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Supreme Court Saves Over 90,000 Income Tax Reassessment Notices Issued After 2021 Amendment By Deeming Them As Notices Under Section 148A

Sohini Chowdhury
4 May 2022 1:36 PM GMT
Supreme Court Saves Over 90,000 Income Tax Reassessment Notices Issued After 2021 Amendment By Deeming Them As Notices Under Section 148A
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The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, directed that reassessment notices under Section 148 of the unamended Income Tax Act which were issued beyond 01.04.2021 (the effective date of amendment of the said provision by the Finance Act, 2021) to be deemed to have been issued under Section 148A of the IT Act as substituted by the Finance Act, 2021 and be construed as show cause notices in terms of...

The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, directed that reassessment notices under Section 148 of the unamended Income Tax Act which were issued beyond 01.04.2021 (the effective date of amendment of the said provision by the Finance Act, 2021) to be deemed to have been issued under Section 148A of the IT Act as substituted by the Finance Act, 2021 and be construed as show cause notices in terms of section 148A(b).

While deciding an appeal against an order of the Allahabad High Court which had set aside the reassessment notices issued by the Revenue after 01.04.2021, under unamended Section 148 of the Income Tax Act, a Bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna passed a slew of directions in respect of such reassessment notices.

After 01.04.2021, about 90,000 reassessment notices were issued by the Revenue under Section 148 of the unamended Income Tax Act ("IT Act"). Such issuance was challenged in more than 9000 writ petitions before various High Courts across the country. Taking a similar view, various High Courts had set aside the said reassessment notices.

After hearing submissions and on perusal of statutory provisions and Government notifications, the Bench partly allowed the appeals and exercising power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India directed the orders of the High Court to be modified as under -

  1. The notices issued under unamended Section 148, shall be deemed to have been issued under Section 148A of the IT Act as substituted by the Finance Act, 2021 and construed or treated to be showcause notices in terms of section 148A(b). The assessing officer shall, within thirty days from today provide to the respective assessees information and material relied upon by the Revenue, so that the assesees can reply to the showcause notices within two weeks thereafter;
  2. The requirement of conducting any enquiry, if required, with the prior approval of specified authority under section 148A(a) is hereby dispensed with as a onetime measure vis-à-vis those notices which have been issued under section 148 of the unamended Act from 01.04.2021 till date, including those which have been quashed by the High Courts. Even otherwise, holding any enquiry with the prior approval of specified authority is not mandatory but it is for the concerned Assessing Officers to hold any enquiry, if required;
  3. The assessing officers shall thereafter pass orders in terms of section 148A(d) in respect of each of the concerned assessees; Thereafter after following the procedure as required under section 148A may issue notice under section 148 (as substituted);
  4. All defences which may be available to the assesses including those available under section 149 of the IT Act and all rights and contentions which may be available to the concerned assessees and Revenue under the Finance Act, 2021 and in law shall continue to be available.

Order to have Pan-India effect; not just to impugned judgments

The Court clarified that the above directions will have a pan-India effect and not just on the impugned judgments. This means, the directions will govern all other similar notices issued under the previous regime.

"We have also proposed to pass the aforesaid order in exercise of our powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India by holding that the present order shall govern, not only the impugned judgments and orders passed by the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, but shall also be made applicable in respect of the similar judgments and orders passed by various High Courts across the country and therefore the present order shall be applicable to PAN INDIA".

"The present order shall be applicable PAN INDIA and all judgments and orders passed by different High Courts on the issue and under which similar notices which were issued after 01.04.2021 issued under section 148 of the Act are set aside and shall be governed by the present order and shall stand modified to the aforesaid extent. The present order is passed in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India so as to avoid any further appeals by the Revenue on the very issue by challenging similar judgments and orders, with a view not to burden this Court with approximately 9000 appeals. We also observe that present order shall also govern the pending writ petitions, pending before various High Courts in which similar notices under Section 148 of the Act issued after 01.04.2021 are under challenge".

Directions issued to strike balance between revenue interest and rights of assessee

The Bench was of the opinion that the above-enumerated modifications would strike a balance between the rights of the Revenue as well as the assesses. It noted that revenue cannot be made to suffer in the present case when it had issued the 90,000 notices bonafide and moreover, if the Revenue is penalised the public exchequer would ultimately suffer.

The Parliament introduced reformative changes to Sections 147 to 151 of the Income Tax Act, 1961 governing reassessment proceedings by way of the Finance Act, 2021, which was passed on 28th March, 2021. By substitution of sections 147 to 151 of the Income Tax Act (IT Act) by the Finance Act, 2021, radical and reformative changes are made governing the procedure for reassessment proceedings. Amended sections 147 to 149 and section 151 of the IT Act prescribe the procedure governing initiation of reassessment proceedings.

Pre­-Finance Act, 2021, the reopening was permissible for a maximum period up to six years and in some cases beyond even six years leading to uncertainty for a considerable time. Therefore, Parliament thought it fit to amend the Income Tax Act to simplify the tax administration, ease compliances and reduce litigation. Therefore, with a view to achieve the said object, by the Finance Act, 2021, sections 147 to 149 and section 151 have been substituted.

Under the substituted provisions of the IT Act vide Finance Act, 2021, no notice under section 148 of the IT Act can be issued without following the procedure prescribed under section 148A of the IT Act.

By way of section 148A, the procedure for notice has now been streamlined and simplified.

As the reasons for the above directions, the bench observed as follows :

"....the new provisions substituted by the Finance Act, 2021 being remedial and benevolent in nature and substituted with a specific aim and object to protect the rights and interest of the assessee as well as and the same being in public interest, the respective High Courts have rightly held that the benefit of new provisions shall be made available even in respect of the proceedings relating to past assessment years, provided section 148 notice has been issued on or after 1st April, 2021. We are in complete agreement with the view taken by the various High Courts in holding so".

"However, at the same time, the judgments of the several High Courts would result in no reassessment proceedings at all, even if the same are permissible under the Finance Act, 2021 and as per substituted sections 147 to 151 of the IT Act. The Revenue cannot be made remediless and the object and purpose of reassessment proceedings cannot be frustrated. It is true that due to a bonafide mistake and in view of subsequent extension of time vide various notifications, the Revenue issued the impugned notices under section 148 after the amendment was enforced w.e.f. 01.04.2021, under the unamended section 148. In our view the same ought not to have been issued under the unamended Act and ought to have been issued under the substituted provisions of sections 147 to 151 of the IT Act as per the Finance Act, 2021. There appears to be genuine non­application of the amendments as the officers of the Revenue may have been under a bonafide belief that the amendments may not yet have been enforced.

Therefore, we are of the opinion that some leeway must be shown in that regard which the High Courts could have done so. Therefore, instead of quashing and setting aside the reassessment notices issued under the unamended provision of IT Act, the High Courts ought to have passed an order construing the notices issued under unamended Act/unamended provision of the IT Act as those deemed to have been issued under section 148A of the IT Act as per the new provision section 148A and the Revenue ought to have been permitted to proceed further with the reassessment proceedings as per the substituted provisions of sections 147 to 151 of the IT Act as per the Finance Act, 2021, subject to compliance of all the procedural requirements and the defences, which may be available to the assessee under the substituted provisions of sections 147 to 151 of the IT Act and which may be available under the Finance Act, 2021 and in law".

[Case Title: Union of India v. Ashish Agarwal Civil Appeal No. 3005 of 2022]

Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 444

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment     


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