6. Mr. J. P. Shah, learned counsel for the petitioner, assailed the impugned order by submitting that the Commission, by its order dated 11.1.1999 under section 245D(1) of the Act, directed the petitioner to pay the additional amount of income tax payable on the income disclosed in the application. It was submitted that the petitioner had filed a revised statement declaring the undisclosed income at Rs.7,00,000/- and, accordingly, the tax payable at the rate of 60% would come to Rs.4,20,000/-. It was submitted that the department had already in its custody Rs.4,90,000/- in cash which was seized from the petitioner during the course of the search proceedings which was lying with it. Therefore, the petitioner had informed the Settlement Commission as well as the Assessing Officer that he takes the payment of tax of Rs.4,20,000/- on the revised disclosure of Rs.7,00,000/- to have been paid because the larger amount of Rs.4,90,000/-was lying seized with the Income Tax Department and neither of them have chosen to reply to the letters informing them of the payment in the above manner. It was submitted that assuming while denying that there is no fault on the part of the Assessing Officer or the Commission, the petitioner submitted at the time of hearing under section 245D(2D) read with section 245HA(1)(ii) of the Act before the Commissioner that it was ready and willing to pay the tax on the above declared amount of Rs.7,00,000/- but the Commission did not accept its offer. It was submitted that in the order under section 245D(1) of the Act, the Commission has specifically observed that if the petitioner does not pay the additional amount of income tax within the time specified in sub-section (2A) of section 245D of the Act, the amount of income tax remaining unpaid together with interest shall be recovered by the Assessing Officer in accordance with section 245D(2D) of the Act. It was submitted that despite the fact that the order of the Settlement Commission was made on 11th September, 1999, no steps were taken by the Assessing Officer under section 245D(2D) of the Act and as a result, the petitioner was under an impression that the payment of Rs.4,20,000/- had been paid because the larger amount of Rs.4,90,000/- was lying with the Department. That it was only after the notice came to be issued by the Settlement Commission in the year 2013, that the petitioner came to know that the Department had not adjusted the amount of tax payable under the order under section 245D(1) of the Act against the amount seized by it. It was submitted that even at that stage, the petitioner had expressed its willingness before the Commission to deposit the amount of tax on the total undisclosed amount of Rs.7,00,000/-. However, the Commission did not accept the offer of the petitioner and passed the impugned order under section 245HA of the Act.

6.1 The learned counsel submitted that the petitioner suffered injustice not for his fault but because of the fault of the Assessing Officer and of the Commission, and therefore, the Commission committed a serious mistake in not mitigating the injustice and on the contrary declaring the proceedings as having abated. It was urged that while exercising powers, the Commission has to have a settlement oriented approach and must see that the case is not kept away from settlement as far as possible, more particularly, where it is no fault of the petitioner. It was submitted that in view of the continuous fluctuation in the law, the present situation had arisen and that the Commission was not justified in not accepting the offer of the petitioner to pay the tax payable on the undisclosed income and in holding that the proceedings have abated.

6.2 Alternatively, it was submitted that in case the court is of the view that the order passed by the Settlement Commission does not require to be interfered with, the petitioner’s appeal preferred before the Tribunal may be ordered to be restored as otherwise the petitioner would be left with no remedy. Referring to the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 245HA of the Act, it was submitted that in the light of the said provision, upon abatement of the proceedings before the Settlement Commission, the Income Tax Authority before whom the proceedings at the time of making the application was pending, is required to dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of the Act as if no application under section 245C had been made. It was submitted that at the time when the application was made, the matter was pending before the Assessing Officer and that the assessee has no objection if the matter is sent back to the Assessing Officer, though the more appropriate course of action would be to send the assessee to the Tribunal. It was, accordingly, urged that the impugned order passed by the Commission deserves to be quashed and set aside and in the alternate, the appeal preferred by the petitioner before the Tribunal is required to be restored.

7. Vehemently opposing the petition, Mr. M.R. Bhatt, Senior Advocate, learned counsel for the respondent, invited the attention of the court to the provisions of Chapter XIXA of the Act which makes provision for “Settlement of Cases”. Referring to the provisions of section 245C of the Act, it was submitted that the same provides for the assessee making an application in the prescribed form containing a full and true disclosure of the income which has not been disclosed before the Assessing Officer; the manner in which such income has been derived; the additional amount of income tax payable on such income and such other particulars as may be prescribed; to the Settlement Commission to have the case settled. It was pointed out that under sub-section (1) of section 245D of the act, the Commission may either by an order in writing reject the application or allow the application to be proceeded with. Under sub-section (2D) of section 245D of the Act, where an application was made under sub-section (1) of section 245C before the first day of June, 2007 and an order under the provisions of sub-section (1) of that section, as they stood immediately before the amendment by the Finance Act, 2007, allowing the application to have been proceeded with, has been passed before the first day of June, 2007, but an order under the provisions of sub-section (4), as they stood immediately before the amendment by the Finance Act, 2007, was not passed before the first day of June, 2007, such application shall not be allowed to be further proceeded with unless the additional tax on the income disclosed in such application and the interest thereon, is, notwithstanding any extension of time granted by the Settlement Commission, paid on or before 31st July, 2007. It was submitted that in the facts of the present case, the order under section 245D(1) came to be made on 10.9.1999 and, hence, in view of the provisions of sub-section (2D) of section 245D, the additional tax on the income disclosed in the application and the interest thereon was required to be paid on or before 31st June, 2007. It was pointed out that in the facts of the present case, the Settlement Commission, by its order dated 11.9.1999, had directed the petitioner, within 35 days of receipt of the order to pay the additional amount of income tax payable on the income disclosed in the application and to furnish proof of such payment to the Secretary of the Additional Bench and the Assessing Officer assessing them within 15 days of making such payment. It was submitted that the petitioner, till the date the matter came up for hearing before the Commmission on 16.9.2013 and 25.11.2013, had not deposited the amount payable pursuant to the order made under section 245D(1) of the Act. Under the circumstances, in view of the operation of the provisions of sub-section (2D) of section 245D of the Act, the Settlement Commission had no power to allow the application to be proceeded with as the additional tax on the income disclosed in the application under section 245 and the interest thereon had not been paid on or before the 31st day of July, 2007.

7.1 Next, it was submitted that the petitioner, after making the application under section 245C of the Act, had moved a revised application revising the disclosure to 7 lakhs instead of 5 lakhs, as made in the original application. It was submitted that in view of the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Ajmera Housing Corpn. v. CIT [2010] 326 ITR 642/193 Taxman 193, a “full and true’ disclosure of income, which has not been previously disclosed by the assessee being a precondition for a valid application under section 245C(1) of the Act, the scheme of Chapter XIX-A does not contemplate revision of the income so disclosed in the application against item 11 in the form. Moreover, if an assessee is permitted to revise his disclosure, in essence, he would be making a fresh application in relation to the same case by withdrawing the earlier application. In this regard, section 245C(3) of the Act which prohibits the withdrawal of an application once made under sub-section (1) of the said section is instructive inasmuch as it manifests that an assessee cannot be permitted to resile from his stand at any stage during the proceedings. Therefore, by revising the application, the applicant would be achieving something indirectly which he cannot otherwise achieve directly and in the process rendering the provision of sub-section (3) of section 245C of the Act otiose and meaningless. It was submitted that the very fact that there was an upward revision in the amount of undisclosed income makes it evident that the petitioner had not disclosed the correct amount of undisclosed income in the application made under section 245C(1) of the Act. In any case, the petitioner had not deposited any amount pursuant to the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act and hence, the Commission was justified in disposing of the application as having abated.

7.2 It was further submitted that insofar as the cash seized by the Department during the course of search is concerned, before the order under section 245D(1) came to be made by the Commission on 10.9.1999, the block assessment order under section 158BC of the Act had been passed by the Assessing Officer on 22.8.1997 computing the total undisclosed income for the block period at Rs.96,44,938/- and the seized cash of Rs.4,90,000/- was adjusted on 29.9.1997 against the demand raised. The petitioner, after the order under section 245D(1) of the Act came to be made on 10.9.1999, had not paid any other amount pursuant to his disclosure of Rs.5 lakhs declared in the settlement application dated 22.10.1996 or the revised disclosure of Rs.7 lakhs made thereafter. It was submitted that in view of the non-compliance of the order made under section 245D(1) of the Act, the Commission was justified in holding that the petitioner was required to pay the tax on or before 31.7.2007 so as not to be hit by the amendment made in the Finance Act, 2007. Under the circumstances, the Commission was wholly justified in holding that in view of the non-compliance with the provisions of section 245D(2D) of the Act, the proceedings before it would abate in view of the provisions of section 245HA(I)(II) of the Act. It was, accordingly, urged that the impugned order passed by the Settlement Commission being in consonance with the provisions of sections 245D and 245HA of the Act, there is no warrant for interference.

7.3 Insofar as the alternate prayer challenging the order dated 23.1.2001 made by the Tribunal in ITA/170/Ahd/1997 and seeking reinstatement of the appeal of the petitioner with the Tribunal is concerned, the learned counsel submitted that the said prayer would amount to add something in the statute and, hence, is not permissible in law. Referring to the provisions of section 245HA of the Act, it was submitted that sub-section (2) thereof provides that where a proceeding before the Settlement Commission abates, the Assessing Officer, or, as the case may be, any other income-tax authority before whom the proceeding at the time of making the application was pending, shall dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of the Act as if no application under section 245C had been made. Referring to the provisions of section 116 of the Act, it was pointed out that as to who are the income-tax authorities has been provided under the said section and that the class of income-tax authorities for the purposes of the Act does not include the Tribunal and, hence, the question of restoring the appeal to the Tribunal would not arise in the facts of the present case. It was submitted that the petitioner while making the application before the Settlement Commission has taken a calculated risk and, hence, cannot seek the benefit in equity which is contrary to the statutory provisions. Referring to the provisions of section 245M which came to be subsequently omitted, it was submitted that there being no provision of restoring the appeal to the Tribunal, the alternate relief prayed for cannot be granted. Reference was made to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of CIT v. B.N. Bhattachargee [1979] 118 ITR 461, to point out that it was only in the light of the provisions of section 245M, that an appeal could be restored to the Tribunal. However, in view of the deletion of the said provision from the statute book, it is no longer permissible for this court to restore the appeal to the Tribunal.

8. In support of their submissions, both the learned counsel for the respective parties had placed reliance on various decisions, reference to which shall be made at an appropriate stage.

9. From the facts and contentions noted hereinabove, two questions that arise for consideration are; firstly, as to whether the Commission was justified in holding that the proceedings before it abate in view of the non-deposit of the amount of additional tax together with interest as directed by it by the order under section 245D(D1) of the Act. If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, the next question that would arise for consideration is as to whether the petitioner is entitled to the alternate relief prayed for in the petition, namely, for restoration of the appeal filed by it before the Tribunal against the order made by the Assessing Officer under section 158BC of the Act.

10. From the facts noted hereinabove, it clearly emerges that pursuant to the application dated 14.10.1996 made by the petitioner under section 245C of the Act, the Commission, by an order dated 11.10.1999, admitted the appeal of the petitioner and four others under section 245D(1) of the Act whereby the petitioner was directed in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2A) of section 245D of the Act to pay the additional amount of income tax payable on the income disclosed in the application within a period of 35 days from the receipt of that order and to furnish proof of such payment to the Secretary of the Additional Bench and the Assessing Officer assessing them within 15 days of making of the said payment. The petitioner, initially, in the application made under section 245C of the Act, had declared undisclosed income at Rs.5 lakhs. However, subsequently, the application came to be revised by a letter dated 27.12.1996 whereby the petitioner declared the undisclosed income at Rs.7 lakhs instead of Rs.5 lakhs. The Tribunal, while passing the order under section 245D(1) of the Act, did not make any reference to the revised declaration of undisclosed income made by the petitioner. Under the circumstances, the petitioner was required to pay the additional tax on the basis of the original application under section 245C of the Act. The petitioner, instead of depositing the additional tax on the undisclosed amount, filed a statement before the Commission that in view of the fact that the Department had already with it the cash of Rs.4,90,000/- seized in the search, the tax of Rs.4,20,000/- being 60% of Rs.7 lakhs disclosed, it takes it that the same stands already paid and covered by the above seized cash of Rs.4,90,000/-. It appears that pursuant to the above statement made by the petitioner, there was no response from the Commission or from the income-tax authorities nor were any steps taken to recover the amount that the petitioner was liable to pay pursuant to the order made by the Settlement Commission in accordance with the provisions of section 245D(2D) of the Act as it stood prior to its amendment with effect from 1.6.2007. It is the case of the petitioner that it was under a bona fide belief that the statement made by it before the Commission for adjustment of the amount of additional tax payable under the order under section 245D(1) from the cash seized during the course of the search proceedings had been accepted. It was only at the stage when the application under section 245C of the Act came up for hearing that the petitioner came to know that the statement made by it had not been accepted. At this stage, the petitioner also expressed willingness before the Commission to pay the entire amount of additional tax, however, the Commission declined to accept the proposal of the petitioner and passed the impugned order under section 245HA(1)(ii) of the Act.

11. Before adverting to the merits of the impugned order, it may be necessary to consider as to whether the petitioner can be said to have complied with the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act. As noticed hereinabove, the petitioner, in the application under section 245C of the Act, had declared undisclosed income of Rs.5 lakhs. However, subsequently, the petitioner filed a revised statement declaring the undisclosed amount at Rs.7 lakhs instead of Rs.5 lakhs. In this regard, it may be germane to refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Ajmera Housing Corpn. (supra) wherein the court has held that disclosure of “full and true” particulars of undisclosed income and “the manner” in which such income has been derived are the pre-requisites for a valid application under section 245C(1) of the Act. A “full and true” disclosure of income, which had not been previously disclosed by the assessee, being a pre-condition for a valid application under section 245C(1) of the Act, the scheme of Chapter XIX-A does not contemplate revision of the income as disclosed in the application against item No.11 of Form No.34B. Moreover, if an assessee is permitted to revise his disclosure, in essence, he would be making a fresh application in relation to the same case by withdrawing the earlier application. In this regard, section 245C(3) of the Act which prohibits the withdrawal of an application once made under sub-section (1) of the said section is instructive inasmuch as it manifests that an assessee cannot be permitted to resile from his stand at any stage during the proceedings. Therefore, by revising the application, the applicant would be achieving something indirectly what he cannot otherwise achieve directly and in the process rendering the provision of sub-section (3) of section 245C of the Act otiose and meaningless. The court was of the view that the scheme of the said Chapter is clear and admits of no ambiguity. It was held that in the scheme of Chapter XIX-A, there is no stipulation for revision of an application filed under section 245C(1) of the Act and thus the natural corollary is that determination of income by the Settlement Commission has necessarily to be with reference to the income disclosed in the application filed under that section in the prescribed form. The court was accordingly of the view that revision of the annexure to the application is tantamount to revision of the application, not contemplated in the scheme.

12. In the light of the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the above referred decision, it is apparent that it was not permissible for the petitioner to revise the application made by it under section 245C(1) of the Act. Under the circumstances, it was incumbent upon the petitioner to pay the additional tax in terms of the original application made by him under section 245C of the Act, whereby he had declared the undisclosed income at Rs.5 lakhs. However, the petitioner instead of paying the amount of taxes and interest in terms of the order under section 245D(1) of the Act, wrote a letter to the Assessing Officer and the Commission that it takes it that the amount of cash seized during the search of Rs.4,90,000/- has been adjusted against the demand of Rs.4,20,000/- under the said order. As noticed earlier, the amount of Rs.4,90,000/- had already been adjusted by the Department against the demand under the order made under section 158BC of the Act and hence, no amount remained to be adjusted against the amount payable under the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act. Evidently, therefore, the petitioner has not duly complied with the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act till the Commission fixed the matter for hearing on 25.11.2013 and 3.3.2014.

13. On behalf of the petitioner it has been emphatically argued that if the statement of the petitioner that it takes it that the cash seized by the Department has been adjusted against the amount payable under the order of the Commission were not acceptable, the respondents ought to have responded to the same. Moreover, the Department had not informed the petitioner that it had adjusted the cash seized against the demand under the order under section 158BC of the Act. In the absence of any response from the Settlement Commission and the income-tax authorities, the petitioner was under a bona fide belief that the demand under the order made under section 245D(1) of the Act had been adjusted against the seized cash. It has also be contended that before the Commission, at the time of hearing pursuant to the notice under section 245D(2D) and 245HA(1)(ii) of the Act, the petitioner had offered to pay the entire amount payable under the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act. In this regard it may be apposite to refer to the provisions of section 245D(2D) of the Act which lay down thus:

“(2D) Where an application was made under sub-section (1) of section 245C before the 1st day of June, 2007 and an order under the provisions of sub-section (1) of this section, as they stood immediately before their amendment by the Finance Act, 2007, allowing the application to have been proceeded with, has been passed before the 1st day of June, 2007, but an order under the provisions of sub-section (4), as they stood immediately before their amendment by the Finance Act, 2007, was not passed before the 1st day of June, 2007, such application shall not be allowed to be further proceeded with unless the additional tax on the income disclosed in such application and the interest thereon, is, notwithstanding any extension of time already granted by the Settlement Commission, paid on or before the 31st day of July, 2007.”

14. In the light of the provisions of sub-section (2D) of section 245D of the Act, it is not permissible for the Settlement Commission to proceed with an application made under section 245C(1) of the Act on which an order under the provisions of sub-section (1) thereof had been passed before 1.6.2007, unless the additional tax on the income disclosed in such application and the interest thereon, is, notwithstanding any extension of time already granted by the Settlement Commission, paid on or before 21.7.2007. Thus, in case where an order under sub-section (1) of section 245C of the Act has been made on an application made under that sub-section before 1.6.2007, the statute bars payment of the additional tax with interest thereon after 31.7.2007. The last date for payment of the additional tax with interest thereon, therefore, was 31.7.2007. The petitioner, having failed to pay the same before the time limit prescribed by the statute, the Settlement Commission had no power to allow the application to be proceeded with.

15. At this juncture reference may be made to the provisions of section 245HA of the Act, which read thus:

“245HA. Abatement of proceeding before Settlement Commission. — (1) Where —

(i) an application made under section 245C on or after the 1st day of June, 2007 has been rejected under sub-section (1) of section 245D; or
(ii) an application made under section 245C has not been allowed to be proceeded with under sub-section (2A) or further proceeded with under sub-section (2D) of section 245D; or
(iii) an application made under section 245C has been declared as invalid under sub-section (2C) of section 245D; or
(iv) in respect of any other application made under section 245C, an order under sub-section (4) of section 245D has not been passed within the time or period specified under sub-section (4A) of section 245D,

the proceedings before the Settlement Commission shall abate on the specified date.

Explanation. — For the purposes of this sub-section, “specified date” means —

(a) in respect of an application referred to in clause (i), the day on which the application was rejected;
(b) in respect of an application referred to in clause (ii), the 31st day of July, 2007;
(c) in respect of an application referred to in clause (iii), the last day of the month in which the application was declared invalid;
(d) in respect of an application referred to in clause (iv), on the date on which the time or period specified in sub-section (4A) of Section 245D expires.

(2) Where a proceeding before the Settlement Commission abates, the Assessing Officer, or, as the case may be, any other income tax authority before whom the proceeding at the time of making the application was pending, shall dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of this Act as if no application under section 245C had been made.

(3) For the purposes of sub-section (2), the Assessing Officer, or, as the case may be, other income tax authority, shall be entitled to use all the material and other information produced by the assessee before the Settlement Commission or the results of the inquiry held or evidence recorded by the Settlement Commission in the course of the proceedings before it, as if such material, information, inquiry and evidence had been produced before the Assessing Officer or other income tax authority or held or recorded by him in the course of the proceedings before him.

(4) For the purposes of the time-limit under sections 149, 153, 153B, 154, 155, 158BE and 231 and for the purposes of payment of interest under section 243 or 244 or, as the case may be, Section 244A, for making the assessment or reassessment under sub-section (2), the period commencing on and from the date of the application to the Settlement Commission under section 245C and ending with “specified date” referred to in sub-section (1) shall be excluded; and where the assessee is a firm, for the purposes of the time-limit for cancellation of registration of the firm under sub-section (1) of Section 186, the period aforesaid shall, likewise, be excluded.”

On a plain reading of the clause (ii) of sub-section (1) of section 245HA of the Act, it is manifest that in case where an application under section 245C has not been allowed to be further proceeded with under sub-section (2D) of section 245D, the proceedings before the Settlement Commission shall abate on the specified date. “Specified date” in respect of an application referred to in clause (ii) is 31st July, 2007. Clearly, therefore, by virtue of operation of law, that is, in view of the provisions of clause (ii) of sub-section (1) of section 245HA read with clause (b) to the Explanation thereto, the application made by the petitioner under section 245C of the Act stood abated on the specified date, that is, 31st July, 2007. The Settlement Commission, therefore, committed no error in holding that the application made by the petitioner under section 245C of the Act stands abated. In fact the Settlement Commission has expressly stated what is implied in law, inasmuch as, the abatement is by virtue of the operation of the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 245HA of the Act.

16. In the light of the above discussion, it is not possible to state that there is any infirmity in the impugned order passed by the Settlement Commission warranting interference.

17. The next question that arises for consideration is as to whether the petitioner is entitled to the grant of the alternative relief prayed for in the petition. On behalf of the respondents, such prayer has been resisted on the ground that section 245HA of the Act does not permit restoration of an appeal before the Tribunal.

18. From the facts noted hereinabove, it is apparent that at the relevant time when the application under section 254C(1) of the Act came to be made by the petitioner, the assessment proceedings under section 158BC of the Act were pending before the Assessing Officer. However, before the order under section 245D(1) of the Act came to be made by the Commission allowing the application to be proceeded with, the Assessing Officer had already passed the assessment order under section 158BC of the Act and, hence, the petitioner had preferred an appeal against the said order before the Tribunal. Subsequently, the Commission, by the order dated 10.9.1999, permitted the application to be proceeded with under section 245D(1) of the Act. In the light of the fact that the Commission had allowed the application made by the petitioner to be proceeded with, the Tribunal insisted upon withdrawal of the appeal preferred by the petitioner against the order under section 158BC of the Act; and by an order dated 23.1.2001, permitted the petitioner to withdraw the appeal as the application under section 245C had been admitted by the Commission and dismissed the appeal for non-prosecution. Subsequently, by virtue of the order passed under section 245HA of the Act, the proceedings before the Commission stand abated and, hence, the petitioner has prayed for the alternative relief of restoration of the appeal before the Tribunal.

19. Sub-section (2) of section 245HA of the Act provides that where a proceeding before the Settlement Commission abates, the Assessing Officer, or, as the case may be, any other income tax authority before whom the proceeding at the time of making the application was pending, shall dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of the Act as if no application under section 245C had been made. In the present case, at the time when the petitioner made the application under section 245C of the Act, the assessment proceedings were pending before the Assessing Officer. However, before the Settlement Commission passed the order under section 245D(1) of the Act, the Assessing Officer had already made the order under section 158BC of the Act.

20. At this stage, reference may be made to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of CIT v. Damani Bros.[2003] 259 ITR 475 wherein the court was considering the question as to whether the assessment order passed by the Assessing Officer prior to the submission of settlement application under section 245C of the Act, will subsist and the recovery proceedings will continue or not? The court held that the scheme of Chapter XIX-A shows that the filing of application by the assessee is a unilateral act and the department may not be aware of the same. It has to be noted that if an application for settlement is filed under section 245C, it is not automatically admitted. Section 245D deals with the procedure on receipt of an application under section 245C. Under sub-section (1) thereof, the Commission, after following the prescribed procedure can allow the application to be proceeded with or rejected. Only after the Commission allows the petition to be proceeded with, it exercises the power of settlement. The petition before the Commission is in respect of undisclosed income, therefore, the situation is different till the Commission decides to proceed with the matter. That being the position, the income-tax authorities are free to proceed in the prescribed manner till the Commission decides to proceed with the petition. It was also held that it is indisputable that the liability under the order passed by an income-tax authority exists and does not get automatically set aside.

21. In the light of the above decision, it is clear that the liability under order made by the Assessing Officer under section 158BC of the Act would exist even after the Settlement Commission passed the order under section 245D(1) of the Act. Such order would continue to subsist till the same is set aside by a higher forum. The passing of the order of abatement under section 245HA of the Act also does not have any effect on the order made by the Assessing Officer which continues to operate. Under the circumstances, despite the fact that the Commission in the operative part of the impugned order has observed that the Assessing Officer shall now dispose of the case in accordance with the provisions of sub-sections (2) (3) and (4) of section 245HA of the Act, the order under section 158BC of the Act would still subsist as there is no automatic setting aside of such order. Consequently, unless the appeal preferred by the petitioner before the Tribunal is restored, the petitioner would be rendered remediless.

22. In the light of the fact that the petitioner had challenged the order made under section 158BC of the Act before the Tribunal, which proceedings came to be withdrawn in view of the fact that the Commission had allowed the application made by the petitioner under section 245C of the Act to be proceeded with, if the appeal is not restored to the file of the Tribunal, the same would cause immense prejudice to the petitioner, inasmuch as, the assessment order made under section 158BC of the Act would attain finality and would be binding upon the petitioner. Besides, no prejudice would be caused to the revenue, except that the appeal would be decided on merits. Under the circumstances, this court is of the view that in the light of abatement of the proceedings before the Settlement Commission by operation of the provisions of section 245HA of the Act, the interest of justice requires that the appeal preferred by the petitioner before the Tribunal be restored. The petitioner is, therefore, entitled to the alternate relief prayed for in the petition, namely, for restitution of its appeal before the Tribunal. The contention that the scheme of section 245HA does not admit of such a course of action deserves to be stated to be rejected, inasmuch as, the restoration of the appeal is not under the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 245HA of the Act but on equitable considerations, namely, that the appeal had been dismissed as withdrawn in view of the order made by the Commission under section 245D(1) of the Act and now that the proceedings stand abated, the petitioner should be permitted to avail of the remedy of appeal before the Tribunal against the block assessment order made under section 158BC of the Act. The above approach stand fortified by the decision of the Supreme Court in CIT v. Express Newspapers Ltd. [1994] 206 ITR 443/72 Taxman 438, wherein the court by its judgment and order dated 11th January, 1994, after holding that the Commission had no jurisdiction to entertain the application under section 245C of the Act, permitted the respondent therein to file an appeal before the Tribunal against the order dated 31st March, 1989 passed by the Commissioner of Income-tax (Appeals) dismissing the appeal preferred by the assessee against the assessment order within one month of the said order and observed that if so filed it shall be treated as within time.

23. For the foregoing reasons, the petition partly succeeds and is accordingly, allowed to the following extent:

The principal relief prayed for in the petition, namely the challenge to the impugned order dated 2nd December, 2013 passed by the Settlement Commission is hereby rejected. However, the alternate relief prayed for in the petition is hereby granted by. The order dated 23.1.2001 made by the Tribunal in ITA No.169/Ahd/1997 is hereby quashed and set aside. Consequently, the said appeal shall stand restored to the file of the Tribunal. The Tribunal shall decide the same on merits in accordance with law after affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing to the respective parties. Rule is made absolute to the aforesaid limited extent with no order as to costs.

Category: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply