CIT vs. Jawahar Lal Oswal (P&H High Court) (Full Bench)

DATE: January 29, 2016 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: February 22, 2016 (Date of publication)
AY: -
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S. 69A: Law on taxability of large gifts received from abroad from donors who are total strangers to the assessee and not related by relationship, business or friendship explained

(i) Suspicion and doubt may be the starting point of an investigation but cannot, at the final stage of assessment, take the place of relevant facts, particularly where a deeming provision is sought to be invoked. The principle that governs a deeming provision is that the initial onus lies upon the revenue to raise a prima facie doubt on the basis of credible material. The onus, thereafter, shifts to the assessee to prove that the gift is genuine and if the assessee is unable to proffer a credible explanation, the Assessing Officer may legitimately raise an inference against the assessee. If, however, the assessee furnishes all relevant facts within his knowledge and offers a credible explanation, the onus reverts to the revenue to prove that these facts are not correct. The revenue cannot draw an inference based upon suspicion or doubt or perceptions of culpability or on the quantum of the amount, involved. Any ambiguity or any ifs and buts in the material collected by the Assessing Officer must necessarily be read in favour of the assessee, particularly when the question is one of taxation, under a deeming provision. Thus, neither suspicion/doubt, nor the quantum shall determine the exercise of jurisdiction by the Assessing Officer. The above exposition shall not be misconstrued to restrict the power of the revenue to raise an inference as to the efficacy of material produced by or before the Assessing Officer.

(ii) On the question whether the assessee has discharged the onus of establishing that the gifts are genuine and cannot be treated as his deemed income under Section 69-A of the Act, admittedly, the gifts were received by the assessee for and on behalf of his daughters, while he was in London. Alleging that the gifts were the deemed income of the assessee, the Assessing Officer called upon the assessee to show cause why the gifts be not treated as his income. The Assessing Officer also initiated a protective assessment against the daughters. The Assessing Officer may have been right in serving a notice and initiating an investigation as these large monetary gifts would raise suspicion about their genuineness but was apparently so convinced of the nature of the funds that he forgot that he is dealing with a deeming provision and proceeded to initiate an inquisition instead of an inquiry.

(iii) A question may, however, legitimately arise that such a large amount could not be given as a gift on the marriage of the assessee’s daughter but this question is speculative and cannot form the basis for raising an inference against an assessee. The Assessing Officer was apparently over-awed by the amount of the gift and, therefore, proceeded to base his opinion on his perception that no one would gift such a large amount. A deeming provision requires the Assessing Officer to collect relevant facts and then confront the assessee, who is thereafter, required to explain incriminating facts and in case he fails to proffer a credible information, the Assessing Officer may validly raise an inference of deemed income under section 69-A of the Act.

(iv) If the assessee proffers an explanation and discloses all relevant facts within his knowledge, the onus reverts to the revenue to adduce evidence and only thereafter, may an inference be raised, based upon relevant facts, by invoking the deeming provisions of Section 69-A of the Act. It is true that inferences and presumptions are integral to an adjudicatory process but cannot by themselves be raised to the status of substantial evidence or evidence sufficient to raise an inference. A deeming provision, thus, enables the revenue to raise an inference against an assessee on the basis of tangible material and not on mere suspicion, conjectures or perceptions. It would also be necessary to reiterate that it is not perceptions but concrete facts that underline quasi judicial determinations and where concrete facts are not available, relevant facts, as would raise a credible inference of culpability requiring an assessee to rebut the inference so raised. More often than not, revenue authorities, for want of relevant material, institute “inquisitions”, as opposed to inquiries and by addressing questions that the more inculpatory in nature, seek to build their case, from answers proffered by an assessee.

(v) An arrangement between a donor and another is an arrangement between the donor and his source of money. The onus to probe and prove this aspect lies upon the revenue and not upon the assessee, particularly where the income is being dealt with under a deeming provision. A person who receives a gift, is not required to prove the source of the money of his donor.

(vi) The Assessing Officer proceeded as if the entire onus lay upon the assessee, ignored the material received from the Central Board of Direct Taxes from the Inland Revenue Service, Great Britain and failed to follow the matter any further with respect to Varinder Sharma and on the basis of suspicion, held that gifts are not genuine. Having already held that it was for the revenue to proceed to investigate the matter further, I find no error in the opinion recorded by the Tribunal and consequently, the substantial question of law is answered against the revenue.

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