New Delhi Television Ltd vs. DCIT (Supreme Court)

COURT:
CORAM: ,
SECTION(S): ,
GENRE:
CATCH WORDS:
COUNSEL:
DATE: April 3, 2020 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: April 3, 2020 (Date of publication)
AY: 2008-09
FILE: Click here to download the file in pdf format
CITATION:
S. 147/ 148 Reopening: (i) Merely because the original assessment is a detailed one, the powers of the AO to reopen u/s 147 is not affected, (ii) Information which comes to the notice of the AO during proceedings for subsequent AYs can definitely form tangible material to reopen the assessment, (iii) As regards "full & true disclosure of material facts", the assessee has the duty to disclose the "primary facts". It is not required to disclose the "secondary facts". The assessee is also not required to give any assistance to the AO by disclosure of other facts. It is for the AO to decide what inference should be drawn from the facts, (iv) If the AO intends to rely upon the second Proviso to s. 148 for the extended period of 16 years limitation, the same should be stated either in the notice or in the reasons in support of the notice. It cannot be done in the order rejecting the objections or at a later stage (All imp judgements considered)

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1008 OF 2020
NEW DELHI TELEVISION LTD. …APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF
INCOME TAX …RESPONDENT(S)
J U D G M E N T
Deepak Gupta, J.
1. The appellant New Delhi Television Limited (hereinafter
referred to as ‘the assessee’) is an Indian company engaged in
running television channels of various kinds. It has various
foreign subsidiaries to which we shall refer in detail later on but
we are concerned mainly with the subsidiary based in the United
Kingdom (UK) named NDTV Network Plc., U.K. (hereinafter
referred to as ‘NNPLC’).
2. The assessee submitted a return for the financial year 200708
i.e. assessment year 200809
on 29.09.2008 declaring a loss.
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This return was processed under Section 143 of the Income Tax
Act, 1961 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’). The case was
selected for scrutiny and notice under Section 143(2) of the Act
was issued and a notice under Section 142(1) of the Act was also
sent to the assessee. Thereafter, the case of the assessee was
taken up for consideration and final assessment order was
passed on 03.08.2012.
3. We are mainly concerned with that part of the assessment
order which relates to the issue of stepup
coupon bonds
amounting to US$100 million. These bonds were issued in July,
2007 through the Bank of New York for a period of 5 years. The
case of the assesee is that NNPLC issued stepup
coupon bonds
of US$ 100 million which were arranged by Jeffries International
and the funds were received by NNPLC through Bank of New
York. The assessee had agreed to furnish corporate guarantee for
this transaction. These bonds were subscribed to by various
entities to whom we shall refer to in detail at a later stage. These
bonds were to be redeemed at a premium of 7.5% after the expiry
of the period of 5 years. However, these bonds were redeemed in
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advance at a discounted price of US $74.2 million in November,
2009.
4. The assessing officer held that NNPLC had virtually no
financial worth, it had no business of the name and therefore it
could not be believed that it could have issued convertible bonds
of US$ 100 million, unless the repayment along with interest was
secured. This was secured only because of the assessee agreeing
to furnish guarantee in this regard. Though the assessee had
never actually issued such guarantee, the assessing officer was of
the view that the subsidiary of the assessee could not have raised
such a huge amount without having this assurance from the
assessee. The transaction was of such a nature that the assessee
should be required to maintain an arm’s length from its
subsidiary, meaning that it should be treated like a guarantee
issued by any corporate guarantor in favour of some other
corporate entity. The assessing officer did not doubt the validity
of the transaction but imposed guarantee fee @ rate of 4.68% by
treating it as a business transaction and added Rs. 18.72 crores
to the income of the assessee, vide order dated 03.08.2012.
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5. On 31.03.2015, the revenue sent a notice to the assessee
wherein it was stated that the authority has reason to believe
that net income chargeable to tax for the assessment year 200809
had escaped assessment within the meaning of Section 148 of
the Act. This notice did not give any reasons. The assessee then
asked for reasons and thereafter on 04.08.2015 reasons were
supplied. The main reason given was that in the following
assessment year i.e. assessment year 200910,
the assessing
officer had proposed a substantial addition of Rs.642 crores to
the account of the assessee on account of monies raised by the
assessee through its subsidiaries NDTV BV, The Netherlands,
NDTV Networks BV, The Netherlands (NNBV), NDTV Networks
International Holdings BV, The Netherlands (NNIH) and NNPLC.
The assessee had raised its objection before the Dispute
Resolution Panel (DRP) which came to the conclusion that all
these transactions with the subsidiary companies in Netherlands
were sham and bogus transactions and that these transactions
were done with a view to get the undisclosed income, for which
tax had not been paid, back to India by this circuitous round
tripping.
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6. The assessing officer relies upon the order of the DRP
holding that there is reason to believe that funds received by
NNPLC were actually the funds of the assessee. It was specified
that NNPLC had a capital of only Rs.40 lakhs. It did not have
any business activities in the United Kingdom except a postal
address. Therefore, it appeared to the assessing officer that it
was unnatural for anyone to make such a huge investment of
$100 million in a virtually nonfunctioning
company and
thereafter get back only 72% of their original investment.
According to the assessing officer “The natural inference could be
that it was NDTV’s own funds introduced in NNPLC in the grab of
the impugned bonds.” The details of the investors are given in
this communication giving reasons. Mention has also been made
of complaints received from a minority shareholder in which it is
alleged that the money introduced in NNPLC was shifted to
another subsidiary of the assessee in Mauritius from where it
was taken to a subsidiary of the assessee in Mumbai and finally
to the assessee. NNPLC itself was placed under liquidation on
28.03.2011. Therefore, the assessing officer was of the opinion
that there were reasons to believe that the funds received by
NNPLC were the funds of the assessee under a sham transaction
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and that the amount of Rs.405.09 crores introduced into the
books of NNPLC during the financial year 200708
corresponding
to the assessment year 200809
through the transaction
involving the stepup
coupon convertible bonds pertains to the
assessee. The last portion of the communication dt. 04.08.2015
giving reasons to the assessee reads as follows:“
7. In view of the above facts and circumstances of the case
and considering the findings of the DRP holding the funds
received by NNPLC as the funds of the assessee New Delhi
Television Limited under sham transactions, there is a reason
to believe that the funds amounting to Rs.405.09 crores
introduced into the books of NNPLC during the FY 200708
in
the form of Step Up Coupon Bonds pertain to the assessee
New Delhi Television Limited only. I have therefore reason to
believe that the income of the assessee New Delhi Television
Limited for AY 200809
amounting to at least Rs.405.09 crores
has escaped assessment. It is also recorded that the
escapement is due to failure on the part of the assessee to
disclose fully and truly all facts material for assessment.”
7. The assessee filed reply to the notice and reasons given, and
claimed that there had been no failure on the part of the assessee
to disclose fully and truly all material facts necessary to make an
assessment. Assessee also claimed that the proceedings had
been initiated on a mere change of opinion and there was no
reason to believe. The assessee also claimed that the transaction
of stepup
bonds was a legal and valid transaction. In addition,
it was claimed that the assessing officer had no valid reasons to
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believe that the income of the assessee had escaped assessment.
According to the assessee the assessment officer had accepted
the genuineness of the transaction wherein NNPLC, the
subsidiary, had issued convertible bonds which had been
subscribed by many entities. It was urged that the assessing
officer had treated the transaction to be genuine by levying
guarantee fees and adding it back to the income of the assessee.
In the alternative, it was submitted that the notice had been
issued beyond the period of limitation of 4 years. According to
the assessee it had not withheld any material facts and,
therefore, limitation of 6 years as applicable to the first proviso to
Section 147 would not apply.
8. The assessing officer did not accept these objections. The
claim of the assessee was disposed of by the assessing officer vide
order dated 23.11.2015 wherein the assessing officer held that
there was nondisclosure
of material facts by the assessee and
the notice would be within limitation since NNPLC was a foreign
entity and admittedly a subsidiary of the assessee and the
income was being derived through this foreign entity. Hence, the
case of the assessee would fall within the 2nd proviso of Section
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147 of the Act and the extended period of 16 years would be
applicable. The objections were accordingly rejected.
9. Aggrieved, the petitioner filed a writ petition in the High
Court challenging the notice. The writ petition was dismissed on
10.08.2017. Against this the assessee has filed the present
Appeal.
10. We have heard Shri Arvind P. Datar, learned senior counsel
for the assessee, Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General
and Shri Zoheb Hossain, learned counsel appearing for the
revenue.
11. In our opinion, the following issues arise for consideration
in this case:(
i) Whether in the facts and circumstances of the case, it
can be said that the revenue had a valid reason to
believe that undisclosed income had escaped
assessment?
(ii) Whether the assessee did not disclose fully and truly
all material facts during the course of original
assessment which led to the finalisation of the
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assessment order and undisclosed income escaping
detection?
(iii) Whether the notice dated 31.03.2015 along with
reasons communicated on 04.08.2015 could be termed
to be a notice invoking the provisions of the second
proviso to Section 147 of the Act?
12. At the outset we may note that it has been strenuously
urged on behalf of the assessee that its assessment was done
under scrutiny procedure and a very detailed procedure was
followed during the original assessment proceedings and all
aspects of the case were noted by the assessing officer. That may
be true, but merely the fact that the original assessment is a
detailed one, cannot take away the powers of the assessing officer
to issue notice under Section 147 of the Act.
Question No.1
13. We would like to make it clear that we are not going into the
merits of the allegations made against the assessee. At this stage
we are only required to decide whether the revenue has sufficient
reasons to believe that undisclosed income of the asseessee has
escaped assessment and therefore there are grounds to issue
notice. Obviously, during the assessment proceedings the
assessee will have the right to place material on record to show
that the transaction in question was a genuine transaction.
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14. It is trite law that an assessing officer can only reopen
an
assessment if he has ‘reason to believe’ that undisclosed income
has escaped assessment. Mere change of opinion of the
assessing officer is not a sufficient to meet the standard of
‘reason to believe’. Relevant portion of Section 147 reads as
follows:147.
Income escaping assessment.If
the Assessing
Officer, has reason to believe that any income chargeable to
tax has escaped assessment for any assessment year, he may,
subject to the provisions of sections 148 to 153, assess or
reassess such income and also any other income chargeable to
tax which has escaped assessment and which comes to his
notice subsequently in the course of the proceedings under
this section, or recompute the loss or the depreciation
allowance or any other allowance, as the case may be, for the
assessment year concerned (hereafter in this section and in
sections 148 to 153 referred to as the relevant assessment
year):
Provided that where an assessment under subsection
(3) of
section 143 or this section has been made for the relevant
assessment year, no action shall be taken under this section
after the expiry of four years from the end of the relevant
assessment year, unless any income chargeable to tax has
escaped assessment for such assessment year by reason of the
failure on the part of the assessee to make a return under
section 139 or in response to a notice issued under subsection
(1) of section 142 or section 148 or to disclose fully and
truly all material facts necessary for his assessment for that
assessment year:
Provided further that nothing contained in the first proviso
shall apply in a case where any income in relation to any asset
(including financial interest in any entity) located outside
India, chargeable to tax, has escaped assessment for any
assessment year:
Provided also that the Assessing Officer may assess or
reassess such income, other than the income involving matters
which are the subjectmatter
of any appeal, reference or
revision, which is chargeable to tax and has escaped
assessment.
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Explanation 1.—Production before the Assessing Officer of
account books or other evidence from which material evidence
could, with due diligence, have been discovered by the
Assessing Officer will not necessarily amount to disclosure
within the meaning of the foregoing proviso.
Explanation 2.—For the purposes of this section, the following
shall also be deemed to be cases where income chargeable to
tax has escaped assessment, namely :—
(a) where no return of income has been furnished by the
assessee although his total income or the total income
of any other person in respect of which he is
assessable under this Act during the previous year
exceeded the maximum amount which is not
chargeable to incometax;
(b) where a return of income has been furnished by the
assessee but no assessment has been made and it is
noticed by the Assessing Officer that the assessee has
understated the income or has claimed excessive loss,
deduction, allowance or relief in the return;
(ba) where the assessee has failed to furnish a report in
respect of any international transaction which he was
so required under section 92E;
(c) where an assessment has been made, but—
(i) income chargeable to tax has been underassessed;
or
(ii) such income has been assessed at too low a rate;
or
(iii) such income has been made the subject of
excessive relief under this Act; or
(iv) excessive loss or depreciation allowance or any
other allowance under this Act has been computed.
(ca) where a return of income has not been furnished by
the assessee or a return of income has been furnished
by him and on the basis of information or document
received from the prescribed incometax
authority,
under subsection
(2) of section 133C, it is noticed by
the Assessing Officer that the income of the assessee
exceeds the maximum amount not chargeable to tax,
or as the case may be, the assessee has understated
the income or has claimed excessive loss, deduction,
allowance or relief in the return;
(d) where a person is found to have any asset (including
financial interest in any entity) located outside India.
xxx xxx xxx
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15. The case of the assessee is that the transaction of stepup
coupon bonds was scrutinised in great detail by the assessing
officer before he passed the order of assessment dated
03.08.2012. According to the assessee there is an attempt on
behalf of the revenue to deliberately mixup
the transactions
relating to the Netherlands subsidiary with the U.K. subsidiary.
According to the assessee the order of the DRP for the
assessment year 200910
is in two distinct compartments. While
the DRP held the Netherlands’ transactions of Rs.642 crores to be
a sham, the transaction of issuance of US$ 100 million
convertible bonds was not questioned. Therefore, according to
the assessee there was no fresh material before the assessing
officer to have reason to believe that the undisclosed income of
the assessee had escaped assessment.
16. On behalf of the assessee it has been urged that once the
transaction of stepup
coupon bonds has been accepted to be
correct, then the revenue cannot reopen
the same and doubt the
genuiness of the transaction. We are not in agreement with the
first part of the submission but we make it clear that we are not
commenting on the genuineness of the transaction, which will be
considered by the concerned assessing officer.
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17. On the other hand, on behalf of the revenue it is submitted
that at the stage of issue of show cause notice the revenue only
has to establish a tentative and prima facie view. At this stage,
this Court is not expected to go into the merits of the case but
can only ascertain whether the revenue has prima facie ground to
show that it had reasons to believe that income has escaped
assessment. It is further submitted that the scope of judicial
review in such matters is very limited. It is also submitted that
since the revenue discovered fresh tangible material subsequent
to the assessment order of 03.08.2012, it cannot be said that the
assessing officer did not have reasons to believe that income had
escaped assessment.
18. The main issue is whether there was sufficient material
before the assessing officer to take a prima facie view that income
of the assessee had escaped assessment. The original order of
assessment was passed on 03.08.2012. It was thereafter on
31.12.2013 that the DRP in the case of AY 200910
raised doubts
with regard to the corporate structure of the assessee and its
subsidiaries. It was noted in the order of the DRP that certain
shares of NNPLC had been acquired by Universal Studios
International B.V., Netherlands, indirectly by subscribing to the
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shares of NNIH. As already noted above it was recorded in the
reasons communicated on 04.08.2015 that NNPLC was not
having any business activity in London. It had no fixed assets
and was not even paying rent. Other than the fact that NNPLC
was incorporated in the U.K., it had no other commercial
business there. NNPLC had declared a loss of Rs.8.34 crores for
the relevant year. It was also noticed from the order of the
assessing officer that the assessee is the parent company of
NNPLC and it is the dictates of the assessee which are important
for running NNPLC.
19. Pursuant to the directions of the DRP, the assessing officer
passed the final assessment order for AY 200910
on 21.02.2014
which also disclosed similar facts.
20. According to the revenue Tax Evasion Petitions were filed by
the minority shareholders of the assessee company on various
dates, i.e., 11.03.2014, 25.07.2014, 13.10.2014 and 11.03.2015,
which complaints describe in detail the communication between
the assessee and the subsidiaries and also allegedly showed
evidence of round tripping of the assessee’s undisclosed income
through a layer of subsidiaries which led to the issuance of the
notice in question.
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21. Whether the facts which came to the knowledge of the
assessment officer after the assessment proceedings for the
relevant year were completed, could be taken into consideration
for coming to the conclusion that there were reasons to believe
that income had escaped assessment is the question that
requires to be answered. Though a number of judgments have
been cited in this behalf, we shall make reference to only a few.
In Claggett Brachi Co. Ltd., London vs. Commissioner of
Income Tax, Andhra Pradesh1, this Court held as follows:“
7. Two points have been urged before us by learned
counsel for the assessee. It is contended that the Income Tax
Officer has no jurisdiction to take proceedings under Sections
147 and 148 of the Income Tax Act because the conditions
prerequisite for making the reassessments were not satisfied.
The reassessments
were made with reference to clause (b) of
Section 147 of the Act, and apparently the Income Tax Officer
proceeded on the basis that in consequence of information in
his possession he had reason to believe that income
chargeable to tax had escaped assessment for the two
assessment years. From the material before us it appears that
the Income Tax Officer came to realise that income had
escaped assessment for the two assessment years when he
was in the process of making assessment for a subsequent
assessment year. While making that assessment he came to
know from the documents pertaining to that assessment that
the overhead expenses related to the entire business including
the business as commission agents and were not confined to
the business of purchase and sale. It is true, as the High Court
has observed, that this information could have been acquired
by the Income Tax Officer if he had exercised due diligence at
the time of the original assessment itself. It does not appear,
however, that the attention of the Income Tax Officer was
directed by anything before him to the fact that the overhead
expenses related to the entire business. The information
derived by the Income Tax Officer evidently came into his
possession when taking assessment proceedings for the
1 1989 Supp(2) SCC 182
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subsequent year. In the circumstances, it cannot be doubted
that the case falls within the terms of clause (b) of Section 147
of the Act, and that, therefore, the High Court is right in
holding against the assessee.”
In M/s Phool Chand Bajrang Lal and Another vs. Income
Tax Officer and Another2, this Court held as follows:“
19…Acquiring fresh information, specific in nature and
reliable in character, relating to the concluded assessment
which goes to expose the falsity of the statement made by the
assessee at the time of original assessment is different from
drawing a fresh inference from the same facts and material
which was available with the ITO at the time of original
assessment proceedings. The two situations are distinct and
different. Thus, where the transaction itself on the basis of
subsequent information, is found to be a bogus transaction,
the mere disclosure of that transaction at the time of original
assessment proceedings, cannot be said to be disclosure of the
“true” and “full” facts in the case and the ITO would have the
jurisdiction to reopen the concluded assessment in such a
case. It is correct that the assessing authority could have
deferred the completion of the original assessment proceedings
for further enquiry and investigation into the genuineness to
the loan transaction but in our opinion his failure to do so and
complete the original assessment proceedings would not take
away his jurisdiction to act under Section 147 of the Act, on
receipt of the information subsequently. The subsequent
information on the basis of which the ITO acquired reasons to
believe that income chargeable to tax had escaped assessment
on account of the omission of the assessee to make a full and
true disclosure of the primary facts was relevant, reliable and
specific. It was not at all vague or nonspecific.”
In Ess Kay Engineering Co.(P) Ltd. vs. Commissioner of
Income Tax, Amritsar3, this Court held as follows:“
This is a case of reopening. We have perused the
documents. We find there was material on the basis of which
the Income Tax Officer could proceed to reopen the case. It is
not a case of mere change of opinion. We are not inclined to
interfere with the decision of the High Court merely because
the case of the assessee was accepted as correct in the original
2 (1993) 4 SCC 77
3 (2001) 10 SCC 189
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assessment for this assessment year. It does not preclude the
Income Tax Officer from reopening the assessment of an
earlier year on the basis of his findings of fact made on the
basis of fresh materials in course of assessment of the next
assessment year. The appeal is dismissed. No order as to
costs.”
22. A perusal of the aforesaid judgments clearly shows that
subsequent facts which come to the knowledge of the assessing
officer can be taken into account to decide whether the
assessment proceedings should be reopened
or not. Information
which comes to the notice of the assessing officer during
proceedings for subsequent assessment years can definitely form
tangible material to invoke powers vested with the assessing
officer under Section 147 of the Act.
23. The material disclosed in the assessment proceedings for
the subsequent years as well as the material placed on record by
the minority shareholders form the basis for taking action under
Section 147 of the Act. At the stage of issuance of notice, the
assessing officer is to only form a prima facie view. In our opinion
the material disclosed in assessment proceedings for subsequent
years was sufficient to form such a view. We accordingly hold
that there were reasons to believe that income had escaped
assessment in this case. Question No.1 is answered accordingly.
Question No.2
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24. Coming to the second question as to whether there was
failure on the part of the assessee to make a full and true
disclosure of all the relevant facts. The case of the assessee is
that it had disclosed all facts which were required to be disclosed.
25. The revenue has placed reliance on certain complaints made
by the minority shareholders and it is alleged that those
complaints reveal that the assessee was indulging in roundtripping
of its funds. According to the revenue the material
disclosed in these complaints clearly shows that the assessee is
guilty of creating a network of shell companies with a view to
transfer its untaxed
income in India to entities abroad and then
bring it back to India thereby avoiding taxation. We make it clear
that we are not going into this aspect of the matter because those
complaints have not seen light of the day either before the High
Court or this Court and, therefore, it would be unfair to the
assessee if we rely upon such material which the assessee has
not been confronted with.
26. Even before the assessment order was passed on
03.08.2012, the assessing officer was aware of the entities which
had subscribed to the convertible bonds. This is apparent from
the communication dated 08.04.2011. The case of the revenue is
that the assessee did not disclose the amount subscribed by each
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of the entities and furthermore the management structure of
these companies. We are not in agreement with this submission
of the revenue. It is apparent from the records of the case that
the revenue was aware of the entities which subscribed to the
convertible bonds. It has been urged that these are bogus
companies, but we are not concerned with that at this stage. The
issue before us is whether the revenue can take the benefit of the
extended period of limitation of 6 years for initiating proceedings
under the first proviso Section 147 of the Act. This can only be
done if the revenue can show that the assessee had failed to
disclose fully and truly all material facts necessary for its
assessment. The assessee, in our view had disclosed all the facts
it was bound to disclose. If the revenue wanted to investigate the
matter further at that stage it could have easily directed the
assessee to furnish more facts.
27. The High Court held that there was no “true and fair
disclosure” in view of the law laid down by this Court in Phool
Chand’s case (supra), and the judgment of the Delhi High Court
in Honda Siel Power Products Limited vs. Deputy
Commissioner IncomeTax
and Another4. We have already
4 (2012) 340 ITR 53 (Delhi)
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referred to the judgment in Phool Chand’s case (supra), wherein
it was held that where the transaction of a particular assessment
year is found to be a bogus transaction, the disclosures made
could not be said to be all “true” and “full”. Relying upon the
said judgment the High Court held that merely because the
transaction of convertible bonds was disclosed at the time of
original assessment does not mean that there is true and full
disclosure of facts.
28. We are unable to agree with this reasoning given by the
High Court. The assessee as mentioned above made a disclosure
about having agreed to stand guarantee for the transaction by
NNPLC and it had also disclosed the factum of the issuance of
convertible bonds and their redemption. The income, if any,
arose because of the redemption at a discounted price. This was
an event which took place subsequent to the assessment year in
question though it may be income for the assessment year. As
we have observed above, all relevant facts were duly within the
knowledge of the assessing officer. The assessing officer knew
who were the entities who had subscribed to other convertible
bonds and in other proceedings relating to the subsidiaries the
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same assessing officer had knowledge of addresses and the
consideration paid by each of the bondholders as is apparent
from assessment orders dated 03.08.2012 passed in the cases of
M/s. NDTV Labs Ltd. and M/s. NDTV Lifestyle Ltd. Therefore, in
our opinion there was full and true disclosure of all material facts
necessary for its assessment by the assessee.
29. The fact that stepup
coupon bonds for US$ 100 million
were issued by NNPLC was disclosed; who were the entities which
subscribed to the bonds was disclosed; and the fact that the
bonds were discounted at a lower rate was also disclosed before
the assessment was finalised. This transaction was accepted by
the assessing officer and it was clearly held that the assessee was
only liable to receive a guarantee fees on the same which was
added to its income. Without saying anything further on merits
of the transaction we are of the view that it cannot be said that
the assessee had withheld any material information from the
revenue.
30. According to the revenue the assessee to avoid detection of
the actual source of funds of its subsidiaries did not disclose the
details of the subsidiaries in its final accounts, balance sheets,
and profit and loss account for the relevant period as was
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mandatory under the provisions of the Indian Companies Act,
1956. It is not disputed that the assessee had obtained an
exemption from the competent authority under the Companies
Act, 1956 from providing such details in its final accounts,
balance sheets, etc. As such it cannot be said that the assessee
was bound to disclose this to the Assessing Officer. The
Assessing Officer before finalising the assessment of 03.08.2012
had never asked the assessee to furnish the details.
31. The revenue now has come up with the plea that certain
documents were not supplied but according to us all these
documents cannot be said to be documents which the assessee
was bound to disclose at the time of assessment. The main
ground raised by the revenue is that the assessee did not disclose
as to who had subscribed what amount and what was its
relationship with the assessee. As far as the first part is
concerned it does not appear to be correct. There is material on
record to show that on 08.04.2011 NNPLC had sent a
communication to the Deputy Director of Income Tax
(Investigation), wherein it had not only disclosed the names of all
the bond holders but also their addresses; number of bonds
along with the total consideration received. This chart forms part
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of the assessment orders dated 03.08.2012 in the case of M/s.
NDTV Labs Ltd. and M/s. NDTV Lifestyle Ltd. The said two
assessment orders were passed by the same officer who had
passed the assessment order in the case of the assessee on the
same date itself. Therefore, the entire material was available with
the revenue.
32. A number of decisions have been cited as to what is meant
by true and full disclosure. It is not necessary to multiply
decisions, as law in this regard has been succinctly laid down by
a Constitution Bench of this Court in Calcutta Discount Co.
Ltd. vs. Incometax
Officer, Companies District I, Calcutta
and Another5 , wherein it was held as follows :“(
8)…The words used are “omission or failure to disclose fully
and truly all material facts necessary for his assessment for
that year”. It postulates a duty on every assessee to disclose
fully and truly all material facts necessary for his assessment.
What facts are material, and necessary for assessment will
differ from case to case. In every assessment proceeding, the
assessing authority will, for the purpose of computing or
determining the proper tax due from an assessee, require to
know all the facts which help him in coming to the correct
conclusion. From the primary facts in his possession, whether
on disclosure by the assessee, or discovered by him on the
basis of the facts disclosed, or otherwise — the assessing
authority has to draw inferences as regards certain other facts;
and ultimately, from the primary facts and the further facts
inferred from them, the authority has to draw the proper legal
inferences, and ascertain on a correct interpretation of the
taxing enactment, the proper tax leviable. Thus, when a
question arises whether certain income received by an
5 AIR 1961 SC 372
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assessee is capital receipt, or revenue receipt, the assessing
authority has to find out what primary facts have been proved,
what other facts can be inferred from them, and taking all
these together, to decide what the legal inference should be.
(9) There can be no doubt that the duty of disclosing all the
primary facts relevant to the decision of the question before
the assessing authority lies on the assessee. To meet a
possible contention that when some account books or other
evidence has been produced, there is no duty on the assessee
to disclose further facts, which on due diligence, the Incometax
Officer might have discovered, the Legislature has put in
the Explanation, which has been set out above. In view of the
Explanation, it will not be open to the assessee to say, for
example — “I have produced the account books and the
documents: You, the assessing officer examine them, and find
out the facts necessary for your purpose: My duty is done with
disclosing these accountbooks
and the documents.” His
omission to bring to the assessing authority’s attention these
particular items in the account books, or the particular
portions of the documents, which are relevant, will amount to
“omission to disclose fully and truly all material facts
necessary for his assessment.” Nor will he be able to contend
successfully that by disclosing certain evidence, he should be
deemed to have disclosed other evidence, which might have
been discovered by the assessing authority if he had pursued
investigation on the basis of what has been disclosed. The
Explanation to the section, gives a quietus to all such
contentions; and the position remains that so far as primary
facts are concerned, it is the assessee’s duty to disclose all of
them — including particular entries in account books,
particular portions of documents and documents, and other
evidence, which could have been discovered by the assessing
authority, from the documents and other evidence disclosed.
(10) Does the duty however extend beyond the full and
truthful disclosure of all primary facts? In our opinion, the
answer to this question must be in the negative. Once all the
primary facts are before the assessing authority, he requires
no further assistance by way of disclosure. It is for him to
decide what inferences of facts can be reasonably drawn and
what legal inferences have ultimately to be drawn. It is not for
somebody else — far less the assessee — to tell the assessing
authority what inferences — whether of facts or law should be
drawn. Indeed, when it is remembered that people often differ
as regards what inferences should be drawn from given facts,
it will be meaningless to demand that the assessee must
disclose what inferences — whether of facts or law — he
would draw from the primary facts.
(11) If from primary facts more inferences than one could
be drawn, it would not be possible to say that the assessee
should have drawn any particular inference and
communicated it to the assessing authority. How could an
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assessee be charged with failure to communicate an inference,
which he might or might not have drawn?”
A careful analysis of this judgment indicates that the Constitution
Bench held that it is the duty of the assessee to disclose full and
truly all material facts which it termed as primary facts. Nondisclosure
of other facts which may be termed as secondary facts is
not necessary. In light of the above law, we shall deal with the facts
of the present case.
33. In our view the assessee disclosed all the primary facts
necessary for assessment of its case to the assessing officer.
What the revenue urges is that the assessee did not make a full
and true disclosure of certain other facts. We are of the view that
the assessee had disclosed all primary facts before the assessing
officer and it was not required to give any further assistance to
the assessing officer by disclosure of other facts. It was for the
assessing officer at this stage to decide what inference should be
drawn from the facts of the case. In the present case the
assessing officer on the basis of the facts disclosed to him did not
doubt the genuiness of the transaction set up by the assessee.
This the assessing officer could have done even at that stage on
the basis of the facts which he already knew. The other facts
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relied upon by the revenue are the proceedings before the DRP
and facts subsequent to the assessment order, and we have
already dealt with the same while deciding Issue No.1. However,
that cannot lead to the conclusion that there is nondisclosure
of
true and material facts by the assessee.
34. It is interesting to note that whereas before this Court the
revenue is strenuously urging that the assessee is guilty of nondisclosure
of material facts, before the High Court the case of the
revenue was just opposite. We may quote a portion of the
counteraffidavit
filed by the revenue in response to the writ
petition filed by the assessee before the High Court which reads
as follows:“…
It is evident from these facts that second proviso to
Section 147 is clearly attracted in this case and first proviso to
Section 147 is not applicable to facts of this case, i.e. in this
case, the only requirement to reopen assessment U/s 147 was
that the AO has reason to believe that any income chargeable
to tax has escaped assessment. The second condition that the
income should have escaped assessment due to failure on the
part of the assessee to disclose fully and truly all material facts
necessary for making assessment is not relevant to decide
issue before the Hon’ble Court”
This submission has been repeated a number of times in the
counteraffidavit.
Therefore, in our opinion the revenue cannot
now turn around and urge that the assessee is guilty of nondisclosure
of facts. We are also of the view that the revenue could
not be permitted to blow hot and cold at the same time.
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35. We are clearly of the view that the revenue in view of its
counteraffidavit
before the High Court that it was not relying
upon the nondisclosure
of facts by the assessee could not have
been permitted to orally urge the same. Even otherwise we find
that the assessee had fully and truly disclosed all material facts
necessary for its assessment and, therefore, the revenue cannot
take benefit of the extended period of limitation of 6 years. We
answer Question No.2 accordingly.
Question No.3
36. It is urged before this Court by the revenue that in terms of
second proviso to Section 147 of the Act read with Section 149(1)
(c) of the Act, the limitation period would be 16 years since the
assessee has derived income from a foreign entity. We may make
specific reference to the second proviso and explanation 2(d)
which reads as follows:Provided
further that nothing contained in the first
proviso shall apply in a case where any income in relation to
any asset (including financial interest in any entity) located
outside India, chargeable to tax, has escaped assessment for
any assessment year:
xxx xxx xxx
Explanation 2.—For the purposes of this section, the
following shall also be deemed to be cases where income
chargeable to tax has escaped assessment, namely :—
xxx xxx xxx
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(d) where a person is found to have any asset
(including financial interest in any entity) located outside
India.
xxx xxx xxx
37. On behalf of the assessee it has been urged that no income
was derived from the foreign entity and a loan cannot be termed
to be an asset or an income and it is submitted that the notice
cannot be said to have been issued under the second proviso.
38. In this regard we may make reference to the notice dated
31.03.2015. The notice is conspicuously silent with regard to the
second proviso. It does not rely upon the second proviso and
basically relies on the provision of Section 148 of the Act. The
reasons communicated to the assessee on 04.08.2015 mention
‘reason to believe’ and nondisclosure
of material facts by the
assessee. There is no case set up in relation to the second
proviso either in the notice or even in the reasons supplied on
04.08.2015 with regard to the notice. It is only while rejecting
the objections of the assessee that reference has been made to
the second proviso in the order of disposal of objections dated
23.11.2015.
39. The High Court relied upon the judgment in Mohinder
Singh Gill & Anr. vs. The Chief Election Commissioner,
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New Delhi & Ors.6 and came to the conclusion that the
revenue cannot rely upon the second proviso because the notice
was silent in this regard. However, the High Court held that the
assessee was guilty of nondisclosure
of material facts. We have
already held that in our view the assessee was not guilty of nondisclosure
of material facts. The revenue has not challenged the
judgment of the High Court in so far as this finding against it is
concerned but the revenue is entitled to defend the petition even
on a ground which may have been decided against it by the High
Court.
40. On behalf of the revenue it is urged that mere nonnaming
of the second proviso in the notice does not help the assessee. It
has been urged that even if the source of power to issue notice
has been wrongly mentioned, but all relevant facts were
mentioned, then the notice can be said to be a notice under the
provision which empowers the revenue to issue such notice.
There can be no quarrel with this proposition of law. However,
the noticee or the assesee should not be prejudiced or be taken
by surprise. The uncontroverted fact is that in the notice dated
31.03.2015 there is no mention of any foreign entity. There is
only mention of the Section 148. Even after the assessee
6 (1978) 2 SCR 272
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specifically asked for reasons, the revenue only relied upon facts
to show that there was reason to believe that income has escaped
assessment and this escapement was due to the nondisclosure
of material facts. There is nothing in the reasons to indicate that
the revenue was intending to apply the extended period of 16
years. It is only after the assessee filed its reply to the reasons
given, that in the order of rejection for the first time reference was
made to the second proviso by the revenue.
41. In our view this is not a fair or proper procedure. If not in
the first notice, at least at the time of furnishing the reasons the
assessee should have been informed that the revenue relied upon
the second proviso. The assessee must be put to notice of all the
provisions on which the revenue relies upon. At the risk of
repetition, we reiterate that we are not going into the merits of
the case but in case the revenue had issued a notice to the
assessee stating that it relies upon the second proviso, the
assessee would have had a chance to show that it was not
deriving any income from any foreign asset or financial interest in
any foreign entity, or that the asset did not belong to it or any
other ground which may be available. The assessee cannot be
deprived of this chance while replying to the notice.
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42. Therefore, even if we do not fall back on the reason given by
the High Court that the revenue cannot take a fresh ground, we
are clearly of the view that the notice and reasons given
thereafter do not conform to the principles of natural justice and
the assessee did not get a proper and adequate opportunity to
reply to the allegations which are now being relied upon by the
revenue.
43. If the revenue is to rely upon the second proviso and wanted
to urge that the limitation of 16 years would apply, then in our
opinion in the notice or at least in the reasons in support of the
notice, the assessee should have been put to notice that the
revenue relies upon the second proviso. The assessee could not
be taken by surprise at the stage of rejection of its objections or
at the stage of proceedings before the High Court that the notice
is to be treated as a notice invoking provisions of the second
proviso of Section 147 of the Act. Accordingly, we answer the
third question by holding that the notice issued to the assessee
and the supporting reasons did not invoke provisions of the
second proviso of Section 147 of the Act and therefore at this
stage the revenue cannot be permitted to take benefit of the
second proviso.
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Conclusion
44. We accordingly allow the appeal by holding that the notice
issued to the assessee shows sufficient reasons to believe on the
part of the assessing officer to reopen the assessment but since
the revenue has failed to show nondisclosure
of facts the notice
having been issued after a period of 4 years is required to be
quashed. Having held so, we make it clear that we have not
expressed any opinion on whether on facts of this case the
revenue could take benefit of the second proviso or not.
Therefore, the revenue may issue fresh notice taking benefit of
the second proviso if otherwise permissible under law. We make
it clear that both the parties shall be at liberty to raise all
contentions with regard to the validity of such notice. All
pending application(s) shall stand(s) disposed of.
…………………………….J.
(L. Nageswara Rao)
…………………………….J.
(Deepak Gupta)
New Delhi
April 3, 2020
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