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Bajaj Auto Finance Ltd vs. CIT (Bombay High Court)
March, 12th 2018

S. 143(1)(a): Submission of Dept that decisions of Courts and Tribunals interpreting a provision is to be ignored by the AO will ring the death knell of Rule of law in the Country. It ignores the hierarchical system of jurisprudence in our country. The AO is bound by the views of the Court. Law on s. 36(1)(viii) (Bad debts) explained

The High Court had to consider the following question at the instance of the Department:

(i) Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case and in law, the Tribunal was right in holding that the Assessing Officer was justified in making an adjustment u/s 143(1)(a) relating to disallowance of the claim for bad debts under Section 36(1)(viii) in respect of a sum of Rs.1,69,37,818/representing “provision for doubtful overdue installments under hire purchase finance agreements”?

HELD by the High Court:

(i) The written submission as filed by the Revenue ignores the fact that only one question has been referred to us for consideration. The issue referred to us is in respect of applicability of Section 143(1)(a) of the Act to disallow a claim for provision for bad debt by intimation i.e. without calling upon the assessee to explain its claim. On this issue, the written submission proceeds on the basis that a plain reading of Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act would only mean an assured and / or certain irrecoverability of debt. Therefore, it is submitted that the intimation under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act cannot in the present facts be faulted. In fact, the written submissions states,

“Litera Leges, certainty concept and on the concept that there is no equity on fiscal law irrespective of any judgment of any Hon’ble Court or Tribunal a go by cannot be given to the aforesaid interpretations given in this written submission”.

The above submission that decision of the Court and / or Tribunal interpreting a provision is to be ignored by the Assessing Officer, if accepted will ring the death knell of Rule of law in the country. The Assessing Officer is bound by the views of the Court. The above submission ignores the hierarchal system of jurisprudence in our country.

(ii) The issue that arises for our consideration is whether an adjustment by intimation under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act can be made where the issue which arises for consideration is a debatable issue. In the present facts, the computation of total income submitted along with return indicates that claim for bad debts has been made by relying upon the decision of Gujarat High Court in the case of Vithaldas H.Dhanjibhai Bardanwala (supra)

(iii) However, the Assessing Officer completely ignored the note made by the applicant in its computation of return, indicating that the basis of claim for bad debts is the decision in Gujarat High Court in Vithaldas H.Dhanjibhai Bardanwala (surpa). In the above case, even a provision debited to the profit and loss account was allowed as bad debts, where corresponding credit entires are posted in the bad debts reserve account. It held that is was not necessary to post credit entries in the ledger account of the concerned parties. It was on the basis of the aforesaid decision of the Gujarat High Court that the claim in respect of the provision for bad debts was made by the applicant assessee. Once, reliance is placed upon a decision of a Court and / or Tribunal to make a claim, then even if the Assessing Officer has a different view and does not accept the view, yet the claim itself becomes debatable. This is so laid down in Instruction No.1814 dated 4th April, 1989 issued by the CBDT in respect of the scope of prima facie disallowance under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act. In fact, paragraph no.9 thereof provides that where a claim for deduction has been made on the basis of a decision of a High Court / Tribunal, then, even if there is contrary view expressed by another High Court and / or Tribunal or an appellate Authority, the issue itself becomes debatable. In such cases, no adjustment under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act is permissible. Thus, disallowance of a claim can be made only after hearing the assessee who has made the claim.

(iv) Further, our Court in Khatau Junkar Ltd. (supra) had while dealing with the word “prima facie inadmissible” in clause (iii) of Section 143(1)(a) of the Act has held that the word “prima facie” means on the face of it the claim is not admissible. It means the claim does not require any further inquiry before disallowing the claim. The Court observed that where a claim has been made which requires further inquiry, it cannot be disallowed without hearing the parties and / or giving the party an opportunity to submit proof in support of its claim. In the absence of Section 143(1)(a) of the Act being read in the above manner i.e. debatable issues cannot be adjusted by way of intimation under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act, would lead to arbitrary and unreasonable intimations being issued leading to chaos.

(v) In the present facts, it is undisputed that the decision of Gujarat High Court was referred to in the computation of income. Thus, the Assessing Officer could not have disallowed the claim on a prima facie view that the same is inadmissible. In fact, there can be no dispute that even according to the Assessing Officer, the issue was debatable. This is evident from the fact when the applicant assessee had filed an application under section 154 of the Act for deletion of the adjustment made of provision of bad debts by intimation under Section 143(1)(a) of the Act, it was disallowed on the ground that it is a debatable issue. This itself would indicate that whether the claim of a provision for bad debts is deductible under Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act or not is debatable. Further, the above claim for deductions as made by the applicant was by following the decision of the Gujarat High Court in Vithaldas H.Dhanjibhai Bardanwala (Supra). Thus, a debatable issue. Therefore, the same could not have been disallowed by way of an intimation under section 143(1)(a) of the Act.

(vi) We are conscious of the fact that Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act was amended by the Finance act, 2001 by insertion of Explanation to Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act w.e.f. 1st April, 1989. We are also conscious of the fact that while disposing of a Reference under Section 256(1) of the Act, the question proposed for our opinion shall be answered taking into account the subsequent amendment to the law with retrospective effect, as they are clarificatory in nature.

(vii) In the aforesaid background, we find that the insertion done by Explanation to Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act (w.e.f. 1989) would arise for consideration while answering the proposed question in respect of Assessment Year 199394. The above amendment by addition of Explanation to Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act was a subject matter of consideration by the Supreme Court in Vijaya Bank (supra). In the above decision, the Court while applying the amended law, held that mere debit of a provision to the profit and loss account will not by itself be sufficient to constitute bad debts (write off). This must be accompanied by simultaneously also reducing the loans and advances from the asset side of the Balance Sheet.

This would ensure that the amount shown as loans and advances (debtors) is net of the provisions made for bad debts. 16. Therefore, in the present facts, while mere making of provision for bad debts will not by itself (on application of amended law) entitle the party to deduction, yet it would be a matter where the assessee should be given an opportunity to establish its claim. This by producing its evidence of the manner in which it treated the provision of bad debts written off in accounts as well as in its Balance Sheet.

Therefore, the disallowance cannot be made by intimation under section 143(1)(a) of the Act, as it requires that a party be given an opportunity to establish its claim before disallowing it. It would have been a completely different matter if the Apex Court had ruled that in no case can provision for bad debts be allowed as a bad debt under section 36(1)(vii) of the Act.

The allowance of the claim of provision for bad debt is entirely dependent upon how it is reflected in the Balance Sheet and its accounts. Therefore, for the above purpose it is necessary that the party to be given an opportunity to establish its claim. Therefore, in the present facts, adjustment by way of disallowing deduction by intimation under section 143(1)(a) of the Act is not proper.

(viii) In the above view, the question as raised for our opinion is answered in the negative i.e. in favour of the applicant assessee and against the respondent Revenue.

Cases referred:

(1) Kantilal Chimanlal Shah V. CIT(26 ITR 303 Bom).

(2) Sidhramappa Andannappa Manvi V.CIT(21 ITR 333 Bom.)

(3) Jethabhai Hirji & Jethabhai Ramdas V.CIT(120 ITR 792.Bom.)

(4) Jadhavji Narsidas & Co. V. CIT(47 ITR 411Bom.)

(5) CIT V. Pranlal Kesurdas (49 ITR 931 – Bom.)

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