Supreme Court explains scope and interpretation of Section 44BB of the Income Tax Act 1961

Supreme Court explains scope and interpretation of Section 44BB of the Income Tax Act 1961. Provisions of Sections 5 and 9 not excluded where Section 44BB is opted

scope and interpretation of Section 44BB

ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 2109 (2017) (11) SC

Brief Facts of the Case:
For computation of profits and gains of a business, to make it exigible to tax under the Act, provisions contained in Chapter IV, from Sections 28 to 41, 43 and 43A of the Act apply. However, in those cases where the assessee is a non-resident and specifically engaged in the business of exploration etc. of mineral oil, special mechanism is provided in Section 44BB of the Act for computation of profits and gains, on which the tax is charged. It, however, gives choice to such non-resident assessees to opt for computation formula provided under Section 44BB or to be covered by normal computation mechanism contained in Sections 28 to 41, 43 and 43A of the Act. Section 44BB of the Act stipulates that a sum equal to 10% of the ‘aggregate of the amounts specified in sub-section (2)’ shall be deemed to be the profits and gains of such business chargeable to tax under the head ‘profits and gains of business or profession’. Thus, concessional rate of 10% is charged as tax, which is admittedly much less than the normal tax rate payable on profits and gains of business or profession. However, this tax @10% is on the aggregate of the amounts specified in sub-section (2) which are “deemed” profits and gains of such business. Thus, insofar as calculation of profits and gains of the business under Section 44BB of the Act is concerned, on which 10% tax is payable, it is worked out on fictional basis by adopting the formula laid down in sub-section (2). Sub-section (2) mentions those amounts aggregate whereof is to be treated as deemed profits and gains of such a business.

In the instant case, different appeals had been filed by different appellants. The lead assessee company were engaged in executing the contracts all over the world including India in connection with exploration and production of mineral oil. The companies were incorporated outside India and, therefore, non-resident within the meaning of Section 6 of the Act. The assessees entered into agreements with ONGC, Enron Oil and Gas India Ltd. The agreements provided for payment of mobilisation charges for the transport of the drilling unit from a location outside India to designated drilling places in India.

The Assessing Officer (‘AO’)  included the amounts received for mobilisation/demobilisation to the gross revenue to arrive at the “profits and gains” for the purpose of computing TAX under Section 44BB of the Act. The High Court held that the mobilisation charges reimbursed inter alia even for the services rendered outside India were taxable under Section 44BB of the Act as the same is not governed by the charging provisions of Sections 5 and 9 of the Act.

The High Court opined that Mobilisation/demobilisation advance, custom duty reimbursement and operational charges reimbursement be also included as amounts received for computation of aggregate of amounts specified in sub-section (2) as deemed to be the profits and gains of the businesses of the assessees, chargeable to tax under the said provision

Observations made by the Supreme Court:
The Hon’ble Supreme Court opined that the High Court was not entirely correct in law in excluding the provisions of Sections 5 and 9 in those cases where the assessment is opted by the assessee under Section 44BB of the Act.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court opined that Section 44BB of the Act is a special provision providing computation mechanism for computing profits and gains in case of non-resident assessee engaged in activities relating to business of exploration of mineral oil etc. At the same time Sections 4, 5 and 9 of the Act which deal with charging section, total income and income of non-resident which arises or deem to arise in India cannot be sidetracked. These are the provisions which bring a particular income within the net of income tax. Therefore, it is imperative that a particular income is covered by the charging provisions contained in Section 5 of the Act.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that Indian Income Tax Act follows a territorial system of taxation. As per this system only that income of a non-resident is taxable in India which is attributable to operations within the Indian Territory. Therefore, in the first instance it is to be seen whether a particular income arises or accrues or deem to arise or accrue within India. In order to seek this answer, the principles contained in Section 9 have to be applied only when it becomes an income taxable in India as per Section 9, in case of non-resident, the question of computation of the said income would arise. To recapitulate the scheme of the Act in this behalf, it may be stated that Section 4 is the charging section for levying a tax on the income of any person under the Act and provides that income-tax shall be levied at the rates provided by the Finance Act on the ‘total income’ of the previous year of every person. The expression ‘total income’ has been defined in Section 2(45) of the Act to mean the total amount of income referred to in Section 5 computed in the manner laid down under the Act.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court explained that the scope of the total income of any person, which could be subjected to tax under the provisions of the Act, is defined under Section 5 of the Act and dependent upon the residential status of the persons. Section 5(1) provides the scope of ‘total income’ in the case of residents, whereas Section 5(2) provides the scope of ‘total income’ in the case of non-residents. As per Section 5(2) of the Act, subject to the provisions of this Act, the ‘total income’ of any previous year of non-resident includes:

  • Income which is received or deemed to be received in India in such year or on behalf of such person; or
  • Income which ‘accrues or arises’ or is deemed to accrue or arise to him in India during such year.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court further explained the scope of section 9 of the Act as under:

Section 9 enumerates the income which is deemed to accrue or arise in India. There are two broad categories of taxability of income provided under this Section, i.e., Business Income and income from interest or royalty or fees for technical services (FTS).

Section 9(1)(i) provides that income is to be deemed to have accrued or arising in India if the income is accruing directly or indirectly through any business connection in India or from any property in India or from any asset or source of income in India or any capital asset situated in India (referred as business income).

Explanation 1(a) to Section 9(1)(i) of the Act provides an exclusion in the case of operations which are not carried out in India. The explanation provides that the income of the business deemed under this clause to accrue or arise in India shall be only that part of the income as is reasonably attributable to the operations carried out in India. Thus, business income earned by non-resident is chargeable to tax in India only to the extent reasonably attributable to the operations carried out in India.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that Section 44BB(2) makes certain receipts as “deemed income” for the purposes of taxation in the said provision. Therefore, aid of this provision is to be necessarily taken to determine whether a particular amount will be “income” within the meaning of Section 5 of the Act. Likewise, Section 44BB(2) also acts as guide to determine whether a particular income is attributed as income occurred in India. Section 44BB of the Act provides for special provision for computing profits and gains. However, that would not mean that if the income is to be computed under this provision, we have to give a go-by to Sections 5 and 9 of the Act. To this extent, remarks of the High Court may not be correct.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the Law in this behalf is settled and sections 4, 5 and 9 of the Act are to be kept in mind even in those cases where assessment is done under Section 44BB of the Act. The argument of the assessees that Section 44BB is only a computation provision was not entirely justified.

Reverting to the facts of the case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that as per the agreement, the ‘mobilisation fee’ was payable for the mobilisation of the drilling unit from the place of its origin to the port of entry. A fixed amount of mobilisation fee was payable under the contracts as “compensation”. Contracts specifically described the aforesaid amounts as ‘fee’.

Thus in the light of the above the Hon’ble Supreme Court had to consider as to whether the mobilisation it would be treated as “income” under Section 5 of the Act and can be attributed as income earned in India as per Section 9 of the Act. For this purpose, Section 44BB(2) has to be invoked.

Section 44BB starts with non-obstante clause, and the formula contained therein for computation of income is to be applied irrespective of the provisions of Sections 28 to 41 and Sections 43 and 43A of the Act. It is not in dispute that assessees were assessed under the said provision which is applicable in the instant case. For assessment under this provision, a sum equal to 10% of the aggregate of the amounts specified in sub-section (2) shall be deemed to be the profits and gains of such business chargeable to tax under the head ‘profits and gains of the business or profession’. Sub-section (2) mentions two kinds of amounts which shall be deemed as profits and gains of the business chargeable to tax in India. Sub-clause (a) thereof relates to amount paid or payable to the assessee or any person on his behalf on account of provision of services and facilities in connection with, or supply of plant and machinery on hire used, or to be used in the prospecting for, or extraction or production of, mineral oils in India. Thus, all amounts pertaining to the aforesaid activity which are received on account of provisions of services and facilities in connection with the said facility are treated as profits and gains of the business. This clause clarifies that the amount so paid shall be taxable whether these are received in India or outside India. Clause (b) deals with amount received or deemed to be received in India in connection with such services and facilities as stipulated therein. Thus, whereas clause (a) mentions the amount which is paid or payable, clause (b) deals with the amounts which are received or deemed to be received in India. In respect of amount paid or payable under clause (a) of sub-section (2), it is immaterial whether these are paid in India or outside India. On the other hand, amount received or deemed to be received have to be in India.

Amount paid under the aforesaid contracts as mobilisation fee on account of provision of services and facilities in connection with the extraction etc. of mineral oil in India and against the supply of plant and machinery on hire used for such extraction, clause (a) stands attracted. Thus, this provision contained in Section 44BB has to be read in conjunction with Sections 5 and 9 of the Act and Sections 5 and 9 of the Act cannot be read in isolation. The aforesaid amount paid to the assessees as mobilisation fee is treated as profits and gains of business and, therefore, it would be “income” as per Section 5. This provision also treats this income as earned in India, fictionally, thereby satisfying the test of Section 9 of the Act as well.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court concurred with the ITAT and opined that the Tribunal had rightly commented that Section 44BB of the Act is a special provision for computing profits and gains in connection with the business of exploration of mineral oils. Its purpose was explained by the Department vide its Circular No. 495 dated September 22, 1987, namely, to simplify the computation of taxable income as number of complications were involved for those engaged in the business of providing services and facilities in connection with, or supply of plant and machinery on hire used or to be used in the prospecting for, or extraction or production of, mineral etc. Instead of going into the nitigrities of such computation as per the normal provisions contained in Sections 28 to 41 and Sections 43 and 43A of the Act, the Legislature has simplified the procedure by providing that tax shall be paid @10% of the ‘aggregate of the amounts specified in sub-section (2)’ and those amounts are ‘deemed to be the profits and gains of such business chargeable to tax…’. It is a matter of record that when income is computed under the head ‘profits and gains of business or profession’, rate of tax payable on the said income is much higher. However, the Legislature provided a simple formula, namely, treating the amounts paid or payable (whether in or out of India) and amount received or deemed to be received in India as mentioned in sub-section (2) of Section 44BB as the deemed profits and gains. Thereafter, on such deemed profits and gains (treating the same as income), a concessional flat rate of 10% is charged to tax. In these circumstances, the AO is supposed to apply the provisions of Section 44BB of the Act, in order to find out as to whether a particular amount is deemed income or not. When it is found that the amount paid or payable (whether in or out of India), or amount received or deemed to be received in India is covered by sub-section (2) of Section 44BB of the Act, by fiction created under Section 44BB of the Act, it becomes ‘income’ under Sections 5 and 9 of the Act as well.

Thus the Hon’ble Supreme Court opined that in the instant case, the amount which was paid to the assessees was towards mobilisation fee. It did not mention that the same is for reimbursement of expenses. In fact, it is a fixed amount paid which may be less or more than the expenses incurred. Incurring of expenses, therefore, would be immaterial. It is also to be borne in mind that the contract in question was indivisible.

Decision/Held:
The ultimate conclusion drawn by the AO was held as correct.

scope and interpretation of Section 44BB

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