CIT vs. Earnest Exports (Bombay High Court)

DATE: (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: March 6, 2010 (Date of publication)

Click here to download the judgement (earnest_exports_rectification_review_s_254_2.pdf)

ITAT has no power u/s 254 (2) to re-evaluate correctness on merits of earlier decision

The assessee claimed deduction u/s 80HHC which was allowed to the extent of Rs. 32.17 crs by the AO. The claim included DEPB license sale proceeds. The CIT revised the assessment u/s 263 on the ground that s. 28 (iiia) did not apply to a DEPB license and its proceeds were not eligible for deduction u/s 80HHC. The assessee filed an appeal before the Tribunal where it relied on the judgements in Pratibha Syntex Ltd vs. JCIT 81 ITD 118 and Pink Star vs. DCIT 27 ITD 137 to argue that the DEPB license would form part of the incentive and had to be considered for s. 80HHC deduction. However, the Tribunal held that these judgements were distinguishable and dismissed the appeal. The assessee thereafter filed a MA u/s 254(2) for rectification. The Tribunal allowed the application and recalled its order. The Tribunal further allowed the assessee’s appeal and set aside the CIT’s s. 263 revisional order. The Tribunal relied on Pratibha Syntex and Pink Star to hold that when the assessment order was passed, there was no dispute as to whether export incentives by way of a DEPB license were eligible for deduction u/s 80HHC. The department filed an appeal where it argued that the Tribunal’s MA order was a review of the earlier order and that it had no jurisdiction to do so u/s 254 (2). HELD allowing the appeal:

(i) S. 254(2) empowers the Tribunal to rectify a mistake apparent from the record. In Honda Siel Power Products 295 ITR 466 (SC) it was held that s. 254(2) is based on the fundamental principle that a party appearing before the Tribunal should not suffer on account of a mistake committed by the Tribunal. It was held that the Tribunal would be regarded as having committed a mistake in not considering the material which is already on record;

(ii) However, in the present case the Tribunal in the original order specifically dealt with the decisions in Pratibha Syntex and Pink Star and held them to be distinguishable. However, in the s. 254(2) order, the Tribunal virtually reconsidered the entire matter and came to the conclusion that in view of Pratibha Syntex and Pink Star a DEPB license was eligible for deduction u/s 80HHC. This amounted to a re-appreciation of the correctness of the earlier decision on merits. This was impermissible. Re-evaluating the correctness on merits of an earlier decision lies beyond the scope of the power conferred u/s 254(2).

(iii) The power u/s 254(2) is confined to a rectification of a mistake apparent on record. S. 254(2) is not a carte blanche for the Tribunal to change its own view by substituting a view which it believes should have been taken in the first instance. S. 254(2) is not a mandate to unsettle decisions taken after due reflection. It is not an avenue to revive a proceeding by recourse to a disingenuous argument nor does it contemplate a fresh look at a decision recorded on merits, however appealing an alternate view may seem. Unless a sense of restraint is observed, judicial discipline would be the casualty. That is not what Parliament envisaged.

Note: In Chem Amit 272 ITR 397 (Bom) and Visvas Promoters 30 DTR (Mad) 65 it was held that an appeal u/s 260A cannot be filed against an order u/s 254 (2). However, this principle may not apply where the s. 254 (2) order also deals with the appeal. For the merits whether DEPB license profits are eligible u/s 80HHC see Topman Exports 318 ITR 87 (Mum) (SB).