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ACIT vs. Jindal Power Limited (ITAT Raipur)
July, 06th 2016

S. 37(1): Expenditure on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), though voluntary, is allowable as business expenditure. Explanation 2 to s. 37(1) inserted w.e.f. 01.04.2015 is not retrospective. It applies only to CSR expenditure referred to in s. 135 of the Companies Act and not to voluntary CSR expenditure

(i) The fundamental objection of the Assessing Officer is that the expenses is voluntary, not mandatory and not for business purposes. As for the contention that the expenses being in the nature of voluntary expenses, which are not mandatory, and which the assessee was not statutorily required to incur, are not admissible deduction in computation of business income, we are of the considered view that as long as expenses are incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of earning the income from business or profession, merely because some of these expenses are incurred voluntarily, i.e. without there being any legal or contractual obligation to incur the same, those expenses do not cease to be deductible in nature. In other words, it is not necessary that every expense that could be allowed as a deduction should be such as a hardnosed, and perhaps devoid of senses of compassion, businessman alone would incur in furtherance of his business pursuits. (Atherton vs. British Insulated & Helsbey Cables Ltd. (1925) 10 Tax Cases 155 (HL), CIT vs. Chandulal Keshavlal & Co. (1960) 38 ITR 601 (SC), Sassoon J David & Co. (P) Ltd. vs. CIT [(1979) 118 ITR 261 (SC)], Usher’s Wilshire Brewery vs. Bruce and Smith vs. Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (1914) 6 Tax Cases 477 referred)

(ii) The concept of business is not static. It has evolved over a period of time to include within its fold the concrete expression of care and concern for the society at large and the locality in which business is located in particular. Being a good corporate citizen brings goodwill of the local community as also with the regulatory agencies and society at large, thereby creating an atmosphere in which the business can succeed in a greater measure with the aid of such goodwill (CIT v. Madras Refineries Ltd. [2004] 266 ITR 170, Sri Venkata Satyanarayna Rice Mill Contractors Co. v. CIT [1997] 223 ITR 101, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd Vs DCIT [(2005) 96 ITD 186 (Bom)]

(iii) The amendment in the scheme of Section 37(1), which has been introduced with effect from 1st April 2015, cannot be construed as to disadvantage to the assessee in the period prior to this amendment. This disabling provision, as set out in Explanation 2 to Section 37(1), refers only to such corporate social responsibility expenses as under Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, and, as such, it cannot have any application for the period not covered by this statutory provision which itself came into existence in 2013. Explanation 2 to Section 37(1) is, therefore, inherently incapable of retrospective application any further. In any event, as held by Hon’ble Supreme Court’s five judge constitutional bench’s landmark judgment, in the case of CIT Vs Vatika Townships Pvt Ltd [(2014) 367 ITR 466 (SC)], the legal position in this regard has been very succinctly summed up by observing that “Of the various rules guiding how legislation has to be interpreted, one established rule is that unless a contrary intention appears, legislation is presumed not to be intended to have a retrospective operation. The idea behind the rule is that a current law should govern current activities. Law passed today cannot apply to the events of the past. If we do something today, we do it keeping in view the law of today and in force and not tomorrow’s backward adjustment of it. Our belief in the nature of the law is founded on the bed rock that every human being is entitled to arrange his affairs by relying on the existing law and should not find that his plans have been retrospectively upset. This principle of law is known as lex prospicit non respicit: law looks forward not backward.

(iv) It may appear to be some kind of a dichotomy in the tax legislation but the well settled legal position is that when a legislation confers a benefit on the taxpayer by relaxing the rigour of pre-amendment law, and when such a benefit appears to have been the objective pursued by the legislature, it would a purposive interpretation giving it a retrospective effect but when a tax legislation imposes a liability or a burden, the effect of such a legislative provision can only be prospective. We have also noted that the amendment in the scheme of Section 37(1) is not specifically stated to be retrospective and the said Explanation is inserted only with effect from 1st April 2015. In this view of the matter also, there is no reason to hold this provision to be retrospective in application. As a matter of fact, the amendment in law, which was accompanied by the statutory requirement with regard to discharging the corporate social responsibility, is a disabling provision which puts an additional tax burden on the assessee in the sense that the expenses that the assessee is required to incur, under a statutory obligation, in the course of his business are not allowed deduction in the computation of income. This disallowance is restricted to the expenses incurred by the assessee under a statutory obligation under section 135 of Companies Act 2013, and there is thus now a line of demarcation between the expenses incurred by the assessee on discharging corporate social responsibility under such a statutory obligation and under a voluntary assumption of responsibility. As for the former, the disallowance under Explanation 2 to Section 37(1) comes into play, but, as for latter, there is no such disabling provision as long as the expenses, even in discharge of corporate social responsibility on voluntary basis, can be said to be “wholly and exclusively for the purposes of business”. There is no dispute that the expenses in question are not incurred under the aforesaid statutory obligation. For this reason also, as also for the basic reason that the Explanation 2 to Section 37(1) comes into play with effect from 1st April 2015, we hold that the disabling provision of Explanation 2 to Section 37(1) does not apply on the facts of this case.

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