Learned counsel for the assessee submitted that it is a case of frivolous double addition on deliberate misconception of the facts. He took us through the year-end financial statements of the assessee and its computation of income to demonstrate that the impugned addition made by the Assessing Officer amounted to making an addition for loss on transfer of telecom assets whereas no deduction in respect of such loss was claimed by the assessee. He invited our attention to the observations made in the stay order to the effect that it is a case of “prima facie” double addition and it was also submitted that at the stage of hearing of stay petition in this case, the Assessing Office himself has accepted that it is a case of double addition. Learned Departmental Representative, on the other hand, dutifully placed his rather bland reliance on the stand of the Assessing Officer and the Dispute Resolution Panel. It was in this backdrop that we called for personal appearance of the Assessing Officer concerned. When the Assessing Officer appeared before us, and we asked him to justify this addition of Rs 5,739.60 crores, whereas, for all practical purposes, the assessee has not even claimed deduction of the same in the computation of business income, he had nothing to say. When he was asked why DRP’s directions about verifications were not complied with, he stated that, as stated in the assessment order itself, there was no fresh material at that stage over and above what was produced in the original assessment proceedings, and thus it was not open to the Assessing Officer to take any other view of the matter than the view originally taken. The Assessing Officer submitted that the loss on sale of assets could not be allowed as a deduction but that does not justify the addition on merits, because the assessee has not challenged this proposition at any stage and has merely contended that no such disallowance is warranted on the facts of this case as the said amount has not been debited to the profit and loss account at all. In effect thus, we are dealing with a situation that here is a Rs 5,739.60 crore addition, which has been made by the Assessing Officer and sustained by the Dispute Resolution Panel, and effectively there is no argument to defend it.
It is not an uncommon sight that even the most distinguished and learned Departmental Representatives, as also other revenue authorities appearing before us, simply place their bland reliance on the impugned orders- as in this case, rather than dealing with specific justification for the additions or disallowances made therein and with the arguments advanced by the taxpayer’s representatives. By such a conduct, any transparent debate about correctness or otherwise of such additions impugned in appeal is pre-empted. Of course, such an exercise does render our adjudication process a one way street but, as long as legal and factual position warrants due relief to the assessee and as long as impugned additions are so frivolous, there is nothing wrong in it. However, if an action of the Assessing Officer is so blatantly unreasonable that such seasoned senior officers well versed with functioning of judicial forums, as the learned Departmental Representatives are, cannot even go through the convincing motions of defending the same before us, such unreasonable conduct of the Assessing Officer deserves to be scrutinized seriously. At a time when evolving societal pressures demand greater degree of accountability in the governance also, it does no good to the judicial institutions to watch such situations as helpless spectators. If it is indeed a case of frivolous addition, someone should be accountable for the resultant undue hardship to the taxpayer -rather than being allowed to walk away with a subtle, though easily discernable, admission to the effect that yes it was a frivolous addition, and, if it is not a frivolous addition, there has to be reasonable defence, before us, for such an addition. The case before us, for the reasons we will set out now, appears to be in the category of a wholly frivolous, and simply indefensible, addition to the income returned by the assessee.
Let us take a look at the related entry, as per the profit and loss account of the assessee, related note to the accounts and the treatment given by the assessee in the computation of income, which are reproduced below:
Extracts from the computation of income filed by the assessee (as reproduced from page 84 of the assessment order)
|Profit as per profit and loss account||6972,54,21,461|
|Loss on transfer of telecom infrastructure to Bharti Airtel Limited||5739,60,05,089|
|Amount withdrawn from Reserve for Business Restructuring||5739,60,05,089|
|Income from Business and Profession||7161,63,56,718|
A plain look at the above material shows that there was no effective debitto the profit and loss account as the amount of Rs 5739,60,05,089 reflected in the “Loss on transfer of telecom infrastructure to Bharti Airtel Limited” was squared up against the credit amount of Rs 5739,60,05,089 representing “Amount withdrawn from Reserve for Business Structuring” in the inner column of the profit and loss account. These entries were absolutely profit neutral so far as the profit as per profit and loss account is concerned, and since it is this profit which is starting point for computation of business income, effectively no adjustments thereto were required. Even if no adjustment was carried out in the computation of income, the resultant income would have been the same, but the adjustments, if at all required for the sake of completeness and transparency, were required for both the entries, i.e. loss on transfer of assets as also amount withdrawn from business restructuring. This is precisely what the assessee has done. As much as the loss on transfer of assets is not a tax deductible item, the amount transferred from reserves is also not a taxable item. The assessee thus reversed both these entries, as depicted above, in the computation of income. The Assessing Officer has taken note of the fact that in the computation of income attached to the return of income, the assessee has first added Rs 5739,60,05,089 as “Loss on transfer of telecom infrastructure to Bharti Infratel Limited” and then reduced Rs 5739,60,05,089 as “amount withdrawn from Reserve for Business Restructuring”, but then, instead of taking note of the unambiguous fact that these two distinct entries representing two facets duly reflected in the profit and loss account, the Assessing Officer assumes that since debit and credit of the same amount, resulting in neutralizing each other, he is justified in adding the loss of transfer of telecom infrastructure to the profit as per profit and loss account. Neither there was an effective debit to the profit and loss account, since the loss was squared up by transfer from reserve rather than by debit to profit and loss account, nor was it open to the Assessing Officer to take into account loss on transfer of assets, though reflected in the inner column, without taking into account another inner column item reflecting transfer from reserves to square up this loss. Whichever way one looks at these entries, the inescapable conclusion is that the addition made by the Assessing Officer is wholly erroneous and devoid of any legally sustainable merits. In this case, the Dispute Resolution Panel has also been somewhat superficial in its approach in confirming the addition by observing that, “the disallowance of Rs.5739,60,05,000 by the AO in normal computation provisions as capital loss representing loss on transfer of Telecom Infrastructure to Bharti Infratel Limited is held as perfectly in order” because the grievance raised by the assessee was specifically against the erroneous approach of the Assessing Officer in not taking a holistic view of the accounting entries. There is no, and there was never, any dispute on whether such a loss is tax deductible or not. The dispute was confined to the question whether, on the given facts, the Assessing Officer could have made an addition for this amount to the income returned by the assessee. The contention of the assessee was that no such addition was justified because the assessee has, on his own, made appropriate adjustments in the computation of taxable income and an addition by the Assessing Officer will result in double disallowance of the said amount. No doubt, the Dispute Resolution Panel did mention that, “as regards the claim of assessee of not reducing the equivalent sum from the computation of income, it is noted that it is a matter of pure verification” and directed the Assessing Officer “to verify the claim of the assessee from the records and take necessary action”, but then it was the inaction and inability of the Assessing Officer in correctly doing so that the objection was raised before the Dispute Resolution Panel and all the related facts, including accounting entries and treatment given in the computation of taxable income, were placed before the Dispute Resolution Panel. The fact that even such purely factual issues are not adequately dealt with by the DRPs raises a big question mark on the efficacy of the very institution of Dispute Resolution Panel. One can perhaps understand, even if not condone, such frivolous additions being made by the Assessing Officers, who are relatively younger officers with limited exposure and experience, but the Dispute Resolution Panels, manned by very distinguished and senior Commissioners of eminence, will lose all their relevance, if, irrespective of their heavy work load and demanding schedules, these forums do not rise to the occasion and donot deal with the objections raised before them in a comprehensive and effective manner. While we delete the impugned addition of Rs 5739,60,05,089, we also place on record our dissatisfaction with the way and manner in which this issue has been handled at the assessment stage. Let us not forget that the majesty of law is as much damaged by not rendering justice to the conduct which cannot be faulted as much it is damaged by a wrongdoer going unpunished; not giving relief in deserving cases is as much of a disservice to the cause of justice and the cause of nation as much a disservice it is, to these causes, by granting undue reliefs. The time has come that a strong institutional check is put in place for dealing with such eventualities and de-incentivizing this kind of a conduct. With these observations, the impugned addition of Rs 5739,60,05,089 is deleted. The assessee gets the relief accordingly.