The Delhi High Court has said that eatables provided by the Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) in trains do not come within the ambit of service tax.
The court passed the order on a petition of the IRCTC, seeking a direction from the government to impose service tax on food and beverages served by the Railways, instead of Value Added Tax (VAT).
Rejecting IRCTC's plea, a division bench comprising Justices V K Jain and Badar Durrez Ahmed said that service tax cannot be imposed on eatables and beverages served in moving trains.
"We hold that the transaction between the petitioner firm (IRCTC) and Indian Railways for providing food and beverages to passengers aboard trains is a transaction of sale of goods by IRCTC to Indian Railways," the court said.
"There is no element of service at all, except heating cooked food and serving food and beverages. In fact, the service component with respect to sale of food in a restaurant is much more than supply of food to a passenger in a compartment of a train," it added.
The IRCTC had contended that provision of eatables and beverages to passengers amounts to services provided, and not sale of these items.
IRCTC is a subsidiary of Indian Railways that handles catering, tourism and online ticketing operations. IRCTC is in charge of catering services on trains and railway stations across India.