The CBDT has issued Circular No. 09/2014 dated 23.04.2014 in which it has dealt with the important issue of treatment of expenditure incurred for development of roads & highways in Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) agreements.
The CBDT has expressed the view that as the assessee does not hold any rights in the project except recovery of toll fee to recoup the expenditure incurred, the assessee cannot be treated as the “owner” of the property and cannot be allowed depreciation u/s 32(1)(ii) of the Act.
However, the CBDT has also held, following the law laid down in Madras Industrial Investment Corp 225 ITR 802 (SC), that the entire cost of construction and development of the infrastructure facility has to be amortized evenly over the period of the concessionaire agreement and allowed as business expenditure u/s 37(1) of the Act.
The CBDT’s view with regard to the assessee not being the “owner” runs counter to the law laid down in Noida Toll Bridge 213 Taxman 333 and several other judgements. In Swarna Tollway, the ITAT has conducted a thorough analysis of the entire law on the subject and concluded that the assessee has to be treated as the “owner” even though it has limited rights on the structure. The Tribunal relied on several judgements of the Supreme Court including Mysore Minerals 239 ITR 775 (SC) where the concept of “owner” has been considered in great detail.
Unfortunately, the CBDT has not applied its mind these aspects and come to a conclusion in a summary manner.
It is well settled that a Circular which is contrary to the law has no binding effect (see Death of a Circular).
However, the CBDT’s directive that the expenditure should be amortized and allowed as business expenditure is welcome.
Government of India
Ministry of Finance
Department of Revenue
Central Board of Direct Taxes
North Block, New Delhi
Circular No. 9/2014
Dated: April 23, 2014
Subject:- Clarification regarding treatment of expenditure incurred for development of roads/highways in BOT agreements under Income-tax Act, 1961 – regarding.
It has come to the notice of the Board that disputes have arisen as to whether the expenditure incurred on development and construction of infrastructural facilities like roads/highways on Build-Operate-Transfer (‘BOT’) basis with right to collect toll is entitled for depreciation under section 32(1)(ii) of the Act or the same can be amortized by treating it as an allowable business expenditure under the relevant provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (‘Act’).
2. In such projects, the developer (hereinafter referred to as ‘assessee’), in terms of concessionaire agreement with Government or its agencies is required to construct, develop and maintain the infrastructural facility of roads/highways which, inter-alia, includes laying of roads, bridges, highways, approach roads, culverts, public amenities etc. at its own cost and its utilization thereof for a specified period. In lieu of consideration of the expenditure incurred on construction, operation and maintenance of the infrastructure facility covered by the period of the agreement, the assessee is accorded a right to collect toll from users of such facility. The expenditure incurred by such assessee on development and construction of such infrastructural facility are capitalized in the accounts. It is seen that in returns-of- income, assessees are generally claiming depreciation on such capitalized expenditure treating it as an ‘intangible asset’ in terms of section 32(1)(ii) of the Act while in assessments, such claims are being disallowed by the Assessing Officer on the grounds that such infrastructural facility is not owned, wholly or partly, by the taxpayer which is an essential condition for claiming depreciation and further right to collect toll does not fall in any of the categories of ‘intangible assets’ specified in sub-clause(ii) of sub-section (1) of section 32 of the Act.
3. In BOT arrangements for development of roads/highways, as a matter of general practice, possession of land is handed over to the assessee by the Government/notified authority for the purposes of Construction of the project without any actual transfer of ownership and such assessee has only a right to develop and maintain such asset. It also enjoys the benefits arising from use of asset through collection of Toll for a specified period without having actual ownership over such asset. Therefore, the rights in the land remain vested with the Government or its agencies. Thus, as assessee does not hold any rights in the project except recovery of toll fee to recoup the expenditure incurred, it cannot therefore be treated as an owner of the property, either wholly or partly, for purposes of allowability of depreciation under section 32(1)(ii) of the Act. Thus, present provisions of the Act do not allow claim of depreciation on Toll ways due to non fulfillment of ownership criteria in such cases.
4. There is no doubt that where the assessee incurs expenditure on a project for development of roads/highways, he is entitled to recover cost incurred by him towards development of such facility (comprising of construction cost and other pre-operative expenses) during the construction period. Further, expenditure incurred by the assessee on such BOT projects brings to it an enduring benefit in the form of right to collect the toll during the period of the agreement. Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Madras Industrial Investment Corporation Ltd. vs. CIT in 225 ITR 802 = 2002-TIOL-290-SC-IT-LB allowed spreading over of liability over a number of years on the ground that there was continuing benefit to the company over a period. Therefore, analogously, expenditure incurred on an infrastructure project for development of roads/highways under BOT agreement may be treated as having been made/incurred for the purposes of business or profession of the assessee and same may be allowed to be spread during the tenure of concessionaire agreement.
5. In view of above, Central Board of Direct Taxes, in exercise of the powers conferred under section 119 of the Act hereby clarifies that the cost of construction on development of infrastructure facility of roads/highways under BOT projects may be amortized and claimed as allowable business expenditure under the Act.
6. The amortization allowable may be computed at the rate which ensures that the whole of the cost incurred in creation of infrastructural facility of road/highway is amortized evenly over the period of concessionaire agreement after excluding the time take for creation of such facility.
7. In the case where an assessee has claimed any deduction out of initial cost of development of infrastructure facility of roads/highways under BOT projects in earlier year, the total deduction so claimed for the Assessment Years prior to the Assessment Year under consideration maybe deducted from the initial cost of infrastructure facility of roads /highways and the cost ‘so reduced’ shall be amortized equally over the remaining period of toll concessionaire agreement.
8. It is hereby clarified that this Circular is applicable only to those infrastructure projects for development of road/highways on BOT basis where ownership is not vested with the assessee under the concessionaire agreement.
9. This may be brought to the notice of all concerned.
10. Hindi version to follow.
Deputy Secretary to the Government of India