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Bhoruka Engineering Inds. Ltd. vs. DCIT (Karnataka High Court)
June, 19th 2013

S. 10(38): Scheme of sale of land through sale of shares of shell company is valid

The assessee held 98.73% shares in Bhoruka Financial Services Limited (BFSL). In AY 2005-06 BFSL purchased a plot of land from a group sick company called Bhoruka Steels Ltd for Rs.3.75 crores which was accepted to be the prevailing market price u/s 50C. BFSL was a shell company with no assets other than the said land. In AY 2006-07 the assessee sold its shareholding in BFSL to DLF Commercial Developers Ltd for a net consideration of Rs. 20 crore. As the sale of shares was executed through the Magadh Stock Exchange and STT was paid, the assessee claimed that the gain on sale of shares was exempt u/s 10 (38). The AO, CIT(A) and Tribunal rejected the assessee’s claim on the basis that the assessee, BFSL and Bhoruka Steels were all controlled by common shareholders and that the scheme to first sell the land to BFSL and then to sell the shares of BFSL was devised with the sole purpose of avoiding tax on the capital gains which would have arisen if the land had been sold directly. It was held that the formalities of the transaction and the legal nature of the corporate bodies had to be ignored by lifting the corporate veil and the transaction had to be taxed as a sale of the land. On appeal by the assessee to the High Court, HELD allowing the appeal:

Though BFSL was a shell company with no asset other than the land and by buying the shares of BFSL, DLF in effect purchased the land, the transaction cannot be said to a sham or an unreal one. In coming to the conclusion that the transaction is a colourable devise, the authorities have been carried away by the fact that the assessee was able to avoid payment of income tax. The assessee did resort to tax planning and took advantage of the law/ loopholes in the law. After seeing how the loophole was exploited within the four corners of the law, it is open to Parliament to amend the law plugging the loophole. However it cannot be done by judicial interpretation. S. 10(38) of the Act is unambiguous. If the share holder chooses to transfer the lands through a transfer of the shares of the company owning the land, it would be a valid legal transaction in law and cannot be said to be a colourable devise or a sham merely because tax is avoided thereby (McDowell 154 ITR 148 (SC), Azadi Bachao Andolan 263 ITR 706 (SC) & Vodafone International 341 ITR 1 (SC) referred)

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