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Indian CasesSupreme Court of India

Commissioner Of Income-Tax vs General Insurance Corporation Of … on 28 September, 2000

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Bombay High Court

Commissioner Of Income-Tax vs General Insurance Corporation Of … on 28 September, 2000

Equivalent citations: 2002 254 ITR 204 Bom

Author: S Kapadia

Bench: S Kapadia, V Daga

JUDGMENT S.H. Kapadia, J.

1. Two questions of law arise for determination in this appeal in respect of the-assessment year 1989-90 :

“1. Whether expenses incurred by the assessee on account of salary paid to the staff of the Investment Department could be said to be directly relatable to the earning of dividend income for the purposes of computing deduction under Section 80M of the Income-tax Act, 1961 ?

2. Whether the assessee has violated Rule 5 of the First Schedule to the Act, read with Section 36(1)(vii), by debiting an amount of Rs. 1.18 crores to the profit and loss account under the head ‘Reserve for doubtful debts’ ?”

Facts :

2. In the assessment year in question, the assessee took bank commission of Rs. 6.01 lakhs (approximately) as expenses for earning dividend income. The department made upward revision by including the apportioned cost of salary, allowances and investment expenses for earning dividend income. Accordingly, the total expenses pertaining to dividend income for Section 80M of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (“the Act”) were computed at Rs. 13.56 lakhs (approximately). Similarly, the Assessing Officer rejected the claim of the assessee under the head “Reserve for doubtful debts” on the ground that the assessee had not fulfilled the conditions laid down in Section 36(1)(vii) of the Act as also the conditions laid down in Section 36(2) since the debts were not actually written off in the books of account. The matter was carried in appeal. Both the above questions were decided in favour of the assessee by the first appellate authority. Being aggrieved, the Department carried the matter in appeal to the Tribunal. The Tribunal dismissed the appeal. Hence, the Department has come in appeal under Section 260A of the Income-tax Act, 1961.

Findings on question No. 1 :

3. In view of our judgment in I. T. A. No. 457 of 2000, decided on September 18, 2000, in the case of C/T v. General Insurance Corporation of India (No. 1) [2002] 254 ITR 203 question No. 1 is answered in the negative, i.e., in favour of the assessee and against the Department. On this point, it may also be added that the grounds of appeal are totally vague. The grounds do not indicate the investment expenses which are alleged to be relatable to the earning of dividend income.

Arguments on question No. 2 :

4. Mr. Desai, the learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the Department, contended that Section 36(1) refers to deductions required to be allowed in computing the income referred to in Section 28 of the Act. He invited our attention to Section 36(1)(vii) which refers to writing off of the bad debt or any part thereof as irrecoverable in the accounts of the assessee for the previous year. He pointed out that the words “any bad debt or part thereof which is written off as irrecoverable in the accounts of the assessee for the previous year” were introduced by the Direct Tax Laws (Amendment) Act, 1987 with effect from April 1, 1989. He contended that prior to April 1, 1989, the words were as follows : “any debt or part thereof, which is established to have become a bad debt in the previous year”. He also invited our attention to the First Schedule to the Act and, in particular, rule 5. The First Schedule refers to insurance business. It is required to be read with Section 44. He contended that, in the present case, we are not concerned with life insurance business. He contended that under Rule 5, profits from business of insurance other than life insurance were required to be determined by taking into account balance of the profits disclosed by the annual accounts, subject to the adjustments, viz., any expenditure or allowance including any amount debited to the profit and loss account by way of dividend, reserve, or provision for any tax which is not admissible under Sections 30 to 43B, shall be added back. He contended that, in the present case, the assessee has transferred the amount to “reserve for doubtful debts”. Therefore, the Assessing Officer was right in adding back the aforestated amount of Rs. 1.18 crores. He contended that Rule 5 was amended by the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1998, with effect from April 1,1989. He contended that the judgments relied upon by the assessee have no application as they pertain to the period before April 1, 1989. He contended that none of the judgments have interpreted rule 5 in the First Schedule as amended by the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1998. Therefore, the judgments cited by the assessee did not apply to the facts of this case. On the other hand, it was urged on behalf of the assessee, by Mr. Irani, the learned counsel for the assessee, that Section 36(1) provides for deductions to be allowed in computing the income referred to in Section 28 of the Act. He pointed out that Section 36(2), however, lays down the conditions which an assessee is required to satisfy before claiming deduction for a bad debt or a part thereof. He contended that prior to April 1, 1989, Clause (i) in Section 36(2) stipulated that no deduction shall be allowed unless any debt or part thereof has been written off as irrecoverable in the accounts of the assessee. He pointed out that after April 1, 1989, however, the Legislature has removed the above condition from Section 36(2) and has transferred it under Section 36(1)(vii). Therefore, he contended that there is no basic change brought about by the Legislature and the law, as it stood before April 1, 1989, remains the same. He, therefore, contended that the Tribunal has rightly relied upon the judgments of the Bombay High Court in the case of CIT v. Jwala Prasad Tiwari [1953] 24 ITR 537. He also relied upon the judgment of the Gujarat High Court in the case of Sarangpur Cotton Mfg. Co. Ltd. v. CIT [1983] 143 ITR 166. Both these judgments have laid down that if an amount is transferred to a bad debt reserve account in the books of an assessee, it would amount to writing off the bad debt and it was not necessary that the amount should be altogether taken off from the books of the assessee. Mr. Irani further invited our attention to Rule 5(a) of the First Schedule to the Act. He pointed out that the said rule has no application. He contended that Rule 5(a) applied to cases where an expenditure or allowance including any amount debited to the profit and loss account either by way of reserve is not admissible under the provisions of Sections 30 to 43B, then, in computing the profits, the said amount shall be added back. In this case, however, he contended that the burden was on the Department to prove that the amount debited by the assessee to the profit and loss account was not admissible under Section 36(1)(ii). Hence, Rule 5(a) was not applicable to the facts of this case. He contended that, in the present matter, the only contention raised by the Department was that the assessee did not fulfil the condition of writing off the bad debt under Section 36(1)(vii) by crediting the said amount of Rs. 1.18 crores to the reserve account for doubtful debts by debiting the profit and loss account. Mr. Irani vehemently urged that, in this case, the Department has failed to raise the pertinent question as to whether the debt had become irrecoverable in terms of Section 36(1)(vii).

Findings on question No. 2 :

5. To decide question No. 2, the relevant sections are quoted hereinbelow :

“36.(1) The deductions provided for in the following clauses shall be allowed in respect of the matters dealt with therein, in computing the income referred to in Section 28– …

(vii) subject to the provisions of Sub-section (2), the amount of any bad debt or part thereof which is written off as irrecoverable in the accounts of the assessee for the previous year :”

Rule 5(a) and (c) of the First Schedule under sub-heading B.

“THE FIRST SCHEDULE INSURANCE BUSINESS [see Section 44] B. Other insurance business

5. Computation of profits and gains of other insurance business.–The profits and gains of any business of insurance other than life insurance shall be taken to be the balance of the profits disclosed by the annual accounts, copies of which are required under the Insurance Act, 1938 (4 of 1938), to be furnished to the Controller of Insurance, subject to the following adjustments:

(a) subject to the other provisions of this rule, any expenditure or allowance including any amount debited to the profit and loss account either by way of a provision for any tax, dividend, reserve or any other provision as may be prescribed which is not admissible under the provisions of Sections 30 to 43B in computing the profits and gains of a business shall be added back;

(c) such amount carried over to a reserve for unexpired risks as may be prescribed in this behalf shall be allowed as a deduction.”

At the outset, we may mention that the question as to whether the debt has become irrecoverable has not been raised in the appeal. It is a factual dispute which ought to have been raised. The only dispute which has been raised is, whether Rule 5(a) of the First Schedule to the Act is attracted by the mode in which the amount of Rs. 1.18 crores has been transferred to “reserve account for doubtful debts”. In the case of Jwala Prasad Tiwari [1953] 24 ITR 537, the Bombay High Court had held that the expression “writing off” is a technical term used by the auditors. That, there are two methods of dealing with a debt which has been written off in the books of account, viz., by giving corresponding credit to the debtor’s account or by giving corresponding credit to the bad and doubtful debts account. The first method is only employed where it is desired to close the account of the debtor. The second method is employed where there are some chances of recovery. That, when we talk of “writing off, we are not concerned with the credit to be given to an account. That, “writing off” means raising a debit entry. This can only be to the debit of the profit and loss account. That, this is the only debit which can be raised as a result of writing off a bad debt. To the same effect is the judgment of the Gujarat High Court in the case of Sarangpur Cotton Mfg. Co. Ltd. [1983] 143 ITR 166. In the case of Vithaldas H. Dhanjibhai Bardanwala v. CIT [1981] 130 ITR 95, the Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court has held that under Section 36 of the Act, before any claim for allowance for a bad debt is held established by the Assessing Officer, it must appear that the concerned bad debt was written off as irrecoverable in the account books of the assessee. This requirement is a condition for the grant of claim for bad debt allowance. To that extent, there is a departure from the earlier Act. However, so far as the exact requirement of the writing off is concerned, the language used in the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922 and the 1961 Act is identical. If the debit entries posted by the assessee indicate that bad debt has been written off as irrecoverable in the accounts of the assessee, then the statutory condition stands fully complied with. That, if the assessee has posted entries in the profit and loss account and the corresponding entries are posted in the bad debt reserve account, it would be sufficient compliance with the provisions of the statutory requirement for writing off as irrecoverable the concerned debt in the books of the assessee. These judgments squarely apply to the facts of our case. In the present matter, the assessee has posted entries in the profit and loss account and has made corresponding entries in the bad debt reserve account. Therefore, there is compliance with Section 36(1)(vii). It may be noted that prior to April 1, 1989, this statutory requirement existed under Section 36(2)(i). That entry has been shifted and brought to Section 36(1)(vii). Therefore, to the extent of the exact requirement of writing off of the concerned debt as irrecoverable, the law remains the same even after April 1, 1989. Hence, there is compliance with Section 36(1)(vii). Rule 5(a) of the First Schedule, inter alia, lays down that where any expenditure or allowance is debited to the profit and loss account by way of reserve which is not admissible under the provisions of Section 36(1), then the amount shall be added back in computing the profits of the business. However, in the present case, as stated hereinabove, there is full compliance with Section 36(1)(vii). The manner of writing off is as per the statutory requirement. The Department has not raised the relevant factual dispute as to whether the debt has not become irrecoverable. In the circumstances, question No. 2 is answered in the negative, i.e., in favour of the assessee and against the Department.

6. Accordingly, the appeal is disposed of with no order as to costs.

7. C. C. expedited.