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‘Bundled service’ means a bundle of provision of various services wherein an element of provision of one service is combined with an element or elements of provision of any other service or services. An example of ‘bundled service’ would be air transport services provided by airlines wherein an element of transportation of passenger by air is combined with an element of provision of catering service on board. Each service involves differential treatment as a manner of determination of value of two services for the purpose of charging service tax is different.
Two rules have been prescribed for determining the taxability of such services in clause (3) of section 66F of the Act. These rules, which are explained below, are subject to the provisions of the rule contained in sub-section (2) of section 66F, viz a specific description will be preferred over a general description as explained in para 7.1.2 above.
1. Services which are naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business
The rule is – ‘If various elements of a bundled service are naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business, it shall be treated as provision of a single service which gives such bundle its essential character’.
• A 5-star hotel in Gurgaon (Haryana) provides a 4-D/3-N package with the facility breakfast. This is a natural bundling of services in the ordinary course of business. The service of hotel accommodation gives the bundle the essential character and would, therefore, be treated as service of providing hotel accommodation.
2. Services which are not naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business
The rule is – ‘If various elements of a bundled service are not naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business, it shall be treated as provision of a service which attracts the highest amount of service tax.’
• A house is given on rent one floor of which is to be used as residence and the other for housing a printing press. Such renting for two different purposes is not naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business. Therefore, if a single rent deed is executed it will be treated as a service comprising entirely of such service which attracts highest liability of service tax. In this case renting for use as residence is a negative list service while renting for non-residence use is chargeable to tax. Since the latter category attracts highest liability of service tax amongst the two services bundled together, the entire bundle would be treated as renting of commercial property.
3 Significance of the condition that the rule relating to ‘bundled service’ is subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 66F
Sub-section (2) of section 66 lays down : ‘where a service is capable of differential treatment for any purpose based on its description, the most specific description shall be preferred over a more general description’ (refer para 7.1.2 above). This rule predominates over the rule laid down in sub-section (3) relating to ‘bundled services’. In other words, if a bundled service falls under a service specified by way of a description then such service would be covered by the description so specified. The illustration, relating to a bundled service wherein a pandal and shamiana is provided in combination with catering service, given in the second bullet in para 7.1.2 above explains the operation of this rule.
4 Manner of determining if the services are bundled in the ordinary course of business
Whether services are bundled in the ordinary course of business would depend upon the normal or frequent practices followed in the area of business to which services relate. Such normal and frequent practices adopted in a business can be ascertained from several indicators few of which are listed below –
• The perception of the consumer or the service receiver. If large number of service receivers of such bundle of services reasonably expect such services to be provided as a package then such a package could be treated as naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business.
• Majority of service providers in a particular area of business provide similar bundle of services. For example, bundle of catering on board and transport by air is a bundle offered by a majority of airlines.
• The nature of the various services in a bundle of services will also help in determining whether the services are bundled in the ordinary course of business. If the nature of services is such that one of the services is the main service and the other services combined with such service are in the nature of incidental or ancillary services which help in better enjoyment of a main service. For example service of stay in a hotel is often combined with a service or laundering of 3-4 items of clothing free of cost per day. Such service is an ancillary service to the provision of hotel accommodation and the resultant package would be treated as services naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business.
• Other illustrative indicators, not determinative but indicative of bundling of services in ordinary course of business are –
♦ There is a single price or the customer pays the same amount, no matter how much of the package they actually receive or use.
♦ The elements are normally advertised as a package.
♦ The different elements are not available separately.
♦ The different elements are integral to one overall supply – if one or more is removed, the nature of the supply would be affected.
No straight jacket formula can be laid down to determine whether a service is naturally bundled in the ordinary course of business. Each case has to be individually examined in the backdrop of several factors some of which are outlined above.
5. Manner of determination of taxability ‘composite transactions’ wherein an element of provision of service is combined with an element of sale of goods
The manner of treatment of such composite transactions for the purpose of taxation, i.e. are they to be treated as sale of goods or provision of service, has been laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited v. Union of India[2006 (2) STR 161 (SC)]. The relevant paras 42 and 43 of the said judgment are reproduced below –
“42. Of all the different kinds of composite transactions the drafters of the 46th Amendment chose three specific situations, a works contract, a hire purchase contract and a catering contract to bring within the fiction of a deemed sale. Of these three, the first and third involve a kind of service and sale at the same time. Apart from these two cases where splitting of the service and supply has been Constitutionally permitted in clauses (b) and (g) of Clause 29A of Art. 366, there is no other service which has been permitted to be so split. For example the clauses of Art. 366(29A) do not cover hospital services. Therefore, if during the treatment of a patient in a hospital, he or she is given a pill, can the sales tax authorities tax the transaction as a sale? Doctors, lawyers and other professionals render service in the course of which can it be said that there is a sale of goods when a doctor writes out and hands over a prescription or a lawyer drafts a document and delivers it to his/her client? Strictly speaking with the payment of fees, consideration does pass from the patient or client to the doctor or lawyer for the documents in both cases.
43. The reason why these services do not involve a sale for the purposes of Entry 54 of List II is, as we see it, for reasons ultimately attributable to the principles enunciated in Gannon Dunkerley’s case, namely, if there is an instrument of contract which may be composite in form in any case other than the exceptions in Article 366(29-A), unless the transaction in truth represents two distinct and separate contracts and is discernible as such, then the State would not have the power to separate the agreement to sell from the agreement to render service, and impose tax on the sale. The test therefore for composite contracts other than those mentioned in Article 366(29A) continues to be – did the parties have in mind or intend separate rights arising out of the sale of goods. If there was no such intention there is no sale even if the contract could be disintegrated. The test for deciding whether a contract falls into one category or the other is to as what is the substance of the contract. We will, for the want of a better phrase, call this the dominant nature test.”
The following principles emerge from the said judgment for ascertaining the taxability of composite transactions-
♦ Except in cases of works contracts or catering contracts [exact words in article 366(29A) being – ‘service wherein goods, being food or any other article of human consumption or any drink (whether or not intoxicating) is supplied in any manner as part of the service’] composite transactions cannot be split into contracts of sale and contracts of service.
♦ The test whether a transaction is a ‘composite transaction’ is that did the parties intend or have in mind that separate rights arise out of the constituent contract of sale and contract of service. If no then such transaction is a composite transaction even if the contracts could be disintegrated.
♦ The nature of a composite transaction, except in case of two exceptions carved out by the Constitution, would be determined by the element which determines the ‘dominant nature’ of the transaction.
• If the dominant nature of such a transaction is sale of goods or immovable property then such transaction would be treated as such.
• If the dominant nature of such a transaction is provision of a service then such transaction would be treated as a service and taxed as such even if the transaction involves an element of sale of goods.
♦ In case of works contracts and ‘service wherein goods, being food or any other article of human consumption or any drink (whether or not intoxicating) is supplied in any manner as part of the service’ the ‘dominant nature test’ does not apply and service portion is taxable as a ‘service’ This has also been declared as a service under section 66E of the Act.
♦ If the transaction represents two distinct and separate contracts and is discernible as such then contract of service in such transaction would be segregated and chargeable to service tax if other elements of taxability are present. This would apply even if a single invoice is issued.
The principles explained above would, mutatis mutandis, apply to composite transactions involving an element of transfer of title in immovable property.