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Nothing religious about marriage, pay service tax'
September, 23rd 2013

Marriage as a social institution existed much before religions came into being and, therefore, it is futile to argue that the marriage is a religious function— law itself recognizes registered marriages as a legally valid form of marriage and there is no religious sanctity attached to such registered marriages.

The customs, excise and service tax appellate tribunal said this while hearing an appeal on service tax liability on the money earned by renting out a hall for a marriage function in Kolhapur. "The mode of conducting the marriages either by following religious rituals or otherwise does not make marriage a 'religious' function," the tribunal said holding that service tax was applicable in this case.

Central Panchayat owned a hall and rented it out for marriages. The service tax department said the levy on such activities was applicable and demanded Rs 1.08 lakh for the period July 1999 to March 2004 and Rs 24,000 for the period April 2004 to September 2004.

The matter was adjudicated and the hall management was ordered to pay tax and a penalty was imposed. But the service tax commissioner overruled it saying marriage is a religious function and hence not taxable.

The department went in appeal before the tribunal which upheld the department's stand of service tax liability. On behalf of the hall management, the counsel said that marriage is a religious function and the Finance Act 2007 added an explanation to specifically provide for marriage to be considered as a social function for levying service tax. The counsel said the management was under the bona fide belief that marriage was a religious function as held in some other cases. The explanation cannot be applied retrospectively, it said.

The tribunal said the explanation was only by way of abundant caution and does not affect the levy of service tax on mandap keeper service rendered in connection with marriages. The tribunal said the hall management was liable to pay interest on the service tax dues but struck down the order directing them to pay penalty. Imposition of penalty is not warranted since the matter related to interpretation of the statute, the tribunal said.

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