UCO Bank vs. UOI (Delhi High Court)

DATE: November 11, 2014 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: November 12, 2014 (Date of publication)
AY: -
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Liability for TDS u/s 194A does not arise if the beneficiary is not ascertainable and the person in whose name the interest is credited is not person liable to pay tax. Circular No. 08/ 2011 dated 14.10.2011 set aside

(i) Essentially, the controversy in the present case involves the question whether the provisions of Chapter XVII of the Act would be applicable in respect of interest which is payable on the fixed deposits maintained by this Court with the petitioner bank, in the name of the Registrar General. Concededly, money deposited by litigants or at their instance in this Court and kept in fixed deposit with the petitioner bank are not funds or assets of this Court and would be payable to the person as may be ultimately directed in the concerned proceedings. Any accretion on account of interest on the said deposits also do not inure to the benefit of this Court

(ii) There are myriad of situations in which this Court directs deposit of money by litigants or at their instance; directions for depositing funds in a case are made after considering the relevant facts and circumstances of that case. The final recipient or the beneficiaries of the funds can be ascertained only after appropriate orders are passed in those proceedings.

(iii) In the absence of an assessee, the machinery of provisions for deduction of tax to his credit are ineffective. The expression “payee” under Section 194A of the Act would mean the recipient of the income whose account is maintained by the person paying interest. In the present case, although the FD is made in the name of the Registrar General, the account represents funds which are in custody of this Court and the Registrar General is neither the recipient of the amount credited to that account nor the interest accruing thereon. Therefore, the Registrar General cannot be considered as a “payee” for the purposes of Section 194A of the Act. The credit by the bank in the name of the Registrar General would, thus, not attract the provisions of Section 194A of the Act. Although, Section 190(1) of the Act clarifies that deduction of tax can be made prior to the assessment year of regular assessment, nonetheless the same would not imply that deduction of tax is mandatory even where it is known that the payee is not the assessee and there is no other assessee.

(iv) It is relevant to note that there is no assessee to whom interest income from the deposits in question can be ascribed; no person can file a return claiming the interest payable by the petitioner as income. The necessary implication of this situation is recovery of tax without the corresponding income being assessed in the hands of any asessee. The ultimate recipient of the funds from the FD would also not be able to avail of the credit of TDS. It is apparent that in absence of an ascertainable assessee the machinery of recovering tax by deduction of tax at source breaks down because it does not aid the charge of tax under Section 4 of the Act but takes a form of a separate levy, independent of other provisions of the Act. This is, clearly, impermissible.

(v) Circular 8/2011 proceeds on an assumption that the litigant depositing the money is the account holder with the petitioner bank and/or is the recipient of the income represented by the interest accruing thereon. This assumption is fundamentally erroneous as the litigant who is asked to deposit the money in Court ceases to have any control or proprietary right over those funds. The amount deposited vests with the Court and the depositor ceases to exercise any dominion over those funds. It is also not necessary that the litigant who deposits the money would be the ultimate recipient of those funds. As indicated earlier, the person who is ultimately granted the funds would be determined by orders that may be passed subsequently. And at that stage, undisputedly, tax would be required to be deducted at source to the credit of the recipient. However, the litigant who deposits the funds cannot be stated to be the recipient of income for the reasons stated above.

(vi) Deducting tax in the name of the litigant who deposits the funds with this Court would also create another anomaly because the amount deducted would necessarily lie to his credit with the income tax authorities. In other words, the tax deducted at source would reflect as a tax paid by that litigant/depositor. He, thus, would be entitled to claim credit in his return of income. The implications of this are that whereas this Court had removed the funds from the custody of a litigant/depositor by judicial orders, a part of the accretion thereon is received by him by way of Tax deducted at source. This is clearly impermissible because it would run contrary to the intent of judicial orders.

(vii) In the given circumstances, the writ petitions are allowed and the impugned notice dated 25.04.2012, the impugned circular bearing no. 8/2011 and the impugned order dated 10.03.2014 are set aside.

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