INTEREST FREE FUNDS NOT KEPT IN SEPARATE ACCOUNT. CAN PROPORTIONATE DISALLOWANCE ON INTEREST UNDER SECTION 14A OF IT ACT BE ALLOWED?
Supreme Court: In an important ruling on taxation law, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy*, JJ has held that the proportionate disallowance of interest is not warranted, under Section 14A of Income Tax Act for investments made in tax free bonds/ securities which yield tax free dividend and interest to Assessee Banks in those situations where, interest free own funds available with the Assessee, exceeded their investments.
Whether Section 14A of the Income Tax Act, 1961, enables the Department to make disallowance on expenditure incurred for earning tax free income in cases where assessees like the present appellant, do not maintain separate accounts for the investments and other expenditures incurred for earning the tax-free income?
What does Section 14A state?
In Section 14, the various incomes are classified under Salaries, Income from house property, Profit & Gains of business or profession, Capital Gains & Income from other sources.
The Section 14A relates to expenditure incurred in relation to income which are not includable in Total Income and which are exempted from tax. No taxes are therefore levied on such exempted income. The Section 14A had been incorporated in the Income Tax Act to ensure that expenditure incurred in generating such tax exempted income is not allowed as a deduction while calculating total income for the concerned assessee.
Section 14A was introduced to the Income Tax Act by the Finance Act, 2001 with retrospective effect from 01.04.1962, in aftermath of judgement in the case of Rajasthan State Warehousing Corporation Vs. CIT, (2000) 3 SCC 126. The said Section provided for disallowance of expenditure incurred by the assessee in relation to income, which does not form part of their total income.
“As such if the assessee incurs any expenditure for earning tax free income such as interest paid for funds borrowed, for investment in any business which earns tax free income, the assessee is disentitled to deduction of such interest or other expenditure.”
In the case at hand, the Court was concerned with disallowances made under Section 14A for assessment years commencing from 2001-2002 onwards or for pending assessments.
The assessees are scheduled banks and in course of their banking business, they also engage in the business of investments in bonds, securities and shares which earn the assessees, interests from such securities and bonds as also dividend income on investments in shares of companies and from units of UTI etc. which are tax free.
None of the assessee banks amongst the appellants, maintained separate accounts for the investments made in bonds, securities and shares wherefrom the tax-free income is earned so that disallowances could be limited to the actual expenditure incurred by the assessee.
In absence of separate accounts for investment which earned tax free income, the Assessing Officer made proportionate disallowance of interest attributable to the funds invested to earn tax free income by referring to the average cost of deposit for the relevant year.
The CIT (A) had concurred with the view taken by the Assessing Officer.
The ITAT in Assessee’s appeal against CIT(A) considered the absence of separate identifiable funds utilized by assessee for making investments in tax free bonds and shares but found that assessee bank is having indivisible business and considering their nature of business, the investments made in tax free bonds and in shares would therefore be in nature of stock in trade. The ITAT then noticed that assessee bank is having surplus funds and reserves from which investments can be made. Accordingly, it accepted the assessee’s case that investments were not made out of interest or cost bearing funds alone and held that disallowance under Section 14A is not warranted, in absence of clear identity of funds.
The decision of the ITAT was reversed by the High Court.
The Supreme Court took note of the fact that the CIT(A) and the High Court had based their decision on the fact that the assessee had not kept their interest free funds in separate account and as such had purchased the bonds/shares from mixed account. This is how a proportionate amount of the interest paid on the borrowings/deposits, was considered to have been incurred to earn the tax-free income on bonds/shares and such proportionate amount was disallowed applying Section 14A of the Act.
It, however, explained that
“In a situation where the assessee has mixed fund (made up partly of interest free funds and partly of interest-bearing funds) and payment is made out of that mixed fund, the investment must be considered to have been made out of the interest free fund. To put it another way, in respect of payment made out of mixed fund, it is the assessee who has such right of appropriation and also the right to assert from what part of the fund a particular investment is made and it may not be permissible for the Revenue to make an estimation of a proportionate figure.”
The Court, hence, held that if investments in securities is made out of common funds and the assessee has available, non-interest-bearing funds larger than the investments made in tax- free securities then in such cases, disallowance under Section 14A cannot be made.
[South Indian Bank v. CIT, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 692, decided on 09.09.2021]
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