Bhupendra Shah

Bhupendra Shah1. Preamble:- Since long the heated controversy is persisting whenever the question of priority of income tax dues arises vis-à-vis the rights of secured creditors of the assessee. The judicial views were not unanimous on the said issue since long.

2. Income tax dues v/s rights of secured creditors

a. In the case of Dena Bank vs. BHIKHABHAI PRABHUDAS PAREKH & CO. & ORS. [247 ITR 165 (SC)] it was held that, “The Crown’s preferential right to recovery of debts, over other creditors is confined to ordinary or unsecured creditors. The Common Law of England or the principles of equity and good conscience (as applicable to India) do not accord the Crown a preferential right for recovery of its debts over a mortgagee or pledgee of goods or a secured creditor. It is only in cases where the Crown’s right and that of the subject meet at one and the same time that the Crown is in general preferred. Where the right of the subject is complete and perfect before that the King commences, the rule does not apply, for there is no point of time at which the two rights are at conflict, nor can there be a question which of the two ought to prevail in a case where one, that of the subject, has prevailed already. Sec. 158(1) of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act specifically provides that the claim of the State Government to any moneys recoverable under the provisions of Chapter XVI shall have precedence over any other debts, demand or claim whatsoever including in respect of mortgage. Sec. 158 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act not only gives a statutory recognition to the doctrine of State’s priority for recovery of debts but also extends its applicability over private debts forming subject-matter of mortgage, judgment-decree, execution or attachment and the like.—Builders Supply Corporation vs. Union of India AIR 1965 SC 1061 relied on; Collector of Aurangabad vs. Central Bank of India AIR 1967 SC 1831 distinguished. A legislation may be made to commence from a back date, i.e., from a date previous to the date of its enactment. To make a law governing a past period on a subject is retrospectivity. A legislature is competent to enact such a law. The ordinary rule is that a legislative enactment comes into operation only on its enactment. Retrospectivity is not to be inferred unless expressed or necessarily implied in the legislation, specially those dealing with substantive rights and obligations. It is a misnomer to say that sub-s. (2A) of s. 15 of the Karnataka Sales-tax Act is being given retrospective operation. Determining the obligation of the partners to pay the tax assessed against the firm by making them personally liable is not the same thing as giving the amendment a retrospective operation. Principle of s. 25 of Partnership Act cannot be stretched and extended to such situations in which the firm is deemed to be a person and hence a legal entity for certain purpose. The Karnataka Sales-tax Act also gives the firm a legal status by treating it as a dealer and hence a person for the limited purpose of assessing under the Sales-tax Act.—CST vs. Radhakishan AIR 1979 SC 1588 and ITO vs. Arunagiri Chettiar (1996) 134 CTR (SC) 167 : (1996) 220 ITR 232 (SC) relied on. The counsel for the appellant is right in submitting that on the day on which the State of Karnataka proceeded to attach and sell the property of the partners of the firm mortgaged with the bank, it could not have appropriated the sale proceeds to sales-tax arrears payable by the firm and defeating the bank’s security in view of the law as laid down by this Court in CST vs. Radhakishan (1979) 43 STC 4 : AIR 1979 SC 1588. However, still in the facts and circumstances of the case, the appellant bank cannot be allowed any relief. Sec. 15(2A) of Karnataka Sales-tax Act had come into force on 18th Dec., 1983 while the decree in favour of the bank was passed on 3rd Aug., 1992 and is yet to be executed. The claim of the appellant bank is still outstanding. Even if the sale held by the State is set aside, it will merely revive the arrears outstanding on account of sales-tax to which further interest and penalty shall have to be added. The amended s. 15(2A) of the Karnataka Sales-tax Act shall apply. The State shall have a preferential right to recover its dues over the rights of the appellant bank and the property of the partners shall also be liable to be proceeded against. No useful purpose would therefore, be served by allowing the appeal which will only further complicate the controversy.—CST vs. Radhakishan AIR 1979 SC 1588 distinguished. State had preferential right to recover sales-tax dues over the rights of bank and property of the partners could also be liable to be proceeded against for the dues of the firm.”

b. Recently, in the case of Stock Exchange, Bombay v. V.S. Kandalgaonkar [(2014) 51 taxmann.com 246 (SC)] it was held that, “By virtue of lien on securities under rule 43 of Bombay Stock Exchange Rules, BSE being secured creditor of defaulting member would have priority over dues of Income – tax department.”While dealing with the tax recovery u/s 226 of the Income-tax Act, 1961, read with sections 8 and 9 of the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956, it was held by the Apex Court that collection and recovery of tax has to be based on proper appreciation of facts of the case. While deciding Other modes of recovery (Priority over debts), the Apex Court duly considered the power of Central Government to direct rules to be made or to make rules and observed that a membership card is only a personal permission from Stock Exchange to exercise rights and privileges that may be given subject to Rules, Bye-Laws and Regulations of Exchange and moment a member is declared a defaulter, his right of nomination shall cease and vest in Exchange because even personal privilege given is at that point taken away from defaulting member. It therefore held that by virtue of rule 43 of Bombay Stock Exchange Rules security provided by a member shall be a first and paramount lien for any sum due to Stock Exchange. Thus, Bombay Stock Exchange being secured creditor would have priority over Govt. dues and if a member of BSE was declared a defaulter, Income-tax department would not have priority over all debts owned by defaulter member. The first thing to be noticed is that the Income Tax Act does not provide for any paramountancy of dues by way of income tax. This is why the Court in the case of  Dena Bank v. Bhikhabhai Prabhudas Parekh & Co. [2005] 5 SCC 694 (para 19) held that Government dues only have priority over unsecured debts and in so holding the Court referred to a judgment in Giles v. Grover (1832) (131) English Reports 563 in which it has been held that the Crown has no precedence over a pledgee of goods. In the present case, the common law of England qua Crown debts became applicable by virtue of Article 372 of the Constitution which states that all laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution shall continue in force until altered or repealed by a competent legislature or other competent authority. In fact, in Collector of Aurangabad v. Central Bank of India [1967] 3 SCR 855 after referring to various authorities held that the claim of the Government to priority for arrears of income tax dues stems from the English common law doctrine of priority of Crown debts and has been given judicial recognition in British India prior to 1950 and was therefore “law in force” in the territory of India before the Constitution and was continued by Article 372 of the Constitution (at page 861, 862). In the present case, as has been noted above, the lien possessed by the Stock Exchange makes it a secured creditor. That being the case, it is clear that whether the lien under Rule 43 is a statutory lien or is a lien arising out of agreement does not make much of a difference as the Stock Exchange, being a secured creditor, would have priority over Government dues.

3. Conclusion:- Therefore, the present welcome judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of V.S. Kandalgaonkar sets at rest the ongoing controversy and clearly holds that there is priority of rights of secured creditors over the rights of income tax department while recovering dues. This will go a long way and help those secured creditors who are facing difficulties in this regard at no fault of theirs.

(Author can be reached at bhupendrashahca@hotmail.com***9322507220)

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