S. 391-394 scheme of arrangement is not a “tax avoidance scheme”
Vodafone Essar Gujarat Ltd (“transferor”) filed a Petition u/s 391 to 394 of the Companies Act, 1956 to transfer its ‘Passive Infrastructure Assets’ to Vodafone Essar Infrastructure Ltd (“transferee”) free of liabilities and encumbrances. The corresponding liabilities were not to be transferred. No consideration was payable by the transferee nor were any shares to be allotted to the members of the transferor. Post de-merger, the transferee was to be made a substantially owned company of a new company to be formed by all or some of the shareholders of the transferee. Thereafter, the transferee was to be amalgamated/ merged into Indus Towers Ltd. The application was opposed by the income-tax department on the ground that since no consideration was involved, the transaction was ultra vires. It was also claimed that the transaction did not fall within the anbit of ss. 391 to 394 but was a simple transfer between two separate entities to evade legitimate taxes which would be payable if the transaction was effected as a simplicitor transfer. It was also claimed that the Scheme was solely for purposes of avoiding tax. The Company Judge came to the conclusion that the transferee was a paper company and that the sole object of the Scheme was to avoid tax on income in excess of Rs. 3,500 crore and also stamp duty and VAT to the tune to Rs.600 crores. He accordingly refused to sanction the arrangement. On appeal by the Company, HELD reversing the Company Judge:
(i) The Scheme cannot be said to have no purpose or object and that it is a mere device/subterfuge with the sole intention to evade taxes. While it is true that the Scheme may result into tax avoidance, it cannot be said that the only object of the Scheme is tax avoidance. In Vodafone International Holdings B.V 341 ITR 1 (SC) it was held that the Revenue cannot start with the question as to whether the impugned transaction is a tax deferment/saving device but that it should apply the “look at” test to ascertain its true legal nature. The corporate business purpose of a transaction is evidence of the fact that the impugned transaction is not undertaken as a colourable or artificial device. The stronger the evidence of a device, the stronger the corporate business purpose must exist to overcome the evidence of a device. Tax planning may be legitimate provided it is within the framework of law though a “colourable device” cannot be a part of tax planning. It cannot be said that all tax planning is illegal/illegitimate/impermissible. A similar scheme of arrangement involving demerger of passive infrastructure assets of the Company has been sanctioned by the Delhi High Court;
(ii) The Revenue’s argument that the transfer is void for want of consideration is not acceptable because it is not a party to the transaction. Even a consideration of one rupee can be said to be a valid consideration and it is not necessary that consideration is always a monetary consideration. In a reconstruction there is a give and take and mutual/reciprocal promises and obligations, which can be said to be consideration for each other. Even the most trifle benefit can be consideration so as to avoid the impact of section 25 of the Contract Act.