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Maxopp Investment Ltd vs. CIT (Supreme Court)

DATE: February 12, 2018 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: March 16, 2018 (Date of publication)
AY: -
FILE: Click here to download the file in pdf format
S. 14A/ Rule 8D - Applicability to shares held for controlling interest or as stock-in-trade: The argument that S. 14A & Rule 8D will not apply if the "dominant intention" of the assessee was not to earn dividends but to gain control of the company or to hold as stock-in-trade is not acceptable. S. 14A applies irrespective of whether the shares are held to gain control or as stock-in-trade. However, where the shares are held as stock-in-trade, the expenditure incurred for earning business profits will have to be apportioned and allowed as a deduction. Only that expenditure which is "in relation to" earning dividends can be disallowed u/s 14A & Rule 8D. The AO has to record proper satisfaction on why the claim of the assessee as to the quantum of suo moto disallowance is not correct

The Supreme Court had to consider the question whether a disallowance under section 14A read with Rule 8D can be made where the shares/stocks were purchased of a company for the purpose of gaining control over the said company or as ‘stock-in-trade’. However, incidentally income was also generated in the form of dividends as well. On this basis, the assessees contended that the dominant intention for purchasing the share was not to earn dividends income but control of the business in the company in which shares were invested or for the purpose of trading in the shares as a business activity etc. In this backdrop, the issue was as to whether the expenditure incurred can be treated as expenditure ‘in relation to income’ i.e. dividend income which does not form part of the total income. To put it differently, is the dominant or main object would be a relevant consideration in determining as to whether expenditure incurred is ‘in relation to’ the dividend income.

The arguments of the assessees were as follows:

(i) The holding of investment in group companies representing controlling interest, amounts to carrying on business, as held in thevarious cases.

(ii) Notwithstanding that dividend income is assessable under the head “income from other sources”, in view of the mandatory prescription in Section 56 of the Act, the nature of dividend income has to be ascertained on the facts of the case. Where dividend is earned on shares held as stock-in-trade/shares purchased for acquiring/retaining controlling interest, dividend income is in the nature of business income.

(iii) Interest paid on loans borrowed for acquiring shares representing controlling interest in the investee company is allowable business expenditure in terms of Section 36(1)(iii) of the Act, since acquiring controlling interest in companies and managing, administering, financing and rehabilitating such companies are for business and/or professional purposes and not for earned dividend.

(iv) Conversely, interest paid on funds borrowed for investment in shares representing controlling interest does not represent expenditure incurred for earning dividend income and is not allowable under Section 57(iii) of the Act (prior to introduction of Section 14A).

Basing their case on the aforesaid principles, it was argued that when the shares were acquired, as part of promoter holding, for the purpose of acquiring controlling interest in the company, the dominant object is to keep control over the management of the company and not to earn the dividend from investment in shares.

Whether dividend is declared/earned or not is immaterial and, in either case, the assessee would not liquidate the shares in investee companies. Therefore, no expenditure was made ‘in relation to’ the income i.e. the dividend income and, therefore, Section 14A would not be attracted.

In this hue, it was submitted that Section 14A was to be accorded plain and grammatical interpretation meaning thereby mandating and requiring a direct and proximate nexus/link between the expenditure actually incurred and theearning of the exempt income. It was also argued that even if contextual/purposive interpretation is to be given, that also called for direct and proximate connection between the expenditure incurred and earning of dividend. According to the learned counsel appearing for the assessees, the legislative intention behind inserting Section 14A in thisstatute was to exclude both, viz. the receipts which are exempt under the provisions of the Act as well as expenditure actually incurred ‘in relation thereto’ from entering into the computation of assessable income, so as to remove the double benefit to the assessee (i) in the form of exempt income, on which no tax is leviable; and (ii) providing deduction in respect of expenditure actually incurred which directly resulted in the earning of exempt income by the assessee.
HELD by the Supreme Court:
(i) In the first instance, it needs to be recognised that as per section14A(1) of the Act, deduction of that expenditure is not to be allowed which has been incurred by the assessee “in relation to income which does not form part of the total income under this Act”. Axiomatically, it is that expenditure alone which has been incurred in relation to the income33which is includible in total income that has to be disallowed. If an expenditure incurred has no causal connection with the exempted income, then such an expenditure would obviously be treated as notrelated to the income that is exempted from tax, and such expenditure would be allowed as business expenditure. To put it differently, such expenditure would then be considered as incurred in respect of other income which is to be treated as part of the total income.

(ii) There is no quarrel in assigning this meaning to section 14A of the Act. In fact, all the High Courts, whether it is the Delhi High Court on theone hand or the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the other hand, have agreed in providing this interpretation to section 14A of the Act. The entire dispute is as to what interpretation is to be given to the words ‘in relation to’ in the given scenario, viz. where the dividend income onthe shares is earned, though the dominant purpose for subscribing in those shares of the investee company was not to earn dividend.

(iii) We have two scenarios in these sets of appeals. In one group of cases the main purpose for investing in shares was to gain control over the investee company. Other cases are those where the shares of investee company were held by the assessees as stock-in-trade (i.e. as a business activity) and not as investment to earn dividends. In this context, it is to be examined as to whether the expenditure was incurred, in respective scenarios, in relation to the dividend income or not.

(iv) Having clarified the aforesaid position, the first and foremost issue that falls for consideration is as to whether the dominant purpose test, which is pressed into service by the assessees would apply while interpreting Section 14A of the Act or we have to go by the theory of apportionment. We are of the opinion that the dominant purpose for which the investment into shares is made by an assessee may not be relevant. No doubt, the assessee like Maxopp Investment Limited may have made the investment in order to gain control of the investee company. However, that does not appear to be a relevant factor in determining the issue at hand. Fact remains that such dividend income is non-taxable. In this scenario, if expenditure is incurred on earning the dividend income, that much of the expenditure which is attributable to the dividend income has to be disallowed and cannot be treated as business expenditure. Keeping this objective behind Section14A of the Act in mind, the said provision has to be interpreted, particularly, the word ‘in relation to the income’ that does not form part of total income. Considered in this hue, the principle of apportionment of expenses comes into play as that is the principle which is engrained in Section 14A of the Act. This is so held in Walfort Share and Stock Brokers P Ltd., relevant passage whereof is already reproduced above, for the sake of continuity of discussion, we would like to quote the following few lines therefrom.

“The next phrase is, “in relation to income which does not form part of total income under the Act”. It means that if an income does not form part of total income, then the related expenditure is outside the ambit of the applicability of section 14A.. xxx xxx xxx The theory of apportionment of expenditure between taxable and non-taxable has, in principle, been now widened under section 14 A.”

(v) The Delhi High Court, therefore, correctly observed that prior to introduction of Section 14A of the Act, the law was that when an assessee had a composite and indivisible business which had elements of both taxable and non-taxable income, the entire expenditure in respect of said business was deductible and, in such a case, the principle of apportionment of the expenditure relating to the non-taxable income did not apply.

(vi) The principle of apportionment was made available only where the business was divisible. It is to find a cure to the aforesaid problem that the Legislature has not only inserted Section 14Aby the Finance (Amendment) Act, 2001 but also made it retrospective, i.e., 1962 when the Income Tax Act itself came into force. The aforesaid intent was expressed loudly and clearly in the Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2001.

(vii) We, thus, agree with the view taken by the Delhi High Court, and are not inclined to accept the opinion of Punjab & Haryana High Court which went by dominant purpose theory. The aforesaid reasoning would be applicable in cases where36shares are held as investment in the investee company, may be for the purpose of having controlling interest therein. On that reasoning, appeals of Maxopp Investment Limited as well as similar cases where shares were purchased by the assessees to have controlling interest in the investee companies have to fail and are, therefore, dismissed.

(viii) There is yet another aspect which still needs to be looked into. What happens when the shares are held as ‘stock-in-trade’ and not as ‘investment’, particularly, by the banks? On this specific aspect, CBDT has issued circular No. 18/2015 dated November 02, 2015.

(ix) This Circular has already been reproduced in Para 19 above. This Circular takes note of the judgment of this Court in Nawanshahar case wherein it is held that investments made by a banking concern are part of the business or banking. Therefore, the income arises from such investments is attributable to business of banking falling under the head ‘profits and gains of business and profession’. On that basis, the Circular contains the decision of the Board that no appeal would be filed on this ground by the officers of the Department and if the appeals are already filed, they should be withdrawn.

(x) A reading of this circular would make it clear that the issue was as to whether income by way of interest on securities shall be chargeable to income tax under the head ‘income from other sources’ or it is to fall under the head ‘profits and gains of business and profession’. The Board, going by the decision of this Court in Nawanshahar case, clarified that it has to be treated as income falling under the head ‘profits and gains of business and profession’. The Board also went to the extent of saying that this would not be limited only to co-operative societies/Banks claiming deduction under Section80P(2)(a)(i) of the Act but would also be applicable to all banks/commercial banks, to which Banking Regulation Act, 1949 applies.

(xi) From this, Punjab and Haryana High Court pointed out that this circular carves out a distinction between ‘stock-in-trade’ and ‘investment’ and provides that if the motive behind purchase and sale of shares is to earn profit, then the same would be treated as trading profit and if the object is to derive income by way of dividend then the profit would be said to have accrued from investment. To this extent, the High Court may be correct.

(xii) At the same time, we do not agree with the test of dominant intention applied by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which we have already discarded. In that event, the question is as to on what basis those cases are to be decided where the shares of other companies are purchased by the assessees as ‘stock-in-trade’ and not as ‘investment’. We proceed to discuss this aspect hereinafter.

(xiii) In those cases, where shares are held as stock-in-trade, the main purpose is to trade in those shares and earn profits therefrom. However, we are not concerned with those profits which would naturally be treated as ‘income’ under the head ‘profits and gains from business and profession’. What happens is that, in the process, when the shares are held as ‘stock-in-trade’, certain dividend is also earned, though incidentally, which is also an income. However, by virtue of Section 10(34) of the Act, this dividend income is not to be included in the total income and is exempt from tax. This triggers the applicability of Section14A of the Act which is based on the theory of apportionment of expenditure between taxable and non-taxable income as held in Walfort Share and Stock Brokers P Ltd. case. Therefore, to that extent, depending upon the facts of each case, the expenditure incurred in acquiring those shares will have to be apportioned.

(xiv) We note from the facts in the State Bank of Patiala cases that the AO, while passing the assessment order, had already restricted the disallowance to the amount which was claimed as exempt income by applying the formula contained in Rule 8D of the Rules and holding that section 14A of the Act would be applicable. In spite of this exercise of apportionment of expenditure carried out by the AO, CIT(A) disallowed the entire deduction of expenditure. That view of the CIT(A) was clearly untenable and rightly set aside by the ITAT. Therefore, on facts, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has arrived at a correct conclusion by affirming the view of the ITAT, though we are not subscribing to the theory of dominant intention applied by the High Court. It is to be kept in mind that in those cases where shares are held as ‘stock-in-trade’, it becomes a business activity of the assessee to deal in those shares as a business proposition.

(xv) Whether dividend is earned or not becomes immaterial. In fact, it would be a quirk of fate that when the investee company declared dividend, those shares are held by the assessee, though the assessee has to ultimately trade those shares by selling them to earn profits. The situation here is, therefore, different from the case like Maxopp Investment Ltd. where the assessee would continue to hold those shares as it wants to retain control over the investee company. In that case, whenever dividend is declared by the investee company that would necessarily be earned by the assessee and the assessee alone. Therefore, even at the time of investing into those shares, the assessee knows that it may generate dividend income as well and as and when such dividend income is generated that would be earned by the assessee. In contrast, where the shares are held as stock-in-trade, this may not be necessarily a situation. The main purpose is to liquidate those shares whenever the share price goes up in order to earn profits. In the result, the appeals filed by the Revenue challenging the judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in State Bank of Patiala also fail, though law in this respect has been clarified hereinabove.

(xv) Having regard to the language of Section 14A(2) of the Act, read with Rule 8D of the Rules, we also make it clear that before applying the theory of apportionment, the AO needs to record satisfaction that having regard to the kind of the assessee, suo moto disallowance under Section 14A was not correct. It will be in those cases where the assessee in his return has himself apportioned but the AO was not accepting the said apportionment. In that eventuality, it will have to record its satisfaction to this effect. Further, while recording such a satisfaction, nature of loan taken by the assessee for purchasing the shares/making the investment in shares is to be examined by the AO.

6 comments on “Maxopp Investment Ltd vs. CIT (Supreme Court)
  1. vswami says:

    On the first blush, – thanks to the taste for newer ideas and the resulting stimulated litigation , either at the instance of the tax – gatherer or -payer,- the reported development simply adds one more twist to the already obtaining complexity / complicity, aplenty, surrounding the subject enactment?

    This, as noted, is one of those fertile topics,having no dearth of scope for inconclusively prolonged /procrastinated battle of wits (short or sharp !)

  2. vswami says:

    To quickly ADD (with an honest intent to provoke an independent study/incisive review of the SC Verdict (s):

    Refer >

  3. vswami says:

    ADD-on (on a further close study) :

    The Gist of the Judgment herein above, does not seem to include all the relevant paragraphs of the instantly reported SC Judgment. In particular,- not so included are, –

    1)para 5. in which the factual matrix of the named case (being one in the bunch of the cases disposed of); and

    2)the para (s) in which,disagreeing with the averse view the HC had taken, the SC has upheld the other assessee(s)’s contention, -rejecting the Revenue’s cross appeals,- to the effect that Rule 8D could be given only prospective effect.

    That leaves one totally nonplussed; in that,the impugned assessment in the named assessee’s case is 2002-03, but still its appeal, as stated,has been dismissed.Going by one’s guess, perhaps, the only reason is the Revenue had no reason /ground to file a cross appeal in the said case, as the HC’ opinion was in its favour,- though now reversed by SC, on the point of issue referred to in 2) above.

    Over to the Admn.,and its enlightened subscribers / law pundits in practice,in the hope of being appropriately enlightened, should the foregoing thoughts as personally shared, are materially faulty for any reason !

    Incidentally, it has since come to be noted that, the point that Rule 8D could be given effect only prospectively,has been favorably covered in one more SC Judgment ….

  4. vswami says:

    To ADD (and repeat the since posted comment elsewhere) : Many of the points of view, founded on ‘first principles’, as canvassed for / shared in the published Article – (2009) 14 CPT 819 (pending to be UPDATED) do not seem to have been specifically or adequately addressed during the court proceedings in any of the decided /reported case law, including in Maxopp’s case. One such crucial point covered in that Article concerns the inescapable fact that sec 14A is not prefixed with a ‘non-obstante clause’, so as to be regarded to have an overriding effect on all the other related provisions of the IT Act. Premised so, in essence and effect, the enactment ,- it is open to be strongly urged, – is a non est .
    And, in one’s personal conviction / utmost belief, had that clinching facet been focused on and eminently addressed in sufficient details , so as to enable the court(s) to duly consider, then it is quite possible that the judicial decision (s) may have turned out to be in assessees’ favour; thereby, settled the related controversies , and set at rest, once for all.
    The view (since aired by a CA in his write-up) to the effect that the reported latest SC verdict marks the “End of……..” is too abrupt a conclusion to be taken any seriously; particularly on the main proposition on which the verdict has been handed down primarily relying upon and following inter alia the earlier apex court Judgment in Walfort case, and rejecting the assessee’s contentions based on and invoking the so called ‘Dominant Purpose’ Test.
    On the contrary, in one’s independent perspective, and as personally viewed, that has brought to surface a dangerously fresh scope for more and more controversies, of a far reaching nature / consequences.
    More importantly, the cited verdict in Maxopp’s case cannot, in one’s conviction, be rightly said to be a binding ”PRECEDENT” to every other case .across the board; that is, unless in a given case the income is ‘dividend’ and ‘interest’ is of the same kind as in Maxopp’s case. In saying so, one has in mind, apart from several other aspects of relevance, the legal meaning of ‘interest’ as specially defined in sec 2 (29A) and the whole host of other cases (i.e. types of ‘income”which are not includ-able /-ed in ‘total income’, by virtue of CHAPTER III – section 10, read together with CHAPTER VI-A, sections covered in ‘C’ thereunder.

  5. Jay Mehta says:

    Can anybody tell me when was this judgement pubished in public domain?

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