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Companies Act v. Stamp Act: Supreme Court’s Verdict on Stamp Duty on Increased Share Capital

Introduction

In a landmark judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (‘SC’) provided a comprehensive interpretation of the Bombay Stamp Act, 1958 (‘Stamp Act’) and the Companies Act, 1956 (‘Act of 1956’) in State of Maharashtra v. National Organic Chemical Industries Ltd.[i]. This case pertained to the stamp duty payable on increased share capital of the Respondent company. The ruling, which has significant implications for corporate entities, elucidates the interplay between general and special law in regard to the Articles of Association (‘AoA’), and the concept of ‘instrument’ under the Stamp Act. As a significant development in corporate law, this SC decision is also likely to influence future legislative amendments in this area.

Brief Facts

  • The Respondent company was incorporated with an initial share capital of Rs. 36 crores. In 1992, it increased its share capital to Rs. 600 crores and accordingly paid a stamp duty of over Rs. 1.12 crores as per a. 10 of Schedule I of the Stamp Act.

  • The Appellant subsequently amended a. 10 in 1994, introducing a maximum cap of Rs. 25 lakhs on the stamp duty payable by a company. Meanwhile, the Respondent company passed a resolution for a further increase in its share capital to Rs. 1200 crores and paid Rs. 25 lakhs as stamp duty when it filed its Notice in Form No. 5[ii], pursuant to s. 97 of the Act of 1956.

  • Thereafter, the Respondent company sought a refund of the payment of stamp duty of Rs. 25 lakhs, contending that it had already paid the maximum stamp duty in 1992. The Appellant rejected this request of the Respondent company, stating that stamp duty was payable on each occasion of an increase in share capital.

  • The Respondent company filed a writ before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court (‘BHC’) challenging the rejection and seeking a refund of Rs. 25 lakhs with interest. The BHC held that Form No. 5 was not an instrument as defined by s. 2(l) of the Stamp Act and that stamp duty could only be charged on the AoA. Thus, the BHC directed the Appellant to refund Rs. 25 lakhs along with @6% interest per annum to the Respondent Company. Aggrieved by this, the Appellant approached the SC.

Held

  • The SC upheld the decision of the BHC and directed the Appellant to refund Rs. 25 lakhs paid by the Respondent company, along with interest at the rate of 6% per annum, within six weeks of the decision. Regarding the issue of whether Form No. 5 qualifies as an instrument under the Stamp Act, it was held that Form No. 5 was merely a procedural requirement that did not alter the AoA itself and thus, it was not an instrument under the Stamp Act.

  • Further, the SC reiterated that the Stamp Act governs the payment of stamp duty on various instruments, while the Act of 1956 specifically regulates company affairs, including alterations to share capital. Accordingly, with regard to AoA, it held that the Act of 1956, being a special law, would override the Stamp Act, which is a general law.

  • It further stated that any increase in the share capital of the company should be considered valid as if it were originally there when the AoA was first stamped. Hence, subsequent increases in share capital would not involve a new instrument but would be extensions of the original document.

  • The SC also noted that the amendment introducing the maximum cap of Rs. 25 lakhs were applicable as a one-time measure and not to each subsequent increase in the share capital of a company. The SC clarified that while the amendment to the Stamp Act did not have retrospective effect, duty already paid on the same instrument must be considered for subsequent increases initiated after the introduction of the cap.

Analysis

The SC’s judgment provides a nuanced understanding of the interplay between the Stamp Act and the Act of 1956. It clarifies that the Stamp Act, being a general law, must yield to the Act of 1956, a special law, in matters relating to the payment of stamp duty on increased share capital. This interpretation aligns with the legal maxim Generalia Specialibus Non-Derogant, which states that special laws override general ones.

The judgment underscores the importance of the concept of instrument under the Stamp Act. By ruling that Form No. 5 is not an instrument, the SC has effectively limited the scope of stamp duty to the AoA. This interpretation could have far-reaching implications for companies seeking to increase their share capital, as it provides clarity on the applicability of stamp duty. The ruling also highlights the Indian judiciary’s role in interpreting fiscal statutes strictly and in a manner that upholds the intent of the legislature.




End Notes

[i] 2024 SCC OnLine SC 497

[ii] Form No. 5 is a prescribed document under the Act of 1956 used by companies to notify the Registrar of Companies about increase in the authorized share capital.





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

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