Sundaram & Company (P.) Ltd.
Madurai Vs. Commissioner of Income-Tax, Madras  INSC 127 (25 April 1967)
25/04/1967 SHAH, J.C.
CITATION: 1968 AIR 124 1967 SCR (3) 798
Income-tax Act, 1922 (11 of 1922), ss.
34(1)(b), 66-Finance Act, 1956, proviso 2, Paragraph D-Notice to reopen
assessment on the ground of "excessive relief" but reduction of
rebate on super tax on the ground "assessed at too low a rate"-Duty
to enquire whether proceedings validly initiated"Rate" in s. 34(1) if
means fraction of total incomeReference-Duty to decide all aspects of the
question of law referred even though not specifically argued before the
The Income-tax Officer issued a notice to the
assessee for reopening the assessment for the year 1956-57 on the ground that
"excessive relief" within the meaning of s. 34(1)(b) of the
Income-tax Act, 1922 had been granted to the assessee.
Rejecting the contention of the assessee that
the income had not been the subject of "excessive relief" and
therefore the proceedings were unauthorised and that the amount deemed to have
been distributed under orders under s. 23A could not be taken into
consideration for the purpose of reducing the rebate of super-tax admissible
under proviso 2 to paragraph D of the Finance Act, 1956, the Income-tax Officer
ordered that the rebate of super-tax granted be reduced. The Appellate
Assistant Commissioner held that only a part of the amount of dividend deemed
to have been declared by the assessee could be taken into consideration in
withdrawing the rebate of super-tax. On appeal by the Commissioner, the
Tribunal held that the case of the assessee did not fall within any of the
situations contemplated by s. 34(1) (b), but confirmed the order of the Appellant
Assistant Commissioner. On the question "whether the setting aside of the
assessment under s. 34(1) (b) was correct in law" the High Court was of
the opinion that the claim of the department to initiate proceedings under s.
34(1)(b) on the ground that excessive relief was allowed could not be
sustained, but held that the proceedings under the section could be initiated
on the ground that the income profits and gains of the asses-see were "
assessed at too low a rate".
The High Court did not 'record its decision
on the plea of the assessee that in a proceeding to re-assess income initiated
on a notice that income had been subject to "excessive relief", the
Income-tax Officer was incompetent to re-assess income on the footing that
income was assessed at too low a rate. In appeal to this Court the assessee
contended that (i) the High Court was in error in enlarging the scope of the
enquiry and entering upon a question never mooted before the Tribunal and (ii)
by the use of the expression "assessed at too low a rate" it was
intended that the jurisdiction of the Income-tax Officer would be attracted
only when the wrong fraction had been applied in the determination of super-tax
and not when the computation of tax depended on other factors.
HELD : (i) The case must be remanded to the
High Court to determine whether the proceedings were validly initiated on the
notice issued against the asscssee. [807B] 799 The scope of the enquiry arising
out of the arguments before the Tribunal was not whether the assessment was
proper, but, whether the Income-tax Officer was in the circumstances of the
case competent to initiate the proceeding under s. 34(1) (b) of the Income-tax
Act for bringing to tax the excessive -rebate granted to the assessee. The
question referred to the High Court had to be reframed accordinglyThe question,
as framed by the Tribunal, though defective, included that enquiry. The High
Court was, therefore, bound to decide all aspects of that question and it was
wrong in making the assumption that because a particular aspect of the question
of law raised was not specifically argued before the Tribunal the High Court
could not deal with it. [S02D-E;
806F-H; 807A-B] P. S. Sutbramanyan,
Income-tax Officer, Companies Circle I (1) and Anr. v. Simplex Mills Ltd. 48
I.T.R. 182 (S.C.), referred to.
(ii) The High Court was right in holding that
the rebate of tax and the reduction of such rebate were essentially matters of
measure or Standards of rate. The expression rate in s. 34(1) does not mean a
fraction of total income;
it is often used in the sense of standard or
Provided the tax is computable by the
application of a prescribed standard or measure, though not directly related to
taxable income, it may be said that the tax is computed at a certain rate. The
aim and object of the Finance Act, 1956, is to prescribe the standard or
measure of income-tax or super-tax, and an assessee escaping some of its
provisions and failing to pay the full measure of tax is "assessed at too
low a rate". [806B-C]
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 2453 of 1966.
Appeal from the judgment and order dated
August 9, 1963 of the Madras High Court in T.C. No. 152 of 1961.
R. Venkatram and R, Ganapathy Iyer, for the
B. Sen and R. N. Sachthey, for the respondent.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
Shah, J. In Sundaram & Company (Private) Ltd.-hereinafter called "the
Company"-the public are not substantially interested within the meaning of
S. 23A of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922. In dealing with the assessment of
income of the Company for the assessment years 1946-47 to 1951-52, the
Income-tax Officer, Central Circle, Madras, passed orders under s. 23A of the
Income-tax Act, 1922, and directed that the total income of the Company as
determined in the years of assessment less tax payable be deemed to have been
distributed amongst the shareholders of the Company as on the relevant dates of
the General Body Meetings. The following table sets out the relevant details
800 Assessment Amount of dividend Date of order passed year. deemed to under s.
23A deeming have been declared.
dividend to have been declared.
1946-47 46,563 March 18,1952 1947-48 43,959 do1948-49
47,829 do1949-50 97,875 do1950-51 92,591 do1951-52 25,899 March 30, 1955
3,54,716 On July 7, 1955 the Company in a general meeting resolved that the
amount of Rs. 3,54,716/which was under the orders of the Income-tax Officer
deemed to have been distributed as ;dividend amongst the shareholders pursuant
to orders under s. 23A of the Income-tax Act, be distributed as dividend to the
shareholders, and in pursuance of that resolution proportionate part of the
dividend due to each shareholder was credited to his account.
The Income-tax Officer completed the
assessment of the Company for the year 1956-57 and determined Rs. 5,69,396/as
its total income. The Income-tax Officer computed the super tax payable by the
Company under the Finance Act, 1956, at the rate of six annas and nine pies in
the rupee of the total income and granted a rebate at the rate of four annas in
the rupee in accordance with the provisions of Cl. D proviso (i) (b) & (ii)
,of the Schedule to that Act.
Sometime thereafter the Income-tax Officer
being of the opinion that excessive relief had been granted to the Company
within the meaning of S. 34 (1) (b) of the Incometax Act, issued a notice on
January 31, 1959 for reopening the assessment for the year 1956-57. The Company
filed its return of income in compliance with the notice and contended that the
proceedings commenced by the, Income-tax Officer were unauthorised, because the
income of the Company had not been the subject of "excessive relief"
within the meaning of S. 34(1)(b), and that actual distribution of dividends
already deemed to have been distributed in accordance with the orders passed
under s.'23A cannot be taken into consideration for the purpose of reducing the
rebate of super-tax admissible under the proviso 2 to Paragraph D of the
Finance Act, 1956. The Income-tax Officer rejected the contentions and ordered
that the rebate of super-tax to the extent of Rs. 80,978/be withdrawn.
In appeal to the Appellate Assistant
Commissioner it was held that in the circumstances of the case, assessment
could be reopened under S. 34(1) (b) on the ground that the income had' been
made the subject of "excessive relief", but only Rs. 77,600/and not
the whole amount of Rs. 3,54,716/which was deemed to be distributed under
orders under s. 23A could be taken into 801 consideration as dividend
distributed by the Company during the previous year relevant to the assessment
The Commissioner of Income-tax appealed to
the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal. He, contended that in the circumstances of
the case the amount of Rs. 3,54,716/was liable to be taken into consideration
for the purpose of withdrawing the rebate of super tax admissible under the
Finance Act, 1956.
The Tribunal held that the case of the
Company "did not fall within any of the situations contemplated by s.
34(1)(b)" and the Company's income had not been the subject of excessive
relief as the rebate of super-tax originally granted was out of the tax
otherwise computable and not from the assessed income. But the Tribunal
confirmed the order of the Appellate Assistant Commissioner directing that Rs.
77,600/be taken into account in withdrawing
rebate of super-tax.
The Tribunal then referred three questions to
the High Court of Judicature at Madras :
"1. Whether the Tribunal was justified
in disposing of 'the appeal as it did.?
2. Whether the Tribunal was right in law in
entertaining the assessee's contention relating to the applicability, of s.
34(1) (b) under Rule 27 of the Appellate
Tribunal Rules ?
3. Whether the setting aside of 'the
assessment under s. 3 4 (I ) (b) was correct in law ? " The High Court
decided in favour of the Company on the first two questions. In considering the
third question the High Court observed that the plea of the Company that reassessment
proceedings under s. 34 (I) (b), on the ground of "excessive relief cannot
be initiated, must be accepted.
The Court then proceeded to consider whether
allowance of rebate to which the assessee was not entitled, did not amount to
assessing income at too low a rate, and observed that "there can be no
question that the rebate of tax rate and a reduction of such rebate is
essentially the arithmetic of rate. Reading however the provisions of the
Finance Act, 1956, as a whole in the perspective that its chief aim and object
is to prescribe the rate of income-tax and super-tax, it seems to us that an
assessee escaping some of its provisions and failing to pay the full measure of
tax is assessed at too low a rate". The High Court accordingly held that
proceedings under s. 34(1) (b) could be initiated when rebate in the payment of
super-tax was -ranted to the assessee without reducing it in the circumstances
set out in the second proviso to Part 11 of the First Schedule Paragraph D in
the Finance Act, 1956, on the ground that the income, profits and gains of the
Company were assessed to tax 802 at too low a rate. The High Court answered the
third question in favour of the Commissioner. Against the order passed by the
High Court on the third question, this appeal is preferred by the, Company. The
Commissioner of Incometax has not challenged the correctness of the decisions
on Questions I & 2.
We are unable to agree with counsel for the
assessee that the first question raised an enquiry not only as to the
correctness of the procedure followed by the Tribunal, but also to the right of
the Income-tax Officer to initiate a proceeding under S. 34(1) (b) to bring to
tax rebate which was not reduced. In terms, the first question relates to a
matter of procedure : and in the answer recorded to that question it is not
implied that the Income-tax Officer had no power to initiate the proceeding
under S. 3 4 ( 1 ) (b).
The third question raised by the Tribunal was
The true scope of the enquiry arising out of
the argument before the Tribunal was not whether the order of assessment was
proper. but whether the proceeding for re-assessment was properly initiated
under S. 34(1) (b). That is how the High Court also understood the question. We
therefore re-frame the question as follows :
"Whether the Income-tax Officer was in
the circumstances of the case competent to initiate the proceeding under s. 34
(I) (b) of the Indian Income-tax Act for bringing to tax the excessive rebate
granted to the assessee ?" Section 34(1) (b) of the Indian Income-tax Act,
as it stood at the relevant time, provided "If(a) (b) notwithstanding that
there has been no omission or failure as mentioned in clause (a) on the part of
the assessee, the Income-tax Officer has in consequence of information in his
possession reason to believe that income, profit% or gains chargeable to
income-tax have escaped assessment for any year, or have been under-assessed,
or assessed at too low a rate, or have been made the subject of excessive
relief under this Act or that excessive loss or depreciation has been computed,
he may in cases falling under clause (a) at any time and in cases falling under
clause (b) at any time within four years of the end of that year, serve on the
assessee, or, if the assessee is a company, on the principal officer 803
thereof, a notice containing all or any of the requirements which may be
included in a notice under subsection (2) of section 22 and may proceed to
assess or reassess such income, profits or gains or recompute the loss or
depreciation allowance; and the provisions of this Act shall, so far as may be,
apply accordingly as if the notice were a notice issued under that sub-section
It was held by the High Court of Bombay in P. S. Subramanyan, Income-tax
Officer, Companies Circle I (1) Bombay and Another v. Simplex Mills Ltd.(1)
that "the relief referred to in s. 34(1) (b) of the Income-tax Act, 1922,
can only be such relief as is granted to the assessee by reason of his income,
profits and (rains being chargeable to tax. It is, therefore, referable to the
various kinds of relief afforded to the assessee under the Act in respect of
his income, profits and gains, such, for instance, as are granted under ss.
15A, 15C, 49A, 49B, 49C, 49D and 60 of the Act." This Court affirmed the
judgment of the Bombay High Court in P.
S. Subramanyan, Income-tax Officer, Companies
Circle I (1) and Another v. Simplex Mills Ltd. 2 In Simplex Mills(2) case
advance tax paid by the assessee for the assessment year 1952-53 was found
refundable and the Income-tax Officer allowed interest on the tax paid under s.
18A(5) of the Income tax Act, 1922, as it then stood. The Act was amended by
the Income-tax (Amendment) Act, 1953, with retrospective effect from April 1,
1952, and it was found that interest allowed to the Company was excessive. The
Income-tax Officer then initiated a proceeding under s. 34 (1 ) (b) to reassess
the tax on the ground that income for that year had been under-assessed and had
been made the subject of excessive relief. The Bombay High Court rejected the
claim of the Income-tax Officer, and this Court held that the original
assessment could not be reopened under s. 34, because it could not be said
either that there was underassessment of the income, or that excessive relief
was granted. In the light of that judgment, the High Court opined that the claim
of the Department to initiate a proceeding under s. 34(1) (b) on the -round
that excessive relief was allowed could not be sustained. But the High Court
held that a proceeding for reassessment could be initiated on the ground that
income had been assessed at too low a rate. Counsel for the Company contends
that the High Court was in error in proceeding to enlarge the scope of the
enquiry and in entering upon a question which was never mooted before the
Section 2 of the Finance Act, 1956, provides
insofar as it is material, that :
(1) 48 I.T.R. 980.
(2) 48 1.T.R. 182 (S. C.) 804 .lm15
"Subject to the provisions of sub-sections (2), (3), (4) and (5), for the
year beginning on the 1st day of April, 1956,(a) income-tax shall be charged at
the rates specified in Part I of the First Schedule.........
(b) rates of super-tax shall, for the
purposes of section 55 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922 (XI of 1922) . . .,
be those specified in Part 11 of the First Schedule.................
Part 11 of the First Schedule specifies the
rates of supertax.
Clause D provides :
"In the case of every companyon the
whole of total income Rate Six annas and nine pies in the rupee.
Provided that(i) (ii) a rebate at the rate of
four annas per rupee of the total income shall be allowed in the case of any
company which satisfies condition (a), but not condition (b) of the preceding
clause; and (iii) Provided further that(i) the amount of the rebate under
clause (i) or clause (ii), as the case may be, of the preceding proviso shall
be reduced by the sum, if any, equal to the amount or the aggregate of the
amounts, as the case may be, computed as hereunder :(a) on the amount
representing the face value of any bonus shares or the amount of any bonus
issued to its share-holders during the previous year with a view to increasing
the paid-up capital, except to the extent to which such bonus shares or bonus
have been issued out of premiums received in cash on the issue of its shares;
and at the rate of two annas per rupee.
805 (b) in addition, in the case of a Company
referred to in clause (ii) of the preceding proviso which has distributed to
its shareholders during the previous year dividends in excess of six per cent
of its paid-up capital, not being dividends payable at a fixed rate on that
part of the said divi-......at the rate dends which exceeds 6 per cent. of two
annas but does not exceed 10 per per rupee.
cent. of the paid-up capital;
on that part of the said diviat the rate of'
dends which exceeds 10 per cent three annas of the paid-up capital; per rupee.
Paragraph-D read with s. 2(b) of the Finance
Act, 1956 fixes the rate of super-tax payable by Companies for the purpose of
s. 55 of the Indian Income-tax Act. From the super-tax declared payable, in
certain conditions rebate is granted, and that rebate is also related to the
total income of the assessee. By the second proviso, part of the rebate may be
withdrawn, if the Company has in the previous year issued bonus shares or bonus
or has distributed dividend in excess of six per cent. of its paid-up capital.
The super-tax and the rebate admissible are both related to the total income,
whereas the reduction of rebate is related to the face value of the bonus
shares or of the value of bonus or the amount of dividends distributed.
Super-tax payable by a Company is therefore determined as a fraction of the
total income, reduced by a percentage of the value of the bonus shares or bonus
or dividends distributed.
Counsel for the Company contends that the expression
"too low a rate" used in s. 34(1) (b) must, having regard to the
context in which the expression is used and in the scheme of the Indian
Income-tax Act, be regarded merely as the fraction which determines tax
liability of the assessee, but when in computing super-tax liability, the
Income-tax Officer has after determining the amount by applying the fraction to
reduce the resultant by reference to a factor unrelated to total income, it
cannot be said that tax is charged at a certain rate. Counsel says that the
Legislature has not used the expression "assessed at too low an
amount" but the expression used is "assessed at too low a rate"
therefore says counsel for the Company the jurisdiction of the Income-tax
Officer will be attracted only when the wrong fraction 806 has been applied in
the determination of super-tax, and not when the computation of tax depends on
We are unable to accept this contention. The
assumption that the expression "rate" has been used in s. 34(1) as
meaning -a fraction of total income is, in our judgment, not warranted. By the
use of the expression "rate" in the context in which it occurs,
undoubtedly a relation between the taxable income and the tax charged is
intended, but the relation need not be of the nature -of proportion or
fraction. The expression "rate"' is often used in the sense of a
standard or measure. Provided the tax is computable by the application of a
prescribed standard or measure, though not directly related to taxable income,
it may be called tax computed at a certain rate. We agree with the High Court
that the rebate of tax and the reduction of such rebate are essentially matters
of measure or standards of rate. The chief aim and object of the Finance Act,
1956, is to prescribe the standard or measure of income-tax and supertax and it
seems that an assessee escaping some of its provisions, and failing to pay the
full measure -of tax is assessed at too low a rate.
But the view we have taken is not sufficient
to dispose of the appeal. It may be recalled that the question arising out of
the order of the Tribunal was about the competence of the Income-tax Officer,
to initiate proceedings under S. 34 (I) (b). It is true that it was not argued
before the Tribunal on behalf of the Company that on the notice served by the
Income-tax Officer proceedings for reassessment could only be initiated on the
ground that income had been the subject of excessive relief, and not on any
But the Company did contend that the
initiation of the reassessment proceeding was invalid, and the plea, that the
initiation was invalid because the notice was defective was only tin aspect of
the plea raised by the Company. The question is -originally raised by the
Tribunal, and as reframed by us, includes that enquiry.
Counsel for the Company did argue before the
High Court that in a proceeding to reassess income initiated on a notice that
income has been subject to excessive relief, the Income-tax Officer was
incompetent to reassess income on the footing that income was assessed at too
low a rate, but the High Court did not record their decision on that plea :
they merely suggested that it will be open to the Company to raise the question
when the matter is again taken up for consideration. If however the question
arising out of the order of the Tribunal was, as correctly pointed out by the
High Court, one about the "validity of initiation of proceeding under s.
34(1) (b)", the High Court was bound to decide all aspects of that
question raised before them, before recording an answer : if they did not, the
Tribunal would 807 be powerless to enter upon an enquiry of any other aspect of
the question after answer to the question is recorded by the High, Court. We
are unable to agree with the assumption made by the High Court that because a
particular aspect of the question of law raised was not specifically argued
before the Tribunal, the High Court cannot deal with that aspect.
We are, in the state of the record before us,
unable to record an answer to the question, and the case must be remanded to
the High Court to determine whether the proceedings were validly initiated on
the notice issued against the Company. The notice which was served upon the
Company is not included in the paper book prepared for use in this Court. The
notice must of necessity be part of the record of the Income-tax Officer, even
if it be not on the record of the Tribunal. It will be open to the High Court,
in determining the contention raised by the Company, to call for a
supplementary statement of the case relating to the form and contents of the
notice and the validity thereof from the Tribunal. After receiving the
supplementary statement, if any, the High Court will proceed to dispose of the
third question in the light of the reasons set out by us in this judgment..
Costs of this appeal will be costs in the High Court.
Y.P. Appeal remanded.