Exemption under section 54 & 54F
Under Section 54 of the Income-tax Act, if an assessee who has earned a Capital Gain on sale of a residential house, has, within the prescribed period, purchased or constructed another residential house, then, to the extent of the cost of the new residential house, no tax in respect of such Capital Gain is payable. There is a similar provision under Section 54F under which the Capital Gains arising on transfer of ANY long term capital asset will also be exempt from tax, if the assessee has, within the prescribed period, purchased or constructed a residential house, to the extent of the cost of such new residential house.
A considerable volume of litigation has arisen in the past on the issue as to ‘when’ exactly an assessee can be considered to have purchased or constructed a new residential house and also on the issue as to whether the acquisition of the new residential flat in an Ownership Apartments Scheme (OAS) or a Co-operative Housing Society is “purchase” or “construction”. This distinction is important because, the prescribed time limits for both are different.
The above controversy has been set at rest by the CBDT in relation to the acquisition of a flat by an allottee under the self-financing scheme (SFS) of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) by issuing the Circular No. 471 of 15.10.1986. The Circular has clarified that in case of allotment of a flat by the DDA under the SFS, the allotment by DDA will be treated as “construction” of a residential house and that the “construction” shall be deemed to have been made on the date of allotment of the flat on payment of the first installment of the price of the flat even though, full price of the flat has not been paid.
It is submitted that acquisition of a residential flat in an Ownership Apartments’ Scheme (OAS), the plans of which have been approved by all the authorities whose approval is necessary under the law, should be treated on par with acquisition of a flat under the SFS of the DDA. On a parity of reasoning, the exemption under Sections 54 and 54F should be available to an assessee who has entered into an agreement for purchase of a residential flat with a Real Estate Developer (RED) and he will be deemed to have ‘constructed’ the new residential house on the date on which the Agreement for Purchase has been registered with the Registering Authority after payment of the amount payable on signing the Agreement. To avoid misuse of the exemption, a further condition may be imposed that if the person has not paid to the RED more than 50% of the purchase price of the residential flat within the period prescribed under Sections 54 and 54F for “construction” of a new residential house, and/or, has not got actual possession of the residential flat on payment of full purchase price of the flat within a further period of three years after the expiry of the prescribed period, the exemption shall be withdrawn. The exemption will be to the extent of the total cost of the residential flat as per the Agreement for Purchase. The presumption is that the RED constructs the Ownership Apartment on behalf of the flat owners.
The preponderant view taken by many Tribunals and Courts in several decided cases supports the submission made in the precedent para. See “Shashi Verma V. CIT 224 ITR 106(MP), CIT V. R.L. Sood 245 ITR 727 (DEL), Hilla Wadia . CIT 216 ITR 376 (BOM). However, some Tribunals and Courts have taken a different view. As there have been conflicting Judgements on the issue, many Assessing Officers (AO) take the view that the exemption is available only if the actual possession of the new residential house has been taken after payment of the entire cost of the residential house within the prescribed period. Some have also taken a view that when an assessee joins an “OAS” he is “purchasing” a flat and not constructing a flat. Such a view causes considerable unjustified hardship to the assessees and has resulted in a lot of avoidable litigation.
The aforesaid view taken by some Assessing Officers strikes at the very root of the intention of the Parliament in enacting the Sections 54 and 54F for giving the much needed relief to assessees who need to change a residential house for various genuine and valid reasons, and they have no option but to join on “OAS”. It is evident that they do not earn a real capital gain on sale of the first residential house when they have to necessarily utilize that capital gain for acquiring the new residential flat. The real estate prices have been continuously on the increase. Therefore, the new residential flat will usually cost more than the sale price of the one sold. When a person books a flat in a large OAS, he cannot be sure that the scheme will be completed within the period prescribed in Sections 54 and 54F. In most case, large OAS take a longer period for completion than the one prescribed for ‘construction’ in Sections 54 and 54F.
It has been an ‘oft declared’ policy of the Government to take all steps necessary to reduce litigation because of the very large number of pending cases with the Supreme Court and the High Courts. On this issue, there has been considerable avoidable litigation because of differing interpretations taken by AOs, Tribunals and Courts on the question whether acquisition of a residential flat in an OAS is ‘purchase’ or ‘construction’ and when the ‘purchase’ or ‘construction’ can said to have taken place.
In order to avoid unnecessary litigation, a Circular on the said subject be issued clarifying that in a case where an assessee has entered into a Registered Agreement for Purchase of a residential flat in an “OAS” and the assessee has paid more than 50% of the cost of the residential flat within the period prescribed in Sections 54 and 54F and has, within a further period of three years obtained actual possession of the residential flat on payment of its full price, the assessee shall be deemed to have “constructed” a ‘residential house’ within the meaning of Sections 54 and 54F on the date on which the Agreement for Purchase has been registered and the exemption under the said Sections will be available to the assessee to the extent of the aggregate cost of the residential flat agreed to be purchased.
(SUGGESTIONS TO REDUCE / MINIMIZE LITIGATIONS)