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Indian Chamber of Commerce vs. ITO (ITAT Kolkata)
December, 08th 2014

S. 2(15)/ 11: Entire law on what is "charitable purpose" and scope of Proviso inserted by Finance (No.2) Act 2009 w.r.e.f. 01.04.2009 explained

(i) The purpose for which the assessee association, i.e. The Indian Chamber of Commerce, was established is a charitable purpose within the meaning of S. 2(15) of the Act. The assessee is carrying out the said activities which are incidental to the main object of the Association and which are conducted only for the purpose of securing the main object which is the advancement and development of trade and commerce and industry in India. The activities are not in the nature of business and there is no motive to earn profit. The income arising to the assessee is only incidental and ancillary to the dominant object for the welfare and common good of the county’s trade, commerce and industry. The profits earned are utilized only for the purpose of feeding its dominant object and no part of such profit is distributed amongst its members. Profit making is not the object of the assessee. Profit is merely a by-product which resulted incidentally in the process of carrying out the charitable purpose. Thus the income of the assessee for AY 2008-09 is exempt from tax u/s 11 of the Act.

(ii) As regards the newly inserted proviso by the Finance (No.2) Act in section 2(15) of the Act w.r.e.f. 01.04.2009, from the Memo Explaining the provisions of Finance Bill 2008 & CBDT Circular dated 19-12-2008, what will be position of an entity engaged in the ‘advancement of any other object of general public utility’, whether the same will be hit by commercial activities in view of the newly inserted proviso to section 2(15) of the Act or not? The proviso was introduced with the sole aim of bringing into ambit of taxation such entities which were engaged in commercial activities. Here, we need to appreciate the concept of an “entity engaged in commercial activities”. In very simple words, any entity whose main or dominant object is commercial can only be said to be a commercial entity. An entity whose main purpose is undoubtedly charitable in nature without an iota of commerciality in it cannot be said to be engaged in commercial activity. Also we need to note that another point that emerges from the above is that whether an entity is carrying on an activity in the nature of trade, commerce or business always remains a question of fact which will have to be determined on the basis of the facts of the individual case. No generalization for such determination is possible. In view of the above, it is seen that the proviso can be applied to fact based on the facts and the past history of the assessee, which is discussed in detail above. From the above facts, we are clear that the assessee has never been dominantly engaged in any commercial activities and is a Charitable Institution registered as such u/s 12A of the Act, set up for the promotion and protection of Indian business and industry. The main purpose of this Institution is promotion and protection of trade and commerce in the country and not to conduct any commercial activities. Further, it has also never been the contention of the revenue that the assessee is engaged in commercial activities but it is hit by the proviso to section 2(15) of the act and thus will be deemed to be engaged in commercial activities. What will be the position to an institution engaged in advancement of any other object of general public utility, which lays down that such an institute will be deemed to be not “charitable” if it is involved in carrying on “any activity in the nature of trade, commerce or business or any activity of rendering any service in relation to any trade, commerce or business.” According to us, part of the proviso being “any activity of rendering any service in relation to any trade, commerce or business” intends to expand the scope of the proviso to include services, which are rendered in relation to any trade, commerce or business. The proviso further stipulates that the activity in relation to the trade commerce or business must be for a cess or fee or any other consideration. From the proviso, it is seen that the most material and relevant words in the proviso are “trade, business or commerce”. The activities which are undertaken by the institute should be in the nature of trade, commerce or business or any activity of rendering any service in relation to any trade, commerce or business.

(iii) The logical corollary which inexorably flows is that in the cases of many institutions / associations whose main activity is not ‘business’ the connected incidental or ancillary activities of sales carried out in furtherance of and to accomplish their main objects would not, normally, amount to business, unless an independent intention to conduct ‘business’ in these connected, incidental or ancillary activities is established by the revenue. Therefore, the issue whether a professional institution is or is not hit by the proviso to section 2(15) of the Act will essentially depend upon the individual facts of the case of the institutions wherein discussing the nature of the individual activities it will have to be decided whether the same form incidental, ancillary and connected activities and whether the same were carried out predominantly with a profit motive.

(iv) The activities of conducting Environment Management Centre, Meetings, Conferences & Seminar and issuance of Certificate of Origin, being the activities stated to be “services in relation to trade, commerce or business” were all well covered by the main object being fully connected, incidental and ancillary to the main purpose and were conducted solely for the empowerment, betterment and for creating awareness amongst the industrialists in order to bring about the development of trade and industries in India. Further it is to be noticed that the Memorandum has also specifically authorized the Chamber “to do all other things as may be conductive to the development of trade, commerce and industries, or incidental to attainment of the above objectives or any of them.” Thus it was only for the purpose of securing its primary aims of proper development of business in India that the assessee was taking the said ancillary steps. The said activities were not carried out independent of the main purpose of the association of the institution being the development and protection of trade. There was no independent profit motive in any of the said activities. The surplus arising out of the same was merely incidental to the main object to charity. The majority of the receipts in the said activities were out of the sponsorships and donations. The expenses incurred on the said activities as and when incurred were all separately debited to the said accounts and the balance was shown as surplus over receipts. Thus in view of the above it is clear that the alleged activities were all merely incidental to the main object of the assessee and the predominant object of the association being the promotion development and protection of trade and commerce which is an object of general public utility, it can never be the case that it is engaged in “business, trade or commerce” or in any “service in relation to business, trade or commerce.”

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