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Beyond the Guidelines: Delhi High Court Upholds Statutory Provisions in Compounding Applications

Introduction

In the case of Earthcon Construction (P.) Ltd. v. Union of India[i], the Delhi High Court (‘HC’) addressed the critical issue of whether administrative guidelines can impose a time limitation for compounding applications that are not specified in the statute. This case resolves the discrepancy and creates a balance between administrative guidelines and statutory provisions. It highlights the legality of rejecting an application based on non-statutory limitations.

Brief Facts

  • The assessee filed an application for compounding an offence under s. 279(2) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (‘IT Act’). This application was rejected based solely on the Central Board of Direct Taxes’ (‘CBDT’) Compounding Guidelines[ii] dated 16.09.2022.

  • Aggrieved by the rejection, the assessee filed a writ petition (‘WP’) before the HC against the impugned order. The issue revolved around whether the guidelines could impose a limitation period for filing compounding applications.

Held

  • The HC allowed the WP in favour of the assessee and ruled that there is no limitation period for filing a compounding application under s. 279(2) of the IT Act, relying on the precedent established in Vikram Singh v. Union of India[iii].

  • The HC emphasized that while the relevant circulars give the discretion to reject compounding applications, they do not set a strict limitation period. In setting aside the impugned order, the HC directed the Chief Commissioner of Income-tax (TDS) to reconsider the application afresh.

  • Additionally, the HC examined that the guidelines go beyond what the law specifies and impose a condition not contemplated by the statute. Therefore, it was held that the impugned order, which was based on such overarching guidelines, could not be upheld.

Our Analysis

The guidelines introduced by the CBDT exceeded its authority by imposing a limitation period that is not specified in the statutory provision. As a result, the assessee faced obstacles in filing the application for compounding of offences. Aggrieved by the order, the HC set aside the impugned order and instructed the Chief Commissioner of Income Tax to reconsider the limitation period imposed by the guidelines.

This case is significant as the HC emphasized that administrative guidelines should not override statutory provisions, which has important implications for administrative procedures and the rights of the assessee. By relying on precedent, the HC ensures that the law is consistently applied, benefiting both the taxpayer and the department. Overall, this case demonstrates the judiciary’s commitment to uploading the rule of law and safeguarding individual rights against administrative overreach. The inefficiency of the judicial system in disposing of cases of non-serious offences that have been pending unsolved for years can only be remedied by adopting new approaches for compounding applications. The HC observed that the criteria mentioned in the guidelines are not specified in the statutory provisions of the IT Act.





End Notes

[i] [2024] 162 taxmann.com 391 (Delhi)

[ii] Guidelines for Compounding of Offences under the Income-tax Act, 1961, (2022), https://blog.saginfotech.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/compounding-guidelines.pdf.

[iii] 2017 SCC OnLine Del 7826





Authored by Siddharth Jha, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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