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Linde A. G. vs. DDIT (Delhi High Court)
May, 03rd 2014

Entire law on formation of AOP & taxability of off-shore supply & services explained

(a) Before an association can be considered as a separate taxable entity (i.e an Association of Persons), the same must exhibit the following essential features: (i) must be constituted by two or more persons; (ii) the constituent members must have come together for a common purpose; (iii) the association must move by common action and there must be some scheme of common management; (iv) the cooperation and association amongst the constituent members must not be perfunctory and/or merely in form. The association amongst members must be real and substantial which is sufficient to treat the association as a separate homogenous taxable entity (Indira Balkrishna 39 ITR 546 (SC) & other judgements followed;

(b) On facts, as per the terms of the Contract, the scope of work to be executed by Linde and Samsung was separate and was accordingly specified in the annexures to the Contract. The payments to be made for separate items of work were also specified. The currency in which the payments were to be made was also separately indicated. Thus, insofar as execution of the work was concerned, it was recognised that different items constituting the Contract would be performed independently by Linde and Samsung. The consideration for the work performed was to be made directly to the concerned member of the Consortium in accordance with the work performed by him. Annexure C of the Contract specified the payment schedule i.e. the amount to be paid for the supply of goods and services rendered by both the members of consortium. Linde and Samsung were to be paid on the basis of the separate invoices raised by them respectively. There was no arrangement for sharing of profits and losses between Linde and Samsung. And, each of them would make profits or incur losses based on the price as agreed by them and the costs incurred by them for performance of the contract falling within their independent scope of work;

(c) It follows that Linde and Samsung had joined together to (i) bid for the contract; (ii) present a façade of a consortium to OPAL for execution of the contract and accept joint and several liability towards OPAL for due performance of the contract and completion of the project; and (iii) put in place a management structure for inter se coordination and execution of the project. However, in all other respects, both Linde and Samsung were independent of each other and were responsible for their own deliverables under the Contract, without reference to each other. Consequently, no AOP is formed (Instruction No.1829 dated 21.09.1989 issued by the CBDT referred to);

(d) As regards taxability, the principle of apportionment of income on the basis of territorial nexus is now well accepted. Explanation 1(a) to section 9(1)(i) of the Act also specifies that only that part of income which is attributable to operations in India would be deemed to accrue or arise in India. It necessarily follows that in cases where a contract entails only a part of the operations to be carried on in India, the assessee would not be liable for the part of income that arises from operations conducted outside India. In such a case, the income from the venture would have to be appropriately apportioned. Merely because a project is a turnkey project would not necessarily imply that for the purposes of taxability, the entire contract be considered as an integrated one. Where the equipment and material is manufactured and procured outside India, the income attributable to the supply thereof could only be brought to tax if it is found that the said income therefrom arises through or from a business connection in India. It cannot be concluded that the Contract provides a “business connection” in India and accordingly, the Offshore Supplies cannot be brought to tax under the Act (Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries 288 ITR 408 (SC) and Hyundai Heavy Industries 291 ITR 482 (SC) followed);

(e) In order to fall outside the scope of Section 9(1)(vii) of the Act, the link between the supply of equipment and services must be so strong and interlinked that the services in question are not capable of being considered as services on a standalone basis and are therefore subsumed as a part of the supplies. Given the fact that its Linde’s case that the consideration for the supplies are separately specified, this aspect would require a closer scrutiny and determination of facts. In the event, it is found that the offshore services rendered by Linde are not inextricably linked to the manufacture and fabrication of equipment overseas so as to form an integral part of the supply of the said equipment, the income arising from the said services would be taxable in India as fees for technical services. By virtue of Section 9(1)(vii) of the Act, fees for technical services paid by a resident are taxable in India (except where such fees are payable in respect of services utilised by such person in business and profession carried outside India). In view of the Explanation to Section 9(2) as substituted by Finance Act 2010 with retrospective effect from 01.06.1976, the decision of the Supreme Court in Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, in so far as it holds that in order to tax fees for technical services under the Act the services must be rendered in India, is no longer applicable. Therefore, in the event the services in question are not considered as an integral and inextricable part of equipment and material supplied, it would be necessary to examine whether any relief in respect of such income would be available to Linde by virtue of the DTAA between Germany and India;

(f) The AAR exercises judicial power and necessarily has to follow the principle of law already accepted by it. This is also a necessary facet of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The equal protection clause in the Constitution would necessarily imply that the judicial authorities interpreting the law must also follow a consistent view. Thus, in the event the Authority was of the opinion that the earlier view was erroneous, it was incumbent upon the Authority to refer the matter to a larger bench. In the present case, the Authority has sought to distinguish its earlier decision in the case of Hyundai Rotem (supra) without pointing out any material dissimilarity in facts which would render the earlier decision inapplicable. We are also unable to find any material dissimilarity in facts that would warrant such a conclusion (Columbia Sportswear Co 337 ITR 407 (SC) followed)

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