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Full Disclosure & Bona Fide Claims: The Deciding Factor Against Penalties in Tax Law

Introduction

The Supreme Court (‘SC’) in the case of Principal Commissioner of Income Tax v. Indusind Bank Ltd.[i] dismissed the special leave petition (‘SLP’) filed by the Revenue against the High Court’s (‘HC’) ruling deleting the penalty under s. 271(1)(c) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 (‘ITA’). This case revolved around the question of the legal acceptability of a depreciation claim on leased assets.

Brief Facts

  • The assessee had claimed depreciation on leased assets, which was supported by material evidence on record. Despite this, the AO did not agree with the assessee and disallowed the claim, leading to further legal scrutiny.

  • The assessing officer’s (‘AO’) decision to levy a penalty under s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA, was followed by the decision of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai (‘ITAT’) that deleted the penalty after discussing the facts at length and considering that the issue was debatable due to the admission of the appeal on quantum addition by the HC.[ii]

  • Subsequently, the HC ruled in favour of the assessee, holding that the full disclosure of income and its particulars thereof indicated a bona fide claim of depreciation on leased assets. It held that a penalty could not be imposed merely because the depreciation claim was not acceptable in law. The HC cited the SC’s decision in the case of CIT, Ahmedabad v. Reliance Petroproducts Pvt. Ltd.[iii], which established that the mere non-acceptance of a claim in law does not automatically warrant penalty proceedings. Aggrieved by this decision, SLP was filed by the Revenue before the SC.

Held

The SC ruled in favour of the assessee and dismissed the SLP filed by the Revenue, as the matter had been amicably settled between the parties under the Vivad se Vishwas scheme.

Analysis

The decision provides clarity regarding s. 32 in conjunction with s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA, specifically concerning the depreciation allowance for leased assets. The High Court’s ruling emphasizes that if an assessee’s claim for depreciation on leased assets is substantiated by evidence on record, then a penalty under s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA cannot be imposed solely on the ground that the depreciation claim was not legally acceptable.

Consequently, the SC’s dismissal of the SLP highlights fundamental principles in tax law and penalty imposition. It stresses the importance of presenting evidence to support depreciation claims under s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA, transcending mere legal interpretation disputes. This precedent establishes a framework for evidence-based assessments in tax disputes, fostering fairness and efficiency in tax administration.

Additionally, the resolution of the dispute through the Vivad Se Vishwas scheme sheds light on the scheme’s efficacy in facilitating amicable settlements and reducing litigation. This decision exemplifies an alternative dispute resolution approach beneficial for taxpayers and the Revenue.

The SC’s decision not only addresses the specific dispute but also contributes to a more equitable legal framework, promoting evidence-based assessments and cooperative dispute resolution in tax matters.


End Notes:

[i] [2024] 158 taxmann.com 575 SC (04.01.2024).

[ii] [2019] 105 taxmann.com 391 (HC – Bombay) (22.04.2019).

[iii] [2010] 322 ITR 158 (SC).


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



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