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AT&T Communication Services India (P) Ltd vs. CIT (Delhi High Court)
March, 18th 2014

S. 142(2A): AO need not examine books of account before directing special audit. Q whether accounts are “complex” has to decided by AO & Court can interfere sparingly

(i) The contention that the books of account were not called for and examined by the A.O. and therefore the direction for special audit is bad in law is without merit. Sub-section (2A) of Section 142 does not require the “books of account” to be examined by the A.O. It empowers the A.O., with the previous approval of the Chief Commissioner or Commissioner of Income Tax, to direct the assessee to get the accounts audited if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so “having regard to the nature and complexity of the accounts of the assessee and the interests of the revenue…….”. It has been held by a Division Bench of this Court in Rajesh Kumar, Prop. Surya Trading Vs. Dy.CIT (2005) 275 ITR 641, that the expression “accounts” used in the section does not refer merely to “books of account” of the assessee; it could include the books of account, balance sheets and all other records which are available to the A.O. during the assessment proceedings. It refers to the other records available with the A.O. not only in the course of the assessment proceedings but also at any stage subsequent thereto. It was held that the expression “accounts” cannot be confined to books of account as submitted by the assessee, as it would amount to giving an interpretation which completely defeats the very object of the section. It was further held that the fact that the accounts of the assessee are subject to audit under some other statute is also no ground to hold that in such a case the A.O. cannot direct a special audit. It was observed that in addition to the books of account, the A.O. may also take into consideration such other documents related thereto and which would be part of the assessment proceedings. This judgment was followed by another Division Bench of this court in Central Warehousing Corporation. In the light of these authorities, it is not possible to accept the contention that the A.O. cannot direct a special audit unless he examines the books of account;

(ii) The question whether the accounts and the related documents and records available with the A.O. present complexity is essentially to be decided by the A.O. and in this area the power of the court to intrude should necessarily be used sparingly. It is the A.O. who has to complete the assessment. It is he who has to understand and appreciate the accounts. If he finds that the accounts are complex, the court normally will not interfere under Article 226. The power of the court to control the discretion of the A.O. in this field is limited only to examine whether his discretion to refer the accounts for special audit was exercised objectively, as far as the accounts, records, documents and other material present before the A.O. would permit. There must be valid material before the A.O. from which he apprehends that there is complexity. As to what material would make the accounts complex is essentially for the A.O. to determine and unless his decision can be attacked on the ground of perversity or absolute arbitrariness or mala fide, it should not be interfered with. In the present case we are satisfied that the accounts including the documents, records and other material before the A.O. did make the issues for his decision complex requiring a special audit.

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