S. 14A disallowance has to be made also with respect to dividend on shares and units on which tax is payable by the payer u/s 115-O & 115-R. Argument that such dividends are not tax-free in the hands of the payee is not correct. S. 14A cannot be invoked in the absence of proof that expenditure has actually been incurred in earning the dividend income. If the AO has accepted for earlier years that no such expenditure has been incurred, he cannot take a contrary stand for later years if the facts and circumstances have not changed
The Supreme Court had to consider two questions arising from the judgement of the Bombay High Court in Godrej & Boyce vs. CIT 328 ITR 81 (Bom):
(a) Whether the phrase “income which does not form part of total income under this Act” appearing in Section 14A includes within its scope dividend income on shares in respect of which tax is payable under Section 115-O of the Act and income on units of mutual funds on which tax is payable under Section 115-R?
(b) Whether bearing in mind the unanimous findings of the lower authorities over a considerable period of time (which were accepted by the Revenue) there could at all be any question of the provisions of Section 14A in the appellant’s case?
HELD by the Supreme Court:
Re Q (a):
(i) The object behind the introduction of Section 14A of the Act by the Finance Act of 2001 is clear and unambiguous. The legislature intended to check the claim of allowance of expenditure incurred towards earning exempted income in a situation where an assessee has both exempted and non-exempted income or includible or non-includible income. While there can be no scintilla of doubt that if the income in question is taxable and, therefore, includible in the total income, the deduction of expenses incurred in relation to such an income must be allowed, such deduction would not be permissible merely on the ground that the tax on the dividend received by the assessee has been paid by the dividend paying company and not by the recipient assessee, when under Section 10(33) of the Act such income by way of dividend is not a part of the total income of the recipient assessee. A plain reading of Section 14A would go to show that the income must not be includible in the total income of the assessee. Once the said condition is satisfied, the expenditure incurred in earning the said income cannot be allowed to be deducted. The section does not contemplate a situation where even though the income is taxable in the hands of the dividend paying company the same to be treated as not includible in the total income of the recipient assessee, yet, the expenditure incurred to earn that income must be allowed on the basis that no tax on such income has been paid by the assessee. Such a meaning, if ascribed to Section 14A, would be plainly beyond what the language of Section 14A can be understood to reasonably convey.
(ii) The principle of law in K.P. Varghese (1981) 131 ITR 597 (SC) cannot assist the Assessee in the present case. The literal meaning of Section 14A, far from giving rise to any absurdity, appears to be wholly consistent with the scheme of the Act and the object/purpose of levy of tax on income. Therefore, the well entrenched principle of interpretation that where the words of the statute are clear and unambiguous recourse cannot be had to principles of interpretation other than the literal view will apply (Commissioner of Income Tax-III vs. Calcutta Knitwears, Ludhiana (2014) 6 SCC 444 (para 31) followed);
(iii) While it is correct that Section 10(33) exempts only dividend income under Section 115-O of the Act and there are other species of dividend income on which tax is levied under the Act, we do not see how the said position in law would assist the assessee in understanding the provisions of Section 14A in the manner indicated. What is required to be construed is the provisions of Section 10(33) read in the light of Section 115-O of the Act. So far as the species of dividend income on which tax is payable under Section 115-O of the Act is concerned, the earning of the said dividend is tax free in the hands of the assessee and not includible in the total income of the said assessee. If that is so, we do not see how the operation of Section 14A of the Act to such dividend income can be foreclosed. The fact that Section 10(33) and Section 115-O of the Act were brought in together; deleted and reintroduced later in a composite manner, also, does not assist the assessee. Rather, the aforesaid facts would countenance a situation that so long as the dividend income is taxable in the hands of the dividend paying company, the same is not includible in the total income of the recipient assessee. At such point of time when the said position was reversed (by the Finance Act of 2002; reintroduced again by the Finance Act, 2003), it was the assessee who was liable to pay tax on such dividend income. In such a situation the assessee was entitled under Section 57 of the Act to claim the benefit of exemption of expenditure incurred to earn such income. Once Section 10(33) and 115-O was reintroduced the position was reversed. The above, actually fortifies the situation that Section 14A 44 of the Act would operate to disallow deduction of all expenditure incurred in earning the dividend income under Section 115-O which is not includible in the total income of the assessee.
(iv) So far as the provisions of Section 115-O of the Act are concerned, even if it is assumed that the additional income tax under the aforesaid provision is on the dividend and not on the distributed profits of the dividend paying company, no material difference to the applicability of Section 14A would arise. Sub-sections (4) and (5) of Section 115-O of the Act makes it very clear that the further benefit of such payments cannot be claimed either by the dividend paying company or by the recipient assessee. The provisions of Sections 194, 195, 196C and 199 of the Act, quoted above, would further fortify the fact that the dividend income under Section 115-O of the Act is a special category of income which has been treated differently by the Act making the same 45 non-includible in the total income of the recipient assessee as tax thereon had already been paid by the dividend distributing company. The other species of dividend income which attracts levy of income tax at the hands of the recipient assessee has been treated differently and made liable to tax under the aforesaid provisions of the Act. In fact, if the argument is that tax paid by the dividend paying company under Section 115-O is to be understood to be on behalf of the recipient assessee, the provisions of Section 57 should enable the assessee to claim deduction of expenditure incurred to earn the income on which such tax is paid. Such a position in law would be wholly incongruous in view of Section 10(33) of the Act.
(v) The views expressed in Walfort Share and Stock Brokers P. Ltd. (2010) 326 ITR 1 (SC) militate against the plea urged on behalf of the Assessee.
(vi) For the aforesaid reasons, the first question formulated in the appeal has to be answered against the appellant-assessee by holding that Section 14A of the Act would apply to dividend income on which tax is payable under Section 115-O of the Act.
Re Q (b)
(vii) The requirement for attracting the provisions of Section 14A(1) of the Act is proof of the fact that the expenditure sought to be disallowed/deducted had actually been incurred in earning the dividend income.
(viii) Insofar as the assessee is concerned, the issues stand concluded in its favour in respect of the Assessment Years 1998-1999, 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. Earlier to the introduction of sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act, such a determination was required to be made by the Assessing Officer in his best judgment. In all the aforesaid assessment years referred to above it was held that the Revenue had failed to establish any nexus between the expenditure disallowed and the earning of the dividend income in question. Findings have been recorded that the expenditure in question bore no relation to the earning of the dividend income and hence the assessee was entitled to the benefit of full exemption claimed on account of dividend income.
(ix) We do not see how in the aforesaid fact situation a different view could have been taken for the Assessment Year 2002-2003. Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act read with Rule 8D of the Rules merely prescribe a formula for determination of expenditure incurred in relation to income which does not form part of the total income under the Act in a situation where the Assessing Officer is not satisfied with the claim of the assessee. Whether such determination is to be made on application of the formula prescribed under Rule 8D or in the best judgment of the Assessing Officer, what the law postulates is the requirement of a satisfaction in the Assessing Officer that having regard to the accounts of the assessee, as placed before him, it is not possible to generate the requisite satisfaction with regard to the correctness of the claim of the assessee. It is only thereafter that the provisions of Section 14A(2) and (3) read with Rule 8D of the Rules or a best judgment determination, as earlier prevailing, would become applicable.
(x) In the present case, we do not find any mention of the reasons which had prevailed upon the Assessing Officer, while dealing with the Assessment Year 2002-2003, to hold that the claims of the Assessee that no expenditure was incurred to earn the dividend income cannot be accepted and why the orders of the Tribunal for the earlier Assessment Years were not acceptable to the Assessing Officer, particularly, in the absence of any new fact or change of circumstances. Neither any basis has been disclosed establishing a reasonable nexus between the expenditure disallowed and the dividend income received. That any part of the borrowings of the assessee had been diverted to earn tax free income despite the availability of surplus or interest free funds available (Rs. 270.51 crores as on 1.4.2001 and Rs. 280.64 crores as on 31.3.2002) remains unproved by any material whatsoever. While it is true that the principle of res judicata would not apply to assessment proceedings under the Act, the need for consistency and certainty and existence of strong and compelling reasons for a departure from a settled position has to be spelt out which conspicuously is absent in the present case (Radhasoami Satsang vs. Commissioner of Income-Tax (1992) 193 ITR (SC) 321 [At Page 329]. followed)
(xi) In the above circumstances, we are of the view that the second question formulated must go in 6 (1992) 193 ITR (SC) 321 [At Page 329] favour of the assessee and it must be held that for the Assessment Year in question i.e. 2002-2003, the assessee is entitled to the full benefit of the claim of dividend income without any deductions.