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CIT vs. Excel Industries Ltd (Supreme Court)
October, 09th 2013

(i) Q whether income has accrued must be considered from a realistic & practical angle (ii) If Dept has accepted adverse verdict in some years, it cannot be allowed to challenge verdict in other years (iii) disputes as to the year of taxability with no/ minor tax effect should not be raised by Dept

Pursuant to the import-export policy of the Government, the assessee was entitled to make duty free imports of raw materials in respect of the exports made by it. The assessee accounted for the benefit of the entitlement to make duty free imports in the year of export but claimed that the benefit was not chargeable to income-tax in the year in which the exports were made but it was chargeable to tax only in the year in which the imports were availed of and the raw materials consumed. The AO rejected the contention and held that as the assessee was following the mercantile system of accounting, the right to receive the benefit accrued as soon as the export obligation was fulfilled and it was chargeable to tax in that year u/s 28(iv). On appeal, the CIT(A), Tribunal and High Court upheld the assessee’s stand. On appeal by the department to the Supreme Court, HELD dismissing the appeal:

(i) Three tests have been laid down by various decisions of the Supreme Court to determine when income can be said to have accrued: (a) whether the income is real or hypothetical; (b) whether there is a corresponding liability of the other party to pay the amount to the assessee & (c) the probability or improbability of realisation of the income by the assessee has to be considered from a realistic and practical point of view. Applying these tests, on facts, even if it is assumed that the assessee was entitled to the benefits under the advance licences as well as under the duty entitlement pass book, there was no corresponding liability on the customs authorities to pass on the benefit of duty free imports to the assessee until the goods are actually imported and made available for clearance. The benefits represent, at best, a hypothetical income which may or may not materialise and its money value is therefore not the income of the assessee. Also, from a realistic and practical point of view (the assessee may not have made imports), no real income accrued to the assessee in the year of exports and s. 28(iv) would be inapplicable. Essentially, the AO is required to be pragmatic and not pedantic (Shoorji Vallabhdas 46 ITR 144 (SC), Morvi Industries 82 ITR 835 (SC) & Godhra Electricity Co 225 ITR 746 (SC) followed);

(ii) Further, as in several assessment years, the Revenue accepted the order of the Tribunal in favour of the assessee and did not pursue the matter any further, it cannot be allowed to flip-flop on the issue and it ought let the matter rest rather than spend the tax payers’ money in pursuing litigation for the sake of it (Radhasoami Satsang 193 ITR 321 (SC) & Parashuram Pottery Works 106 ITR 1 (SC) followed);

(iii) Further, as the dispute was only as to the year of taxability and as the rate of tax remained the same the dispute raised by the Revenue is entirely academic or at best may have a minor tax effect. There was, therefore, no need for the Revenue to continue with this litigation when it was quite clear that not only was it fruitless (on merits) but also that it may not have added anything much to the public coffers. It is hoped that the Revenue implements its litigation policy a little more practically and a little more seriously.

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