|CORAM:||Pramod Kumar (AM), S. S. Godara (JM)|
|SECTION(S):||9(1)(i), 9(1)(vii), Article 12, Article 7|
|GENRE:||Domestic Tax, International Tax|
|CATCH WORDS:||Accrual of income, commission, Fees for technical services|
|COUNSEL:||S. N. Soparkar|
|DATE:||January 3, 2017 (Date of pronouncement)|
|DATE:||January 18, 2017 (Date of publication)|
|FILE:||Click here to download the file in pdf format|
|S. 9(1): Important law explained as to the taxability of export sale commission payments received by non-resident agents and the obligation of the assessee to deduct TDS thereon in the context of s. 9(1)(i)/ 9(1)(vii) of the Act and relevant provisions of the DTAA|
(i) The scheme of taxability in India, so far as the non residents, are concerned, is like this. Section 5 (2), which deals with the taxability of income in the hands of a non-resident, provides that “the total income of any previous year of a person who is a non-resident includes all income from whatever source derived which— (a) is received or is deemed to be received in India in such year by or on behalf of such person; or (b) accrues or arises or is deemed to accrue or arise to him in India during such year”. There is no dispute that since no part of the operations of the recipient non-residents is carried out in India, no income accrues to these non-residents in India. The case of the revenue hinges on income which is “deemed to accrue or arise in India”.
(ii) So far as deeming fiction under section 9(1)(i) is concerned, it cannot be invoked in the present case since no part of the operations of the recipient’s business, as commission agent, was carried out in India. Even though deeming fiction under section 9(1)(i) is triggered on the facts of this case, on account of commission agent’s business connection in India, it has no impact on taxability in the hands of commission agent because admittedly no business operations were carried out in India, and, therefore Explanation 1 to Section 9(1)(i) comes into play.
(iii) There are a couple of rulings by the Authority for Advance Ruling, which support taxability of commission paid to non-residents under section 9(1)(i), but, neither these rulings are binding precedents for us nor are we persuaded by the line of reasoning adopted in these rulings. As for the AAR ruling in the case of SKF Boilers & Driers Pvt Ltd [(2012) 343 ITR 385 (AAR)], we find that this decision merely follows the earlier ruling in the case of Rajiv Malhotra [(2006) 284 ITR 564] which, in our considered view, does not take into account the impact of Explanation 1 to Section 9(1)(i) properly. That was a case in which the non-resident commission agent worked for procuring participation by other non-resident entities in a food and wine show in India, and the claim of the assessee was that since the agent has not carried out any business operations in India, the commission agent was not chargeable to tax in India, and, accordingly, the assessee had no obligation to deduct tax at source from such commission payments to the non-resident agent. On these facts, the Authority for Advance Ruling, inter alia, opined that “no doubt the agent renders services abroad and pursues and solicits exhibitors there in the territory allotted to him, but the right to receive the commission arises in India only when exhibitor participates in the India International Food & Wine Show (to be held in India), and makes full and final payment to the applicant in India” and that “the commission income would, therefore, be taxable under section 5(2)(b) read with section 9(1)(i) of the Act”. The Authority for Advance Ruling also held that “the fact that the agent renders services abroad in the form of pursuing and soliciting participants and that the commission is remitted to him abroad are wholly irrelevant for the purpose of determining situs of his income”. We do not consider this approach to be correct. When no operations of the business of commission agent is carried on in India, the Explanation 1 to Section 9(1)(i) takes the entire commission income from outside the ambit of deeming fiction under section 9(1)(i), and, in effect, outside the ambit of income ‘deemed to accrue or arise in India’ for the purpose of Section 5(2)(b). The point of time when commission agent’s right to receive the commission fructifies is irrelevant to decide the scope of Explanation 1 to Section 9(1)(i), which is what is material in the context of the situation that we are in seisin of. The revenue’s case before us hinges on the applicability of Section 9(1)(i) and, it is, therefore. important to ascertain as to what extent would the rigour of Section 9(1)(i) be relaxed by Explanation 1 to Section 9(1)(i). When we examine things from this perspective, the inevitable conclusion is that since no part of the operations of the business of the commission agent is carried out in India, no part of the income of the commission agent can be brought to tax in India. In this view of the matter, views expressed by the Hon’ble AAR, which do not fetter our independent opinion anyway in view of its limited binding force under s. 245S of the Act, do not impress us, and we decline to be guided by the same. The stand of the revenue, however, is that these rulings, being from such a high quasi-judicial forum, even if not binding, cannot simply be brushed aside either, and that these rulings at least have persuasive value. We have no quarrel with this proposition. We have, with utmost care and deepest respect, perused the above rulings rendered by the Hon’ble Authority for Advance Ruling. With greatest respect, but without slightest hesitation, we humbly come to the conclusion that we are not persuaded by these rulings
(iiii) Coming to Section 9(1)(vii)(b), this deeming fiction- which is foundational basis for the action of the Assessing Officer, inter alia, provides that the income by way of technical services payable by a person resident in India, except in certain situations- which are not attracted in the present case anyway, are deemed to be income accruing or arising in India. Explanation 2 to Section 9(1)(vii) defines ‘fees for technical services’ as “any consideration (including any lumpsum consideration) for the rendering of any managerial, technical or consultancy services (including the provisions of services of technical or other personnel) but does not include consideration for any construction, assembly, mining or like project undertaken by the recipient or consideration which would be income of the recipient chargeable under the head ‘Salaries’ [Relevant portion highlighted by underlining]”.
(iv) In the light of the above legal position, what we need to decide at the outset is whether the amounts paid by the assessee to the non-resident agents could be termed as “consideration for the rendering of any managerial, technical and consultancy services”. As we do so, it is useful to bear in mind the fact that even going by the stand of the Assessing Officer, at best services rendered by the nonresident to the agent included technical services but it is for this reason that the amounts paid to these agents, on account of commission on exports, should be treated as fees for technical services. Even proceeding on the assumption that these non-resident agents did render the technical services, which, as we will see a little later, an incorrect assumption anyway, what is important to appreciate is that the amounts paid by the assessee to these agents constituted consideration for the orders secured by the agents and not the services alleged rendered by the agents. The event triggering crystallization of liability of the assessee, under the commission agency agreement, is the event of securing orders and not the rendition of alleged technical services. In a situation in which the agent does not render any of the services but secures the business anyway, the agent is entitled to his commission which is computed in terms of a percentage of the value of the order. In a reverse situation, in which an agent renders all the alleged technical services but does not secure any order for the principal i.e. the assessee, the agent is not entitled to any commission. Clearly, therefore, the event triggering the earnings by the agent is securing the business and not rendition of any services. In this view of the matter, in our considered view, the amounts paid by the assesse to its non-resident agents, even in the event of holding that the agents did indeed render technical services, cannot be said to be “consideration for rendering of any managerial, technical or consultancy services (Emphasis by underlining supplied by us)”. The services rendered by the agents, even if these services are held to be in the nature of technical services, may be technical services, but the amounts paid by the assessee are not for the rendition of these technical services nor the quantification of these amounts have any relation with the quantum of these technical services. The key to taxability of an amount under section 9(1)(vii) is that it should constitute “consideration” for rendition of technical services. The case of the revenue fails on this short test, as in the present case the amounts paid by the assessee are “consideration” for orders secured by the assessee irrespective of how and whether or not the agents have performed the so called technical services.
(v) Let us sum up our discussions on this part of the scheme of Section 9, so far as tax implications on commission agency business carried out by non-residents for Indian principals is concerned. It does not need much of a cerebral exercise to find out whether the income from the business carried on by a non-resident assessee, as a commission agent and to the extent it can be said to directly or indirectly accruing through or from any business connection in India, is required to be taxed under section 9(1)(i) or under section 9(1)(vii), of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The answer is obvious. Deeming fiction under section 9(1)(i) read with proviso thereto, as we have seen in the earlier discussions, holds the key, and lays down that only to the extent that which the operations of such a business is carried out in India, the income from such a business is taxable in India. When no operations of the business are carried on India, there is no taxability of the profits of such a business in India either. The question then arises whether in a situation in which, in the course of carrying on such business, the assessee has to necessarily render certain services, which are of such a nature as covered by Explanation 2 to Section 9(1)(vii), and even though the assessee is not paid any fees for such services per se, any part of the business profits of the assessee can be treated as ‘fees for technical services’ and taxed as such under section 9(1)(vii). This question does not pose much difficulty either. In the light of the discussions in the foregoing paragraph, unless there is a specific and identifiable consideration for the rendition of technical services, taxability under section 9(1)(vii) does not get triggered. Therefore, irrespective of whether any technical services are rendered during the course of carrying on such agency commission business on behalf of Indian principal, the consideration for securing business cannot be taxed under section 9(1)(vii) at all. This profits of such a business can have taxability in India only to the extent such profits relate to the business operations in India, but then, as are the admitted facts of this case, no part of operations of business were carried out in India. The commission agents employed by the assessee, therefore, did not have any tax liability in India in respect of the commission agency business so carried out.
(vi) On a more fundamental note, however, it is also a settled legal position by now that the services of the nature rendered by these commission agents cannot anyway be treated as fees for technical services anyway. Viewed thus, even the discussion on whether the amounts in question could be treated as ‘consideration’ for technical services, may be rendered academic in effect.