|COURT:||Delhi High Court|
|CORAM:||R. K. Gauba J, Ravindra Bhat J|
|CATCH WORDS:||inquiry, unexplained cash credit|
|COUNSEL:||R. M. Sinha|
|DATE:||March 11, 2015 (Date of pronouncement)|
|DATE:||March 26, 2015 (Date of publication)|
|FILE:||Click here to download the file in pdf format|
|S. 68: Assessment proceedings under the Income Tax Act are not a game of hide and seek. If AO does not conduct proper inquiry, the obligation to do so is on the CIT(A) & ITAT|
(i) Assessment proceedings under the Income Tax Act are not a game of hide and seek. The inquiry in the wake of a notice under Section 148 is not an empty formality. It must be effective and with a sense of purpose. There is an elaborate procedure set out which requires scrupulous adherence and followed up on. In the hierarchy of the authorities, the AO is placed at the bottom rung. The two layers of appeals, before the matter engages the appellate jurisdiction of this court, are authorities vested with the jurisdiction, power and obligation to reach appropriate findings on facts. Noticeably, it is only the appeal to the High Court, under Section 260-A, which is restricted to consideration of “substantial question of law”, if any arising. As would be seen from the discussion that follows, the obligation to make proper inquiry and reach finding on facts does not end with the AO. This obligation moves upwards to CIT (Appeals), and also ITAT, should it come to their notice that there has been default in such respect on the part of the AO. In such event, it is they who are duty bound to either themselves properly inquire or cause such inquiry to be completed. If this were not to be done, the power under Section 148 would be rendered prone to abuse.
(ii) The authority to bring to tax unaccounted money by exercising the power given to the AO under Section 68 is of great importance. It is expected that the AO would resort to this provision with all requisite circumspection. Since the provision is generally invoked, as has been done in the case at hand, by recourse to the procedure of notice under Section 148 upon satisfaction under Section 147 that the income (purportedly represented by the unexplained sums found credited in the books of accounts), within the mischief of Section 68, it is inherent that the explanation of the assessee respecting such credit entries would be called for only with circumspection and solely upon some concrete material coming up to support the tentative impression about it being suspect.
(iii) Thus, when the AO sets about seeking explanation for the unaccounted credit entries in the books of accounts of the assessee in terms of Section 68, it is legitimately expected that the exercise would be taken to the logical end, in all fairness taking into account the material submitted by the assessee in support of his assertion that the person making the payment is real, and not non-existent, and that such other person was actually the source of the money forming the subject matter of the transaction as indeed that the transaction is real and genuine, same as it is represented to be. Having embarked upon such exercise, the AO is not expected to short-shrift the inquiry or ignore the material submitted by the assessee.
(iv) The provision of appeal, before the CIT (Appeals) and then before the ITAT, is made more as a check on the abuse of power and authority by the AO. Whilst it is true that it is the obligation of the AO to conduct proper scrutiny of the material, given the fact that the two appellate authorities above are also forums for fact-finding, in the event of AO failing to discharge his functions properly, the obligation to conduct proper inquiry on facts would naturally shift to the door of the said appellate authority.
(v) The AO here may have failed to discharge his obligation to conduct a proper inquiry to take the matter to logical conclusion. But CIT (Appeals), having noticed want of proper inquiry, could not have closed the chapter simply by allowing the appeal and deleting the additions made. It was also the obligation of the first appellate authority, as indeed of ITAT, to have ensured that effective inquiry was carried out, particularly in the face of the allegations of the Revenue that the account statements reveal a uniform pattern of cash deposits of equal amounts in the respective accounts preceding the transactions in question. This necessitated a detailed scrutiny of the material submitted by the assessee in response to the notice under Section 148 issued by the AO, as also the material submitted at the stage of appeals, if deemed proper by way of making or causing to be made a “further inquiry” in exercise of the power under Section 250(4). This approach not having been adopted, the impugned order of ITAT, and consequently that of CIT (Appeals), cannot be approved or upheld.