Commissioner of Income Tax, Gujarat Vs.
M/S. S. C. Kothari  INSC 269 (5 October 1971)
CITATION: 1972 AIR 391 1972 SCR (1) 950
CITATOR INFO :
RF 1977 SC1142 (8) F 1980 SC1271 (6)
Income tax act (11 of 1922) ss 10 (1) and (2)
and s. 24 (1)--Scope of.
Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1952 s.
15(4)-Contract in violation of-If illegal
Section 15(4) of the Forward Contracts
(Regulation) Act, 1952 is conceived in the larger interest of the public to protect
them against the malpractices indulged in by members of recognised associations
in respect of transactions in which their duties as agents come into conflict
with their personal interest. Parliament had made a writing, evidencing or
confirming the consent or authority of a non- member, as a condition of the
contract if the member has entered into a contract on his own account. So long
as there was no such writing there was no enforceable contract.
Under the Act, there is not only an express
prohibition but also punishment for contravention of that prohibition.
The assessee, a registered firm, was a member
of the Saurashtra Oil and Oilseeds Association, and was carrying on the
business of commission agency and general merchants. It was also doing forward
business. During the assessment year 1958-59 it incurred a loss in certain
transactions. Those transactions were in contravention of the provisions of s.
15(4) of the Forward Contracts (Regulation)
Act. The assessee claimed that the loss was allowable under s. 10(1) of the
Income-tax Act, 1922, as a deduction against its other business income even if
the losses were incurred in illegal transactions. The Income-tax Officer
rejected the contention of the assessee, and also held that the losses incurred
in illegal business could not be deducted from speculative profits under s. 24
of the Income-tax Act. The Appellate Assistant Commissioner confirmed the
order. The Tribunal held that the assessee could not set off the loss against
the other income under s. 10(1) of the Income-tax Act but was entitled to do so
under s. 24.
On the questions referred to the High Court
namely : (1) Whether the loss was in respect of illegal contracts, (2) Whether
the loss was a result of speculative transactions and therefore could be set
off under s. 24 of the Income-tax Act, and (3) whether even if the loss was as
a result of illegal transactions the assessee was entitled to set off the loss
under s. 10(1) of the Income-tax Act, the High Court did not answer the first
question but held that the losses could be set off both under s. 10 and s. 24
of the Income-tax Act.
In appeal to this Court,
HELD:(1) It is well settled that contracts
which are prohibited by statute, the prohibition being either express or
implied, would be illegal and unenforceable if they are entered into in
contravention of the statute. Therefore, the contracts in the present case,
were illegal contracts and the loss was in respect of such illegal contracts.
[955 C-D] Sunder Lal v. Bharat Handicrafts  1 S.C.R. 608, followed.
951 (2)Under Explanation 2 of s. 24 a
speculative transaction means a transaction in which a contract for purchase
and sale of any commodity is periodically or ultimately settled otherwise than
by actual delivery etc.; but the contract has to be an enforceable contract and
not an unenforceable one by reason of any taint or illegality. In the present
case, the contracts were illegal and unenforceable on account of the
contravention of s. 15(4) of the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act. The High
Court was therefore in error in considering that set off could be allowed under
s. 24(1) of the Income-tax Act. [959 D-F] (3)While s. 10(1) of the Income-tax
Act imposes a charge on profits or gains of a business it does not provide how
those profits are to be computed. Section 10(2) enumerates various items which
are admissible as deductions but they are not exhaustive. The profits and gains
which are liable to tax under s. 10(1) are what are understood to be such under
ordinary commercial practice. The loss for which the deduction is claimed must
be one that springs directly from the carrying on of the business and is
incidental to it, that is, the profit was earned and the loss was sustained in
the same business. If this is established the deduction must be allowed
provided that there is no provision against it. If the business is illegal,
neither the profits earned nor the losses incurred would be enforceable in law
but that does not take the profits out of the taxing statute. Simi- larly, the
taint of illegality of the business cannot detract from the loss being taken
into account for computation of the amount which can BE subjected to tax as
profits. Cases which deal with payment of a penalty for infraction of law or
the execution of some illegal activity stand on a different footing, because,
an expenditure is not deductible unless it is a commercial loss in trade and
such a penalty cannot be described as such. [956 G-H. 957 A-B, D- E, G-H; 959
H; 960 A-B] [Since in the present case no finding was given by the High Court
that the two businesses in which profits were made and losses were sustained
were the same, the matter was remanded to the High Court for decision on this
point.] Raj Woollen Industries v. C.I.T., Simla, 43 I.T.R. 36, Chandrika Prasad
Ram Swarup v. C.I.T., U.P. & C.P., 7 I.T.R.
269, Badridas Daga v. Commissioner of
Income-tax, 34 I.T.R.
10, Haji Aziz & Abdul Shakhor Bros v.
C.I.T., Bombay City, 41 I.T.R. 350 and Allen v. Fraquharson Bros. 17 T.C. 59,
CIVIL APPFLLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeals
Nos. 1993 of 1968 and 1173 of 1971.
Appeals by certificate/special leave from the
judgment and order dated August 3, 4, 1967 of the Gujarat High Court in
Income-tax Reference No. 18 of 1966.
S. T. Desai, R. N. Sachthey and B. D. Sharma,
for the appellant (in both the appeals).
V.S. Desai, K. L. Hathi and P. C. Kapur, for
the respondent (in both the appeals).
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
Grover, J. This is ,in appeal from a judgment of the Gujarat High Court.
Originally an appeal (C.A. 1993/68) had 952 been brought by certificate but
that certificate was found to be defective as no reasons were stated therein
for granting it. A Petition for special leave, was, therefore, filed and the
same has been granted. Both the appeals shall stand disposed of by this
judgment. The assessee is a registered firm and carried on the business of
commission agency and general merchants. It also does forward business. It is a
member of the Saurashtra Oil and Oilseeds Association Ltd., Rajkot. During the
assessment year 1958- 59 the corresponding accounting period being the samvat
year 2013 the assessee claimed to have incurred a loss of Rs. 3 40,443/- in
certain transactions entered into with different people for the supply of
groundnut oil. The transactions, according to the assessee, were
non-transferable ready delivery contracts entered into with non-members of the
Association. It was expected that these contracts would be performed but owing
to certain reasons some of the contracts could not be performed and differences
had to be paid.
According to the assessee it had acted as a
The assessee claimed that the aforesaid loss
was allowable under s. 10(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1922 as a deduction against
its other business income. The Income tax Officer came to the conclusion that
the transactions in question were hit by the provisions of the Forward
Contracts Regulation Act, 1952, hereinafter called the 'Act' and the Rules and
Regulations of the Saurashtra Oil and Oilseeds Association Ltd. In particular
the transactions were hit by the provisions of sub-ss. (1) and (4) of s. 15 of
the Act and were not saved by s. 18. The losses were held to have been incurred
in illegal transactions. He rejected the contention of the assessee that even
on the assumption that the losses were incurred in illegal transactions they
could be allowed in the computation of the income. The Income tax Officer
further held that the losses incurred in illegal business could not be deducted
from the speculative profits under s. 24 of the Indian Income tax Act, 1922,
hereinafter called the "Act of 1922". The Appellate Assistant
Commissioner confirmed the order of the Income-tax Officer.
In the appeal before the Tribunal it was held
that the transactions in question were not illegal contracts but were contracts
which had been, validly entered into under the Act and the bye-laws etc. The
Tribunal thereafter proceeded to examine the question whether the losses
incurred could be allowed on the assumption that the transactions were illegal.
It was of the view that the assessee would be entitled to a set off under s. 24
even if the losses were incurred in illegal transactions. The Tribunal remanded
the matter for a report from the Appellate Assistant Commissioner as to the
applicability of the proviso to s. 24(1) (read with the Explanation) of the Act
of 1922. After the remand report was received the Tribunal gave the following
two findings : (1) the contracts under consideration were all 953
non-transferable specific delivery contracts where the intention ab initio was
either to give or take delivery (2) the contracts were entered into either for
the purchase or sale and later on the same quantity was either sold or
purchased back by the assessee on behalf of the same constituents at the market
rates prevailing at the material time i.e. they were squared up by
corresponding sales or purchases as the case might be. After referring to
certain decisions of High Courts the Tribunal held that the loss of Rs.
3,40,443 had been incurred in speculative transactions.
The Tribunal next proceeded to consider
whether notwithstanding that the losses had been incurred in speculative
transactions the assessee could set off those against the other income under s.
10(1) of the Act of 1922.
Purporting to follow the view of the majority
of the High Courts, the Tribunal held that such a loss could not be set off
against the other income. But according to the Tribunal the assessee was
certainly entitled to set off the loss against the profits in speculative
transactions and to that extent the contention of the assessee was accepted.
Both the assessee and the Commissioner of Income tax moved the Tribunal for
submitting a case and referring certain questions of law to the High Court.
Thus in all the following four questions were referred by the Tribunal (1)
Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case the contracts in
respect of which the loss of Rs. 3,40,443 was claimed were illegal contracts
and were not validly entered into under the Forward Contracts Regulation Act
1952 ? (2) Whether even assuming the transactions in which the loss of Rs.
3,40,443/- was incurred, were illegal transactions, the assessee would be
entitled to the set off of the said loss ? (3) Whether on the facts and in the
circumstances of the case the transactions resulting in a loss of Rs. 3,40,443
were speculative transactions for the purpose of s.
24 of the Indian Income tax Act 1922 merely
on the ground that The assesses had not performed the contracts by giving
delivery and had paid damages in settlement of the obligations contracted for ?
(4) Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case the assessee is
entitled to set off the balance of the loss of Rs. 1,21,397/- against the
assessee's other income ?" The High Court did not consider that it was
necessary to answer the first question. The answer to the second question was
that 954 even though the disputed contracts were not validly entered into in
accordance with the provisions of S. 15(4) of the Act the loss ,of Rs.
3,40,443/- was liable to be taken into account in computing the business
income, of the assessee under S. IO of the Act of 1922 and the assessee was
entitled to set it off against the profits fro other speculative transactions.
The third question was answered in the affirmative with the result that the
transactions resulting in the loss of Rs. 3,40,443/- were held to be
speculative for the purpose of s. 24 of the Act of 1922. The fourth question
was answered in the negative and against the assessee. It is the Commissioner
of Income tax alone who has appealed.
So far as the first question is concerned we
are unable to comprehend why the High Court did not decide it. A lot of debate
took place before us on the question whether the contravention of S. 15 (4) of
the Act would render the contracts illegal. According to that provision no
member of a recognised Association shall, in respect of any goods specified in
the notification under sub-s. (1), enter into any contract on his own account
with any person other than, a member of the recognised Association unless he
has secured the, consent or authority of such person and disclosed in the note
memorandum or agreement of sale or purchase that he has bought or sold the
goods as the case may be on his own account. It is not necessary to refer to
the proviso. It is common ground and has been admitted before us that there was
a clear contravention of the provisions of S. 15(4) so far as the transactions
in question were concerned.
According to S. 20(e) any person who enters
into any contract in contravention of the provisions of S. 15(4) among other
sections shall on conviction be punishable for the first offence with
imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine of not less than Rs.
1,000/- or with both.
It is wholly incomprehensible how such a
contract would not fall directly within the ambit of the first part of s. 23 of
the Indian Contract Act which deals with consideration or object of an
agreement which is forbidden by law. Such consideration or object would be
unlawful according to the provisions of that section and the agreement would
consequently be 'void. The High Court did not decide the point whether the
contracts which contravened the provisions of S. 15(4) of the Act were illegal.
It did not consider it material to decide whether the impugned contracts were
illegal. In its opinion what was material was that the impugned contracts had
been entered into unlawfully and the question was whether the loss sustained in
the unlawful business could be taken into account in computing the business
income of the assessee. We consider that the first question which was referred
to the High Court stands concluded by the law laid down by this Court in
Sunderlal & Son v. 955 Bharat Handicrafts (P) Ltd..(1) It was laid down
that the prohibition imposed by s. 15 (4) of the Act was not imposed in the
interest of revenue. That provision was conceived in the larger interest of the
public to protect them against the malpractices indulged in by members of recognised
associations in respect of transactions in which their duties as agents came
into conflict with their personal interest. Parliament had made a writing,
evidencing or confirming the consent or authority of a non-member, as a
condition of the contract if the member has entered into a contract on his own
account. So long as there was no writing as was contemplated by s. 15 (4) or
its proviso there was no enforceable contracts It is well settled that
contracts which are prohibited by statute the prohibition being either express
or implied would be illegal and unenforceable if they are entered into in
contravention of the statute. Under the provisions of the Act there is not only
an express prohibition (s., 15 (4) ) but punishment is also provided for contravention
of that prohibition, (s' 20). Such contracts could not possibly be regarded as
having been validly entered into under the Act.
The answer 'to the first question, therefore,
should have been in the affirmative and against the assessee.
Coming to the second question, the language
thereof is some- what ambiguous and the question was not framed properly. It
appears that there were two aspects which had come up for consideration before
the departmental authorities the Tribunal and the High Court. The first aspect
related to the deduction of the loss of Rs. 3.40,443/- incurred in the
aforesaid illegal transactions while computing the profits of the assessee's
speculative business under s. 10(1). The other was the set off which can be
allowed within the relevant parts of s. 24 of the, Act of 1922. The High Court
referred to various English decisions as also to Wheat croft's Law of Income
tax and Simon's Income tax for supporting the 'View that even where a trade is
illegal it would still be a trade within the meaning of income tax law and if
any profits are derives from such trade they would be assessable to tax. The
High Court did not accept the contention urged on behalf of the Revenue that
although the profits from an, illegal I trade or business would be exigible to
tax the losses from such business could not be taken Court observed "There
is in principle no distinction between profits and losses of a business and if
the profits of an illegal business are assessable to tax, equally the losses
arising (1)  1 S.C.R. 608.
956 from illegal business must be held to be
liable to be taken into account in computing the income of the assessee'.
The High Court was not inclined to accede to
the submission on behalf of the Revenue that the same principle would be
applicable as has been applied in certain cases in which the question which
came up for determination was whether an expenditure, incurred on an illegal
activity would be deductible under S. 10 (2) (xv) of the Act of 1922. One of
such cases, is a decision of the Punjab High Court in Raj Woollen Industries v.
Commissioner of Income tax, Simla(1).
In that case the real question was whether a
certain amount which was paid to achieve what was prohibited by law, viz., the
export of wool without having the requisite export licence was an amount which
the assessee was entitled to deduct under S. 10 (2) (xv) of the Act of 1922. It
was held that according to principle and authority such a deduction could not
be claimed. It was also observed that such a deduction would not be permissible
even under S. 10(1).
Following observations may be referred to :
.lm15 "Profits had to be ascertained
according to the accepted principles of commercial accountancy and if S. 10(2)
(xv) did not permit deduction of an item of expenditure which was laid out or
expended for carrying on the business in contravention of the law, then such an
outgoing though otherwise properly admissible, as set off against the gross
receipts on the principles of commercial accountancy could not be taken into
consideration in computing the profits".
On the other hand according to the decision
of a full bench of the, Allahabad High Court in Chandrika Prasad Ram Swarup v.
Commissioner of Income tax, U.P. & C.P. (2) income assessable to tax is the
actual income of an individual or a firm irrespective of the manner in which
the income was derived. Legality or illegality of the transaction culminating
in profits or losses, was, therefore, foreign to the scope of an inquiry into
the income of an individual or a firm for the purpose of income tax.
Now while s. 10(1) of the Act of 1922 imposes
a charge on the profits or gains of a business it does not provide how these
profits are to be computed. Section 10(2) enumerates various items which are
admissible as deductions. They are, however, not exhaustive of all allowances
which can be made in ascertaining the profits of a business taxable under S.
10(1). It is undoubtedly true that profits
and gains which are liable to be taxed under (1) 43 I.T.R. 36. (2) 7 I.T.R.
957 s.10(1) are what are understood to be
such under ordinary commercial principles. The loss for which the deduction is
claimed must be one that springs directly from the carrying on of the business
and is incidental to it. If this is established the deduction must be allowed
provided that there is no provision against it express or implied in the Act :
(See Badridas Daga V. Commissioner of Income tax(1).
In that case loss sustained by the business
by reason of embezzlement by an employee was held to be an admissible deduction
under s. 10(1) although it did not fall within s.
10(2) (xi) of the Act of 1922. Indeed profits
cannot be computed without deducting the loss and permissible expenses incurred
for-the purpose of the business.
The approach of the high Court in the present
case has been that in order to arrive at the figure of profits even of an
illegal business the loss must be deducted if it has actually been incurred in
the carrying on of that business.
It is the net profit after deducting the out
goings that can be brought to tax. It certainly seems to have been held and
that view has not been shown to be incorrect that so far as the admissible
deductions under s. 10(2) are concerned they cannot be claimed by the, assessee
if such expenses have been incurred in either payment of a penalty for
infraction of law or the execution of some illegal activity. This, however, is
based on the principle that an expenditure is not deductible unless it is a
commercial loss in trade and a penalty imposed for breach of the law during the
course of the trade cannot be described as such. Penalties which are incurred
for infraction of the law is not a normal incident of business and they fall on
the assessee in some character other than that of a trader; (See Haji Aziz &
Abdul Shakoor Bros v. Commissioner of Income tax, Bombay City(2). In that case
this Court said quite clearly that a disbursement is deductible only if it
falls within s. 10(2) (xv) of the Act of 1922 and a penalty cannot be regarded
as an expenditure wholly and exclusively laid for the purpose of the business.
Moreover disbursement or expense of a trader
is something "which comes out of his pocket. , A loss is something
different. That is not a thing which he expends or disburses. That is a thing
which comes upon him abextra" (Finlay J., in Allen v. Farquharson Brothers
& Co.) (3). If the 'business is illegal neither the profits earned nor the
losses incur-red would be enforceable in law. But that does not take the
profits. out of the taxing statute. Similarly the taint of illegality of the
business cannot detract from the losses being taken into account for
computation of the amount which can be subjected to tax as "profits"
under s. 1 0 ( 1 ) of the Act of (1)34 I.T.R. 10.
(3) 17 T.C. 59.
(2) 41 I.T.R. 350.
958 1922. The tax collector cannot be heard
to say that he will bring the gross receipts to tax. He can only tax profits of
a trade or business. That cannot be done without deducting the losses and the
legitimate expenses of the business. We concur in the view of the High Court
that for the purpose of s.10(1) the losses which have actually been incurred in
carrying on a particular illegal business must be deducted before the true
figure relating to profits which have to be brought to tax can be computed or
determined. This will, however, not conclude the answer to question No. 2
because it seems to have been framed with the other aspect relating to
"set off" under s.24 of the Act.
The High Court found that the transactions
were of a speculative nature. It was thus held that the loss of Rs. 3,40,443/-
sustained in the impugned contracts was liable to be set off against ,the
profit of Rs. 2,19,046/- which was admittedly a profit from speculative,
transactions. The concluding portion of the judgment of the High Court may be
reproduced because to Our mind it creates a certain amount of difficulty.
"The loss of Rs. 3,40,443/- sustained in
the impugned contracts was, therefore, liable to be set off only against the
profit of Rs. 2,19,046/- which was admittedly profit from speculative
transactions and the balance of Rs. 1,21,397/- after such set off was not
liable to be set off against the other income of the assessee in view of the
first proviso to s. 24(1). We may make it clear that in taking this view we
have proceeded upon the basis (that the impugned contracts which resulted in
the loss of Rs. 3,40,443 constituted a separate business distinct from the
business of forward contracts resulting in the profit of Rs. 2,19,046/-. The
result would, however, be the same even if the impugned contracts which
resulted in the loss of Rs. 3,40,443/- did not constitute a separate business
but were part of the same business of forward contracts which resulted in the
profit of Rs. 2,19,046/- for in that event the loss of Rs. 3,40,443 would be
liable to be taken into account in determining the profits from such business
under section 10".
Section 24, to the extent it is material for
our purposes, is set out below :
"Set off of loss in computing aggregate
income (1)Where any assessee sustains a loss of profits or gains in any year
under any of the heads mentioned in section 6, he shall be entitled to have the
amount of the 959 loss set off against his income, profits or gains under any
other head in that year Provided that in computing the profits and gains.
chargeable under the head "profits and gains of business, profession or
vocation" any loss sustained in speculative transactions which are in the
nature of a business shall not be taken into account except to the extent of
the amount of profits and gains, if any, in any other business consisting of
Explanation 1. Where the speculative
transactions carried on are of such a nature as to constitute a business, the
business shall be deemed to be distinct and separate from any other business.
Explanation 2. A speculative transaction
means a, transaction in which a contract for purchase and sale of any commodity
including stocks and shares is periodically or ultimately settled otherwise
than by actual delivery or. transfer of the commodity or scripts;" In
order to claim the set off the meaning of the speculative transaction has to be
first looked at. Under Explanation 2 such a transaction means a transaction in
which a contract for the purchase and sale of any commodity is periodically or
ultimately settled otherwise than by actual delivery etc.
Now the contract has to be an enforceable
contract and not an unenforceable one by reason of any taint of illegality
resulting in its invalidity. It has already been found by us that the contracts
in question were illegal and unenforceable on account of contravention of s.
15(4) of the Act. The High Court was in error in considering that any set off
could be allowed in the present case under the first proviso to s. 24(1) which
must be read with Explanation 2.
There would have been no difficulty in
disposing of the matter finally after the above discussion. But enough
attention was not devoted to the business which the assessee was doing and in
which the profit of Rs. 2,19,046 was made and the loss of Rs. 3,40,443 was
sustained. It has been found to be of a speculative nature but the High Court
has not clearly found that it was the same business in which the amount of the
profit and the loss mentioned above was earned and sustained in which case
alone a deduction will be possible of the loss under s. 10(1). The High Court
proceeded on the basis that if the business in which the profit was made and
the business in which the loss was incurred were separate a set off could be claimed
by the assessee under s. 24(1). If, however, the business was the same then the
loss would be liable to be taken 960 into account while computing the profits
under s.10(1). As we have come to the conclusion that no set off could be
allowed under S. 24(1) of the Act of 1922 it will have to be determined whether
the profits and losses were incurred in' the same business even though that
business involved the entering into contracts some of which were, in the eye of
the law, illegal. If the trade or the business, for instance, the business of
commission agency or forward business was the same in which the profits were
made and the loss was incurred then in order to arrive at the figure which can
be subjected to tax the loss will have to be deducted from the profit. For this
purpose we shall have to remit the matter to the High Court to decide this
point and if necessary, after calling for a supplementary statement of the
In the result our answer to the first
question is that the contracts were illegal. on the third and the fourth
questions there is no dispute nor has- any appeal been preferred by the
assessee relating to them that the answers returned by the High Court in the
affirmative and in the negative respectively were not correctly answered. As regards
question No. 2 the High Court will have to answer the same in the light of our
judgment. Th.-, appeal by special leave (i.e. C.A. 1173/71) shall stand
disposed of accordingly and the other appeal by certificate (i.e. C.A. 1993/68)
is hereby dismissed. There will be no order as to costs.
V.P.S. Appeal partly allowed.