Compensation to CA Firm for loss of referral work is a non-taxable capital receipt
The assessee, a firm of Chartered Accountants, was one of the “associate members” of Deloitte Haskins & Sells for 13 years pursuant to which it was entitled to practice in that name. Deloitte desired to merge all the associate members into one firm. As this was not acceptable to the assessee, it withdrew from the membership and received consideration of Rs. 1.15 crores from Deloitte. The said amount was credited to the partners’ capital accounts & claimed to be a non-taxable capital receipt by the assessee. The AO rejected the claim. The CIT (A) reversed the AO. The Tribunal reversed the CIT (A). On appeal by the assessee to the High Court HELD reversing the Tribunal:
(i) There is a distinction between the compensation received for injury to trading operations arising from breach of contract and compensation received as solatium for loss of office. The compensation received for loss of an asset of enduring value would be regarded as capital. If the receipt represents compensation for the loss of a source of income, it would be capital and it matters little that the assessee continues to be in receipt of income from its other similar operations (Kettlewell Bullen 53 ITR 261 (SC) & Oberoi Hotel 236 ITR 903 (SC) followed);
(ii) On facts, the compensation was for loss of a source of income, namely referred work from Deloitte because it is somewhat difficult to conceive of a professional firm of chartered accountants entering into such arrangements with international firms of CAs, as the assessee in the present case had done, with the same frequency and regularity with which companies carrying on business take agencies, simultaneously running the risk of such agencies being terminated with the strong possibility of fresh agencies being taken. In a firm of chartered accountants there could be separate sources of professional income such as tax work, audit work, certification work, opinion work as also referred work. Under the arrangement with DHS there was a regular inflow of referred work from DHS through the Calcutta firm in respect of clients based in Delhi and nearby areas. There is no evidence that the assessee had entered into similar arrangements with other international firms of chartered accountants. The arrangement with DHS was in vogue for a fairly long period of time -13 years- and had acquired a kind of permanency as a source of income. When that source was unexpectedly terminated, it amounted to the impairment of the profit-making structure or apparatus of the assessee. It is for that loss of the source of income that the compensation was calculated and paid to the assessee. The compensation was thus a substitute for the source and the Tribunal was wrong in treating the receipt as being revenue in nature (Best & Co 60 ITR 11 (SC) distinguished).