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SC upholds Coke stand on taxing warehousing fee
September, 11th 2007
In a recent ruling on an appeal filed by Coca-Cola, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed one of the time-tested principles of Indian tax system: the same income cannot be taxed twice. The dispute was over whether a tax can be levied on Coca-Cola as well as a warehousing company on the warehouse service charges paid by Coca-Cola. The appeal was filed by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverage Corporation a subsidiary of Coca-Cola.

The SC upheld the view that since the warehousing company had paid tax on the income it received from Coca-Cola, by way of warehousing charges, the I-T department cannot levy tax on Coca-Cola on the payment for the warehouse services. The SC said it would amount to taxing the same income twice.

Coca-Cola had an arrangement with Pradeep Oil Corporation (POC) for using the latters premises for warehousing. Coca-Cola had paid warehousing charges to POC, on which tax was deducted at the rate of 2%. However, the I-T department took a different view. It held that warehousing charges were in fact rent, hence tax should have been deducted at the rate of 20%.

The assessing officer (AO) also treated the company as an assessee in default for not deducting tax at the rate of 20%. The AO also levied interest on the amount which was not deducted.

The Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT), the second appellate body on tax matters, and the high court had upheld the I-T departments order. However, Coca-Cola filed a miscellaneous petition to point out that ITAT did not consider the fact that the warehousing company, POC, had already paid the tax on the same income. Since tax was already recovered, no further tax can be levied.

At this point ITAT recalled its own order and held that AO was right in holding Coca-Cola as an assessee in default, yet there could be no recovery of tax from the company because the income under question has been already taxed in the hands of POC. The I-T department agreed to this order and chose not to challenge ITATs reopening of the matter.

At this satge, the HC stepped in saying that the matter had reached finality when the appeal was dismissed by the HC and hence ITAT was wrong in reopening the case.

The SC held that the HC should not have interfered with the final order of ITAT. The SC ruled that no tax could be enforced after taxes were paid by POC on the income under question. However, as per tax laws, this does not apply on the interest payable. In this case, the company had already paid interest and there is no dispute that POC had paid the tax payable on the income. Therefore, the SC upheld the ITAT ruling on the issue.
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