In the instant case, the following three dates are not in dispute. The residential house was transferred by the appellants and the sale deed had been registered on 24th September, 2004. The sale deed had been executed in pursuance of an agreement to sell which had been executed on 27th December, 2002 and out of the total consideration of Rs. 1.32 crores, Rs. 15 lakhs had been received by the appellants by way of earnest money when the agreement to sell had been executed and a new residential house/new asset had been purchased by the appellants on 30th April, 2003. It is also not in dispute that there was a litigation wherein the Will of late Shri Amrit Lal had been challenged by his son and the appellants had been restrained from dealing with the house in question by a judicial order and the said judicial order had been vacated only in the month of May, 2004 and therefore, the sale deed could not be executed before the said order was vacated though the agreement to sell had been executed on 27th September, 2002.
If one considers the date on which it was decided to sell the property, i.e. 27th December, 2002 as the date of transfer or sale, it cannot be disputed that the appellants would be entitled to the benefit under the provisions of Section 54 of the Act because long term capital gain earned by the appellants had been used for purchase of a new asset/residential house on 30th April, 2003 i.e. well within one year from the date of transfer of the house which resulted into long term capital gain.
The question to be considered by this Court is whether the agreement to sell which had been executed on 27th December, 2002 can be considered as a date on which the property i.e. the residential house had been transferred. In normal circumstances by executing an agreement to sell in respect of an immoveable property, a right in personam is created in favour of the transferee/vendee. When such a right is created in favour of the vendee, the vendor is restrained from selling the said property to someone else because the vendee, in whose favour the right in personam is created, has a legitimate right to enforce specific performance of the agreement, if the vendor, for some reason is not executing the sale deed. Thus, by virtue of the agreement to sell some right is given by the vendor to the vendee. The question is whether the entire property can be said to have been sold at the time when an agreement to sell is entered into. In normal circumstances, the aforestated question has to be answered in the negative. However, looking at the provisions of Section 2(47) of the Act, which defines the word “transfer” in relation to a capital asset, one can say that if a right in the property is extinguished by execution of an agreement to sell, the capital asset can be deemed to have been transferred. Relevant portion of Section 2(47), defining the word “transfer” is as under:
“2(47) “transfer”, in relation to a capital asset, includes,- (i) (ii) the extinguishment of any rights therein; or”
Now in the light of definition of “transfer” as defined under Section 2(47) of the Act, it is clear that when any right in respect of any capital asset is extinguished and that right is transferred to someone, it would amount to transfer of a capital asset. In the light of the aforestated definition, let us look at the facts of the present case where an agreement to sell in respect of a capital asset had been executed on 27th December, 2002 for transferring the residential house/original asset in question and a sum of Rs. 15 lakhs had been received by way of earnest money. It is also not in dispute that the sale deed could not be executed because of pendency of the litigation between Shri Ranjeet Lal on one hand and the appellants on the other as Shri Ranjeet Lal had challenged the validity of the Will under which the property had devolved upon the appellants. By virtue of an order passed in the suit filed by Shri Ranjeet Lal, the appellants were restrained from dealing with the said residential house and a law-abiding citizen cannot be expected to violate the direction of a court by executing a sale deed in favour of a third party while being restrained from doing so. In the circumstances, for a justifiable reason, which was not within the control of the appellants, they could not execute the sale deed and the sale deed had been registered only on 24th September, 2004, after the suit filed by Shri Ranjeet Lal, challenging the validity of the Will, had been dismissed. In the light of the aforestated facts and in view of the definition of the term “transfer”, one can come to a conclusion that some right in respect of the capital asset in question had been transferred in favour of the vendee and therefore, some right which the appellants had, in respect of the capital asset in question, had been extinguished because after execution of the agreement to sell it was not open to the appellants to sell the property to someone else in accordance with law. A right in personam had been created in favour of the vendee, in whose favour the agreement to sell had been executed and who had also paid Rs. 15 lakhs by way of earnest money. No doubt, such contractual right can be surrendered or neutralized by the parties through subsequent contract or conduct leading to no transfer of the property to the proposed vendee but that is not the case at hand.
In addition to the fact that the term “transfer” has been defined under Section 2(47) of the Act, even if looked at the provisions of Section 54 of the Act which gives relief to a person who has transferred his one residential house and is purchasing another residential house either before one year of the transfer or even two years after the transfer, the intention of the Legislature is to give him relief in the matter of payment of tax on the long term capital gain. Ifj person, who gets some excess amount upon transfer of his old residential premises and thereafter purchases or constructs a new premises within the time stipulated under Section 54 of the Act, the Legislature does not want him to be burdened with tax on the long term capital gain and therefore, relief has been given to him in respect of paying income tax on the long term capital gain. The intention of the Legislature or the purpose with which the said provision has been incorporated in the Act, is also very clear that the assessee should be given some relief. Though it has been very often said that common sense is a stranger and an incompatible partner to the Income Tax Act and it is also said that equity and tax are strangers to each other, still this Court has often observed that purposive interpretation should be given to the provisions of the Act. In the case of Oxford University Press v. Commissioner of Income Tax [(2001) 3 SCC 359] this Court has observed that a purposive interpretation of the provisions of the Act should be given while considering a claim for exemption from tax. It has also been said that harmonious construction of the provisions which subserve the object and purpose should also be made while construing any of the provisions of the Act and more particularly when one is concerned with exemption from payment of tax. Considering the aforestated observations and the principles with regard to the interpretation of Statute pertaining to the tax laws, one can very well interpret the provisions of Section 54 read with Section 2(47) of the Act, i.e. definition of “transfer”, which would enable the appellants to get the benefit under Section 54 of the Act.
23. Consequences of execution of the agreement to sell are also very clear and they are to the effect that the appellants could not have sold the property to someone else. In practical life, there are events when a person, even after executing an agreement to sell an
immoveable property in favour of one person, tries to sell the property to another. In our opinion, such an act would not be in accordance with law because once an agreement to sell is executed in favour of one person, the said person gets a right to get the property transferred in his favour by filing a suit for specific performance and therefore, without hesitation we can say that some right, in respect of the said property, belonging to the appellants had been extinguished and some right had been created in favour of the vendee/transferee, when the agreement to sell had been executed.
Thus, a right in respect of the capital asset, viz. the property in question had been transferred by the appellants in favour of the vendee/transferee on 27th December, 2002. The sale deed could not be executed for the reason that the appellants had been prevented from dealing with the residential house by an order of a competent court, which they could not have violated.
In view of the aforestated peculiar facts of the case and looking at the definition of the term ‘transfer” as defined under Section 2(47) of the Act, we are of the view that the appellants were entitled to relief under Section 54 of the Act in respect of the long term capital gain which they had earned in pursuance of transfer of their residential property being House No. 267, Sector 9-C, situated in Chandigarh and used for purchase of a new asset/residential house.
The appeals are, therefore, allowed with no order as to costs. The impugned judgments are quashed and set aside and the Authorities are directed to re-assess the income of the appellants for the Assessment Year 2005-2006, after taking into account the fact that the appellants were entitled to the relief, subject to fulfilment of other conditions.