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[Jharkhand HC] Reassessment Without Concrete Evidence is Unmaintainable

Introduction

In the case of Pasari Casting and Rolling Mills (P.) Ltd. v. Income-tax Department[i], the petitioner filed a writ petition (‘WP’) seeking to quash several notices and demand orders issued by the revenue under various provisions of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (‘ITA’). The petitioner contended that the entire reassessment proceedings, initiated by the revenue for ‘bogus financial transactions’ through an accommodation entry provider, lacked substance and grossly violated the principles of natural justice. The Jharkhand High Court (‘JHC’) allowed the petitioner’s WP and quashed the notices and demand orders, ruling that the orders were unreasoned, non-speaking, and therefore not sustainable in law.

Brief Facts

  • The petitioner is engaged in the business of manufacturing iron and steel products.

  • The petitioner was served a notice under s. 148 of the ITA alleging that the income had escaped assessment for the assessment year (‘AY’) 2015-16. Initially, no reason for reopening was provided in the notice.

  • Subsequently, the revenue issued another notice under s. 142 of the ITA which provided reasons for the reopening.

  • The reasons provided were alleged transactions with Mr. Ajay Kumar Sharma, whom the revenue claimed was an accommodation entry provider for the petitioner. This led the revenue to believe that the petitioner had engaged in a ‘bogus financial transaction’ during the relevant AY.

  • The petitioner's objections to the reassessment were rejected by the revenue. Following this, another notice was issued under s. 144 of the ITA to pay the escaped assessment amount, along with a notice for penalty under s. 274 r/w s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA.

Held

  • The JHC quashed and set aside the notice issued under s. 147 of the ITA, the assessment order, the notice of demand, and the notice of penalty under s. 274 r/w s. 271(1)(c) of the ITA. It also set aside the penalty order, demand notice, and the order disposing of the petitioner's objection.

  • It held that the formation of a reasonable belief that the income of an assessee has escaped assessment in a particular AY is a precondition for acquiring jurisdiction under ss. 147 and 148 of the ITA to reopen the assessment.

  • Further, the JHC observed that there was no direct nexus or live link between the material presented and the formation of belief by the revenue that income had escaped assessment. Additionally, no tangible or cogent material was brought on record to support the formation of such belief.

  • It was noted by the JHC that the reasons to believe formed by the revenue lacked details about the amount to be taxed as income of the assessee, as well as the relevant provisions of the Act.

  • Consequently, the JHC concluded that the belief formed by the revenue was vague, irrelevant, and far-fetched. Moreover, the initiation of the proceedings was found to be flawed in law and raised jurisdictional issues, thereby affirming the maintainability of the WP.

Our analysis

This case highlights the critical need for concrete, cogent materials to substantiate the revenue authority's belief that income has escaped assessment. The judgment affirms that reassessment proceedings should only commence if there is substantial evidence, such as documented proof of bogus financial transactions, validated by the revenue department. This decision underscores the necessity for tax authorities to rely on more than mere suspicion or belief; they must have definitive, verifiable evidence to justify the reopening of past assessments. This case sets a significant precedent, reinforcing the adherence to the principles of natural justice and the meticulous scrutiny required in reassessment processes to uphold taxpayer rights and legal standards.




End Note

[i] 2024 SCC OnLine Jhar 451




Authored by Maarij Ahmad, Intern at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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