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UOI vs. Tata Chemicals Ltd (Supreme Court)
March, 20th 2014

S. 244A: Deductor entitled to interest on refund of excess TDS from date of payment

The assessee made an application u/s 195(2) for permission to remit technical service charges and reimbursement of expenses to a foreign company without deduction of tax at source. The AO passed an order directing the assessee to deduct TDS at the rate of 20% before making remittance. The assessee effected the deduction and filed an appeal before the CIT(A) in which it claimed that the said remittance was not subject to TDS. The CIT(A) upheld the claim with regard to the reimbursement of expenses with the result that the TDS thereon was refunded to the assessee. However, the AO declined to grant interest u/s 244A on the said interest by relying on Circular Nos 769 dated 06.08.1998 and 790 dated 20.4.2000 issued by the CBDT. The CIT(A) upheld the AO’s stand though the Tribunal and High Court upheld the assessee’s stand. On appeal by the department to the Supreme Court HELD dismissing the appeal:

(i) A “tax refund” is a refund of taxes when the tax liability is less than the tax paid. When the said amount is refunded it should carry interest in the matter of course. As held by the Courts while awarding interest, it is a kind of compensation of use and retention of the money collected unauthorizedly by the Department. When the collection is illegal, there is corresponding obligation on the revenue to refund such amount with interest in as much as they have retained and enjoyed the money deposited. Even the Department has understood the object behind insertion of Section 244A, as that, an assessee is entitled to payment of interest for money remaining with the Government which would be refunded. There is no reason to restrict the same to an assessee only without extending the similar benefit to a deductor who has deducted tax at source and deposited the same before remitting the amount payable to a non-resident/ foreign company;

(ii) Providing for payment of interest in case of refund of amounts paid as tax or deemed tax or advance tax is a method now statutorily adopted by fiscal legislation to ensure that the aforesaid amount of tax which has been duly paid in prescribed time and provisions in that behalf form part of the recovery machinery provided in a taxing Statute. Refund due and payable to the assessee is debt-owed and payable by the Revenue. The Government, there being no express statutory provision for payment of interest on the refund of excess amount/tax collected by the Revenue, cannot shrug off its apparent obligation to reimburse the deductors’ lawful monies with the accrued interest for the period of undue retention of such monies. The State having received the money without right, and having retained and used it, is bound to make the party good, just as an individual would be under like circumstances. The obligation to refund money received and retained without right implies and carries with it the right to interest. Whenever money has been received by a party which ex ae quo et bono ought to be refunded, the right to interest follows, as a matter of course

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