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CIT vs. Gita Duggal (Delhi High Court)
February, 26th 2013

S. 54/54F: Several independent units can constitute “a residential house”

The assessee entered into a development agreement pursuant to which the developer demolished the property and constructed a new building comprising of three floors. In consideration of granting the development rights, the assessee received Rs. 4 crores and two floors of the new building. The AO held that in computing capital gains, the cost of construction of Rs. 3.43 crores incurred by the developer on the development of the property had to be added to the sum of Rs. 4 crores received by the assessee. The assessee claimed that as the said capital gains was invested in the said two floors, she was eligible for exemption u/s 54. The AO rejected the claim on the basis that the units on the said floors were independent & self-contained and not “a residential house” and granted exemption for only one unit. The CIT(A) and Tribunal upheld the assessee’s claim by relying on B. Ananda Basappa 309 ITR 329 (Kar) and K.G. Rukminiamma 331 ITR 211 (Kar). On appeal by the department to the High Court HELD dismissing the appeal:

As held in B. Ananda Bassappa (SLP dismissed) & K G Rukminiamma, the Revenue’s contention that the phrase “a” residential house would mean “one” residential house is not correct. The expression “a” residential house should be understood in a sense that building should be of residential in nature and “a” should not be understood to indicate a singular number. Also, s. 54/54F uses the expression “a residential house” and not “a residential unit”. S. 54/54F requires the assessee to acquire a “residential house” and so long as the assessee acquires a building, which may be constructed, for the sake of convenience, in such a manner as to consist of several units which can, if the need arises, be conveniently and independently used as an independent residence, the requirement of the Section should be taken to have been satisfied. There is nothing in these sections which require the residential house to be constructed in a particular manner. The only requirement is that it should be for the residential use and not for commercial use. If there is nothing in the section which requires that the residential house should be built in a particular manner, it seems to us that the income tax authorities cannot insist upon that requirement. A person may construct a house according to his plans, requirements and compulsions. A person may construct a residential house in such a manner that he may use the ground floor for his own residence and let out the first floor having an independent entry so that his income is augmented. It is quite common to find such arrangements, particularly post-retirement. One may build a house consisting of four bedrooms (all in the same or different floors) in such a manner that an independent residential unit consisting of two or three bedrooms may be carved out with an independent entrance so that it can be let out. He may even arrange for his children and family to stay there, so that they are nearby, an arrangement which can be mutually supportive. He may construct his residence in such a manner that in case of a future need he may be able to dispose of a part thereof as an independent house. There may be several such considerations for a person while constructing a residential house. The physical structuring of the new residential house, whether it is lateral or vertical, cannot come in the way of considering the building as a residential house. The fact that the residential house consists of several independent units cannot be permitted to act as an impediment to the allowance of the deduction u/s 54/54F. It is neither expressly nor by necessary implication prohibited.

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