CA Sandeep Kanoi, Riya Dani

Introduction:

Agricultural income earned by a taxpayer in India is exempt under Section 10(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1961. Agricultural income is defined under section 2(1A) of the Income-tax Act.

As per section 2(1A), agricultural income generally means  (a) Any rent or revenue derived from land which is situated in India and is used for agricultural purposes. (b) Any income derived from such land by agriculture operations including processing of agricultural produce so as to render it fit for the market or sale of such produce. (c) Any income attributable to a farm house subject to satisfaction of certain conditions specified in this regard in section 2(1A). Any income derived from saplings or seedlings grown in a nursery shall be deemed to be agricultural income.

Meaning of Agricultural Income:

Section 2 (1A) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 defines “agricultural income” as an income under the following three sources:

(i) Any rent or revenue derived from land which is situated in India and is used for agricultural purposes: The assessee will not be liable to pay tax on the rent or revenue arising from agricultural land subject to the conditions:

(a) The land should either be assessed to land revenue in India or be subject to a local rate assessed and collected by officers of the Government.

(b) In instances where such a land revenue is not assessed or not subject to local rate, the land should not be situated within the jurisdiction of a municipality (whether known as a municipality, municipal corporation, notified area committee, town area committee, town committee or by any other name) or a cantonment board, and which has a population of more than ten thousand (according to the last preceding census which has been published before the first day of the previous year in which the sale of land takes place); or it should not be situated:

  • more than 2kms. from the local limits of any municipality or cantonment board and which has a population of more than 10,000 but not exceeding 1,00,000; or
  • not being more than 6kms. from the local limits of any municipality or cantonment board and which has a population of more than 1,00,000 but not exceeding 10,00,000; or
  • not being more than 8kms. from the local limits of any municipality or cantonment board and which has a population of more than 10,00,000.

(c) The revenue must not include any income arising out of transfer of such land.

Further, a direct nexus between the agricultural land and the receipt of income by way of rent or revenue is essential. (For instance, a landlord could receive revenue from a tenant.)

(ii) Any income derived from such land by agricultural operations including processing of agricultural produce, raised or received as rent in kind or any process ordinarily employed by cultivator or receiver of rent-in-kind so as to render it fit for the market, or sale of such produce.

(iii) Any income derived from any building owned and occupied by the assessee, receiving rent or revenue from the land, by carrying out agricultural operations: The building must be on or in the immediate vicinity of the land. It must be used by the assesee as a dwelling house or store-house or an out-building, in connection with the land.

Hence, we can consider income attributable to a farmhouse as an agricultural income, subject to the above conditions. Normally, the annual value of a building is taxable as ‘income from house property’. However, in the case of a farm house, the annual value would be deemed agricultural income and thus, be exempt from tax.

In addition to the above, income derived from saplings or seedlings grown in nursery is also considered as agricultural income.

In order to consider an income as agricultural income, certain points have to be kept in mind:

(i) Existence of a land.

(ii) Usage of land for agricultural operations: Agricultural operations means efforts induced for the crop to sprout out of the land. The ambit of agricultural income covers income from agricultural operations, which includes processes undertaken to make the produce fit for sale in the market. Both, rent or revenue from the agricultural land and income earned by the cultivator or receiver by way of sale of produce are exempt from tax only if agricultural operations are performed on the land.

(iii) Cultivation of Land is a must: Some measure of cultivation is necessary for land to have been used for agricultural purposes. The ambit of agriculture covers all land produce like grain, fruits, tea, coffee, spices, commercial crops, plantations, groves, and grasslands. However, the breeding of livestock, aqua culture, dairy farming, and poultry farming on agricultural land cannot be construed as agricultural operations.

(iv) Ownership of Land is not essential: In the case of rent or revenue, it is essential that the assessee has an interest in the land (as an owner or a mortgagee) to be eligible for tax-free income. However, in the case of agricultural operations, it is not necessary that the cultivator be the owner of the land. He could be a tenant or a sub-tenant. In other words, all tillers of land are agriculturists and enjoy exemption from tax. In certain cases, further processes may be necessary to make a commodity marketable out of agricultural produce. The sales proceeds in such cases are considered agricultural income because the producer’s final objective is to sell his products.

Note:

a. Agricultural income is considered for rate purpose while computing the tax liability for Individual/HUF/AOP/BOI/Artificial Judicial Person.

b. Losses from agricultural operations could be carried forward and set off with agricultural income for the next eight assessment years.

c. Agriculture income is computed in a manner similar to business income.

Exceptions:

a. If a person sells processed produce without carrying out any agricultural or processing operations, the income would not be regarded as agricultural income.

b. Likewise, in cases where the produce is subjected to substantial processing which changes the very nature of the product (for instance, canning of fruits), the entire operation is not considered as an agricultural operation. The profit from the sale of such processed products will have to be apportioned between agricultural income and business income.

c. Income from trees that have been cut and sold as timber is not considered as an agricultural income since there is no active involvement in operations like cultivation and soil treatment.

Tax on sale of agricultural land: Before 1970, profit on the sale or transfer of all agricultural land was considered rent or revenue derived from the land. Such profit was, therefore, tax-exempt as agricultural income. There were several favorable judgments of various High Courts on the issue. However, via a retrospective amendment that took effect from April 1, 1970, land qualifies to be an agricultural land if the prescribed conditions are satisfied. An agricultural land does not form part of the definition of a capital asset and hence, there will be no capital gains on the sale of such land.

Any other land not forming part of the above will be a capital asset and sale of the same shall attract tax on capital gains subject to Section 54B, which is explained below.

Section 54B: Capital gain on transfer of land used for agricultural purposes not to be charged in certain cases

Section 54B gives relief to a taxpayer who sells his agricultural land and acquires another agricultural land from the sale proceeds.

Conditions to be satisfied to claim the benefit of this Section:

a. The assessee must be an individual or a HUF.

b. The agricultural land should have been used for agricultural purposes. It may be a long term asset or a short term asset.

c. It must have been used either by the assessee or his parents for agricultural purposes in atleast two years immediately preceeding the date on which the transfer of land took place.

d. The assessee should have purchased another land, which is being used for agricultural purposes, within a period of two years from the date of sale.

Note: In case of compulsory acquisition, the period of acquisition of new agricultural land will be determined from the date of receipt of compensation. However, as per Section 10 (37), no capital gain would be chargeable to tax in case of an individual or HUF if agricultural land is compulsorily acquired under any law and the consideration of which is approved by the Central Government or RBI and received on or after 01-04-2004.

e. The whole amount of capital gain must be utilised in the purchase of the new agricultural land. If not, the difference between the amount of capital gain and the new asset will be chargeable as capital gains and the tax will be computed accordingly.

f. The new asset purchased should not be sold within a period of three years from the date of acquisition.

g. If sold, the cost of the new asset will be reduced by the amount of capital gain (claimed as exemption under Section 54B) for the purpose of computing tax on capital gains.

h. Where the amount of capital gain is not utilised by the assessee for the purchase of the new asset before the due date of furnishing his return of income, he may deposit it in the Capital Gains Account Scheme (CGAS) of any specified bank.

i. The return of income of the assessee should be accompanied by the proof of such deposit.

j. In such a case, the cost of the new asset shall be deemed to be the amount already utilised by the assessee for the purchase of the new asset together with the amount deposited in the CGAS.

k. If the deposited amount is not utilised for the purchase of the new asset within the specified period, then the unutilised amount shall be taxed as income in the year in which the period of two years from the date of sale of the original asset expires.

Taxability of Agricultural income post amendment by Finance (No.2) Act, 2014

Agricultural income is considered for rate purposes while computing the income tax liability, if following two conditions are cumulatively satisfied:

  1. Net Agricultural income exceeds Rs. 5,000/- for previous year, and
  2. Total income, excluding net Agricultural income, exceeds the basic exemption limit.

Note: If aggregate agricultural income of the assessee is up to Rs. 5,000/- during FY 2015, then the entire income shall be exempt from tax. Accordingly, you need to disclose the agricultural income in the income tax return (ITR) 1 form to be compliant from the disclosure perspective. But if the agricultural income exceeds Rs.5,000, then form ITR 2 applies, which has a separate column for disclosure of agricultural income.

Once the aforementioned conditions are satisfied then we shall compute the Tax liability in the following manner:

♠ First, include the Agricultural income while computing your income Tax liability.

Example – Let us say that an Individual Assessee has a Total income of INR 7,50,000/- (excluding Agricultural income) and a Net Agricultural income of INR 100,000/-. Then, per this step, Tax shall be computed on INR 7,50,000/- + INR 1,00,000/- = INR 8,50,000/-. Thus, income Tax amount as per this step shall be INR 95,000/- for an individual who is below the age of 60 Years during the P.Y. 2014-15.

♠ Second, add the applicable basic tax slab benefit, as applicable, to the Net Agricultural income. Thus, per our example mentioned above we shall add INR 2,50,000/- to INR 1,00,000/- as the applicable Tax slab benefit available to an individual below 60 Years of age is INR 2,50,000/-. Now we will compute income Tax on INR 3,50,000/- (Tax slab benefit 2,50,000 + Net Agricultural income 1,00,000). The amount of Tax shall be INR 10,000/-.

♠ Thirdsubtract the Tax computed in Second step from the Tax computed in First step = INR 85,000/-. Thus, this is the income Tax liability subject to deductions, Education Cess etc., as applicable.

This process of computation is, however, followed only if the assessee’s non-agricultural income is in excess of the basic exemption slab.

Clearly, despite agricultural income being tax-exempt, assessees have to be cautious while dealing with such income. They must make sure that they aggregate agricultural income with their total income to avoid interest payments and possible penalties for concealment of income. Assessees must also maintain credible records to provide the tax authorities with proof of ownership of agricultural land and evidence of having earned agricultural income.

To conclude, there is enough scope for taxing income from activities which are non-agricultural in nature. In fact, it is well known that agriculturists themselves do not have taxable income, taking into account the fact that when it is divided amongst family members who are involved in agricultural operations, each one of them would have income within the exemption limit. However, there are hundreds of thousands of middlemen like wholesalers, retailers, distributors, etc. who earn substantial income from trading in agricultural produce as well as fruits, flowers, etc. Such income or profits are fully taxable under the present law and, therefore, if concerted efforts are made by the Tax Department to recover tax from them, the need for widening the tax base to rope in agriculturists and farmers, would be eliminated.

Tax Saving Tip:

Form a company or a partnership firm for the sole purpose carrying on your agricultural operations. As indirect effect of agricultural income is not applicable in a company or a firm, the complete amount would become exempt from taxation.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Does interest on arrears of rent qualify as agricultural income and will this be exempt from tax?

Sometimes, a tenant could slip up on rent or revenue payments (either in cash or kind) and have to pay arrears. If the landlord charges interest on such arrears, the income would not be considered as an agricultural income, but would be deemed income by way of interest and would, hence, be chargeable to tax. While ‘rent’ presupposes periodical and pre-determined payment (either in cash or kind), ‘revenue’ implies a sharing arrangement that depends on the actual agricultural produce. In either case, ownership of agricultural land or interest in such land is essential, which means, the owners of agricultural land, tenants who are given a sub-lease, and people who are mortgagees of agricultural land, all enjoy tax-free agricultural income.

2. If agricultural produce is processed to make it marketable at a place other than the agriculture land, then the amount charged for such processing will be an agricultural income or not?

Any processing done on Agricultural produce to make it marketable is a part of agricultural operations and such amount recovered will be treated as agricultural income only. Say for example trashing of wheat, mustard, etc is part of agricultural operations only and the amount recovered will be treated as agricultural income only no matter processing takes place on the land itself or some other place.

But in certain cases like in the case of tea, coffee, sugarcane where a major processing (change of very nature of the product) is being done, then some part of the processed produce (tea, coffee & sugar) is taxed as non-agricultural income and rest is exempt as agricultural income.

3. What if agriculture operation is carried on urban land?

If agricultural operations are carried out on land, either urban or rural, the income derived from sale of such agricultural produce shall be treated as agricultural income and will be exempt from tax.

4. If any industrial organization grows crops and sells half of the produce as raw material in the market and remaining (further processed) as finished goods, what will be the tax treatment?

Agricultural income is exempt from income tax. It does not matter whether the agricultural operations are done by an industrial organization or an individual. If any industrial organization grows crops and sells half of the produce as raw material in market and remaining (further processed) as finished goods, the income which is earned on the first half of produce (sold in market as raw material) is totally exempt from tax.

In case of the remaining produce which is further processed, scheme of presumptive taxation is applicable. Rule 7, 7A, 7B & 8 of Income tax Rules deals with such type of income. Rule 7A deals with Income from manufacture of rubber, 7B deals with Income from manufacture of coffee and Rule 8 deals with Income from manufacture of tea. Rule 7 says that in cases where income is partially agricultural in nature and partially from business, the market value of the agricultural produce which has been raised by the assessee or received by him as rent in kind and which has been utilised as a raw material, shall be deducted from the sale receipts and will be treated as agriculture income. The remaining will be considered as non agricultural income.

5. In my agriculture farm, I have 5 cows in Pune (Maharashtra). The product being milk is the main produce, and not a byproduct. Is this income an agriculture income or a taxable income? (This milk is sold to dairy product plant in nearest Co-op Society).

Dairy farming is not an agricultural income.

6. Why rent on land is treated as agricultural income?

Rent received from agricultural land used for agricultural purpose is treated as agricultural income. This is prescribed by the law.

7. I have a business income of Rs 3,00,000 and agricultural income of Rs 4,00,000. These figures relate to the Assessment year 2014-15. How will my tax liability be computed?

Agricultural income is exempt under Section 10(1) of the Act so long as the income is derived from agricultural land situated in India. This income is, however, included merely for rate purposes and rebate is allowed on the same in accordance with the Finance Act. The inclusion of Agricultural income for rate purpose is only required if total income of an individual exceeds Rs. 2,50,000/- (assessee being aged less than 60 years of age).

ParticularsAmount in Rs.
Business Income3,00,000/-
Agricultural Income4,00,000/-
Income Including Agricultural Income7,00,000
Tax on 7,00,000/-65,000/-
Less: Rebate on Agricultural Income
(Tax on Rs. 4,00,000 + Rs. 2,50,000 being basic exemption)55,000/-
Net Tax Payable10,000/-
Add: Ed. Cess & Sec. & Higher Ed. Cess @ 3%300/-
Total tax Payable10,300/-

 8. Can Interest on Crop Loan be claimed as an exemption?

The interest earned on Crop Loan cannot be claimed as an exemption by the provider of loan since the condition of ownership of land being not essential holds true only if the assessee has interest in the land. The provider of the loan may not have an interest in the land because it may be his ordinary business to provide Crop Loan. However, the farmer to whom the crop loan is provided can claim the same as a deduction while computing his tax liability.

9. If an assessee sells the fruits of the trees planted by him around his home, will the income so earned be agricultural income?

The trees planted by him should be on a land which can be classified as an agricultural land by fulfilling the conditions mentioned earlier in this article. If the land is agricultural, then the income earned by selling of fruits can be treated as agricultural income.

10. I have taken certain agricultural land on lease and crops are being grown on the said land for many years. Now the said land alongwith growing crops has been acquired by the Govt. The Govt. paid separate compensation for the land and the crop. Whether the compensation received in lieu of crop is agriculture income or not? Further note that assessee has not further invested the amount in agriculture land received as compensation against crop.

The compensation paid for the crops by the Govt. can be considered to be as good as income earned by purchase of standing crop, which is not an agricultural income. Hence the compensation against crop is taxable in the hands of receiver of the compensation.

11. Whether income earned from export of agricultural produce is exempt from income tax?

The conditions for considering the income as agricultural in nature have to be satisfied if the agricultural produce has to be exempt from income tax. Middlemen dealing in trade of agricultural produce are generally not entitled to exemption due to lack of satisfaction of the conditions.

12. I have an income of Rs.1,45,000 from my business and an agricultural income of Rs. 8,40,000. Do I need to file the return of income?

The process of computation of tax liability is followed only if the assessee’s non-agricultural income is in excess of the basic exemption slab. In this case, the income from business of the assessee is lower than the basic exemption limit. However, the returns have to be filed with regards to the disclosure of agricultural income.

13. An assessee wants to buy farms which bear coconut trees, on a lease for a period of one year. State whether sale of coconuts is said to be an agricultural income or not?

The land on which the coconut trees are planted should be an agricultural land which can be classified by fulfilling the conditions mentioned earlier in this article. If the land is agricultural, then the income earned by selling of coconuts can be treated as agricultural income.

14. I had sold an agricultural land in a rural area, which is outside jurisdiction of the Municipal Authority. Whether the sales proceeds are exempt or taxable?

The scope of agricultural income excludes the revenue which is earned by transfer of agricultural land not falling under the definition of Capital assets u/s. 2(14). By definition of a capital asset under Section 2(14), an agricultural land in an area falling out of jurisdiction of the Municipal Authority (which has a population of more than 10,000), is not a capital asset. Section 10(37) allows income from transfer of such a land to be classified as a capital gain via clause (i). Under Section 54B, a capital gain arising out of this transaction will be exempt provided the conditions (mentioned earlier in this article) are satisfied.

15. Is receipt from sale of rubber trees an agricultural income?

Yes, receipt of sale of rubber trees is an agricultural income if the conditions for land being agricultural in nature are satisfied.

CA Sandeep KanoiRiya Dani(Article was First Published on 24.04.2012 and was republished with amendment on 31.07.2015. Article was Originally written by  CA Sandeep Kanoi and further improved , edited and updated by Riya Dani)

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