The object behind the introduction of Section 14A of the Act by the Finance Act of 2001 is clear and unambiguous. The legislature intended to check the claim of allowance of expenditure incurred towards earning exempted income in a situation where an assessee has both exempted and non-exempted income or includible or non-includible income. While there can be no scintilla of doubt that if the income in question is taxable and, therefore, includible in the total income, the deduction of expenses incurred in relation to such an income must be allowed, such deduction would not be permissible merely on the ground that the tax on the dividend received by the assessee has been paid by the dividend paying company and not by the recipient assessee, when under Section 10(33) of the Act such income by way of dividend is not a part of the total income of the recipient assessee. A plain reading of Section 14A would go to show that the income must not be includible in the total income of the assessee. Once the said condition is satisfied, the expenditure incurred in earning the said income cannot be allowed to be deducted. The section does not contemplate a situation where even though the income is taxable in the hands of the dividend paying company the same to be treated as not includible in the total income of the recipient assessee, yet, the expenditure incurred to earn that income must be allowed on the basis that no tax on such income has been paid by the assessee. Such a meaning, if ascribed to Section 14A, would be plainly beyond what the language of Section 14A can be understood to reasonably convey.
While it is correct that Section 10(33) exempts only dividend income under Section 115-O of the Act and there are other species of dividend income on which tax is levied under the Act, we do not see how the said position in law would assist the assessee in understanding the provisions of Section 14A in the manner indicated. What is required to be construed is the provisions of Section 10(33) read in the light of Section 115-O of the Act. So far as the species of dividend income on which tax is payable under Section 115-O of the Act is concerned, the earning of the said dividend is tax free in the hands of the assessee and not includible in the total income of the said assessee. If that is so, we do not see how the operation of Section 14A of the Act to such dividend income can be foreclosed. The fact that Section 10(33) and Section 115-O of the Act were brought in together; deleted and reintroduced later in a composite manner, also, does not assist the assessee. Rather, the aforesaid facts would countenance a situation that so long as the dividend income is taxable in the hands of the dividend paying company, the same is not includible in the total income of the recipient assessee. At such point of time when the said position was reversed (by the Finance Act of 2002; reintroduced again by the Finance Act, 2003), it was the assessee who was liable to pay tax on such dividend income. In such a situation the assessee was entitled under Section 57 of the Act to claim the benefit of exemption of expenditure incurred to earn such income. Once Section 10(33) and 115-O was reintroduced the position was reversed. The above, actually fortifies the situation that Section 14A of the Act would operate to disallow deduction of all expenditure incurred in earning the dividend income under Section 115-O which is not includible in the total income of the assessee.
it was held that the Revenue had failed to establish any nexus between the expenditure disallowed and the earning of the dividend income in question. In the appeals arising out of the assessments made for some of the assessment years the aforesaid question was specifically looked into from the standpoint of the requirements of the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act which had by then been brought into force. It is on such consideration that findings have been recorded that the expenditure in question bore no relation to the earning of the dividend income and hence the assessee was entitled to the benefit of full exemption claimed on account of dividend income.
Section 14A as originally enacted by the Finance Act of 2001 with effect from 1.4.1962 is in the same form and language as currently appearing in sub-section (1) of Section 14A of the Act. Section 14A (2) and (3) of the Act were introduced by the Finance Act of 2006 with effect from 1.4.2007. The finding of the Bombay High Court in the impugned order that sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A is retrospective has been challenged by the Revenue in another appeal which is presently pending before this Court. The said question, therefore, need not and cannot be gone into. Nevertheless, irrespective of the aforesaid question, what cannot be denied is that the requirement for attracting the provisions of Section 14A(1) of the Act is proof of the fact that the expenditure sought to be disallowed/deducted had actually been incurred in earning the dividend income. Insofar as the appellant-assessee is concerned, the issues stand concluded in its favour in respect of the Assessment Years 1998-1999, 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. Earlier to the introduction of sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act, such a determination was required to be made by the Assessing Officer in his best judgment. In all the aforesaid assessment years referred to above it was held that the Revenue had failed to establish any nexus between the expenditure disallowed and the earning of the dividend income in question. In the appeals arising out of the assessments made for some of the assessment years the aforesaid question was specifically looked into from the standpoint of the requirements of the provisions of sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act which had by then been brought into force. It is on such consideration that findings have been recorded that the expenditure in question bore no relation to the earning of the dividend income and hence the assessee was entitled to the benefit of fullexemption claimed on account of dividend income.
We do not see how in the aforesaid fact situation a different view could have been taken for the Assessment Year 2002-2003. Sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 14A of the Act read with Rule 8D of the Rules merely prescribe a formula for determination of expenditure incurred in relation to income which does not form part of the total income under the Act in a situation where the Assessing Officer is not satisfied with the claim of the assessee. Whether such determination is to be made on application of the formula prescribed under Rule 8D or in the best judgment of the Assessing Officer, what the law postulates is the requirement of a satisfaction in the Assessing Officer that having regard to the accounts of the assessee, as placed before him, it is not possible to generate the requisite satisfaction with regard to the correctness of the claim of the assessee. It is only thereafter that the provisions of Section 14A(2) and (3) read with Rule 8D of the Rules or a best judgment determination, as earlier prevailing, would become applicable.
In the present case, we do not find any mention of the reasons which had prevailed upon the Assessing Officer, while dealing with the Assessment Year 2002-2003, to hold that the claims of the Assessee that no expenditure was incurred to earn the dividend income cannot be accepted and why the orders of the Tribunal for the earlier Assessment Years were not acceptable to the Assessing Officer, particularly, in the absence of any new fact or change of circumstances. Neither any basis has been disclosed establishing a reasonable nexus between the expenditure disallowed and the dividend income received. That any part of the borrowings of the assessee had been diverted to earn tax free income despite the availability of surplus or interest free funds available (Rs. 270.51 crores as on 1.4.2001 and Rs. 280.64 crores as on 31.3.2002) remains unproved by any material whatsoever. While it is true that the principle of res judicata would not apply to assessment proceedings under the Act, the need for consistency and certainty and existence of strong and compelling reasons for a departure from a settled position has to be spelt out which conspicuously is absent in the present case. In this regard we may remind ourselves of what has been observed by this Court in Radhasoami Satsang vs. Commissioner of Income-Tax (1992) 193 ITR (SC) 321 [At Page 329].
“We are aware of the fact that strictly speaking res judicata does not apply to income tax proceedings. Again, each assessment year being a unit, what is decided in one year may not apply in the following year but where a fundamental aspect permeating through the different assessment years has been found as a fact one way or the other and parties have allowed that position to be sustained by not challenging the order, it would not be at all appropriate to allow the position to be changed in a subsequent year.”
In the above circumstances, we are of the view that the second question formulated must go in favour of the assessee and it must be held that for the Assessment Year in question i.e. 2002-2003, the assessee is entitled to the full benefit of the claim of dividend income without any deductions.