Court reiterated that if a proviso is clarificatory and curative in nature, it should be given a retrospective operation. The Court in para 33 held as under:-
“If a legislation confers a benefit on some persons but without inflicting a corresponding detriment on some other person or on the public generally and where to confer such benefit appears to have been the legislators object, then the presumption would be that such a legislation, giving it a purposive construction, would warrant it to be given a retrospective effect. This exactly is the justification to treat procedural provisions as retrospective.”
SC On Levy of Surcharge U/s 113 Proviso In Search Cases
This question has been referred to the Constitution Bench in the Civil Appeal arising out of S.L.P. No.540/2009 and, therefore, to start with, we would be justified in referring to facts of that case. In fact the answer to the aforesaid question would lead to the sealing of the fate of all these appeals one way or the other. The facts in this appeal, which need recapitulation, are that there was a search and seizure operation under Section 132 of the Act on the premises of the assessee on 10.02.2001. Notice under Section 158BC of the Act was issued to the assessee on 18.06.2001 requiring him to file his return of income for the block period ending 10.02.2000. In compliance, the assessee filed its return of income for the block period from 01.04.1989 to 10.02.2000. The Block Assessment in this case was completed under Section 1 58BA on 28.02.2002 at a total undisclosed income of Rs.85,18,819/-. After sometime, the Assessing Officer, on verification of working of calculation of tax, observed that surcharge had not been levied on the tax imposed upon the assessee. This was treated as a mistake apparent on record by the Assessing Officer and accordingly a rectification order was passed under Section 154 of the Act on 30.06.2003. This order under Section 154 of the Act, by which surcharge was levied by the Assessing Officer, was challenged in appeal by the assessee. The said order was cancelled by the CIT (Appeals)-I, New Delhi vide order dated 10.12.2003 on the ground that the levy of surcharge is a debatable issue and therefore such an order could not be passed taking umbrage under Section 154 of the Act. The undisclosed income was revised under Section 250BC/1 58BC by the Assessing Officer vide order dated 09.09.2003 to Rs.10,90,000/- to give effect to the above order of the CIT (Appeals), and thereby removing the component of the surcharge.
As the Department wanted the surcharge to be levied, the Commissioner of Income Tax (Central-I), New Delhi issued a notice under Section 263 of the Act to the assessee and sought to revise the order dated 09.09.2003 passed by the Assessing Officer by which he had given effect to the order of the CIT (Appeals) and in the process did not charge any surcharge. In the opinion of CIT, this led to income having escaped the assessment. According to the CIT, in view of the provisions of Section 113 of the Act as inserted by the Finance Act, 1995 and clarified by the Board Circular No.717 dated 14.08.1995, surcharge was leviable on the income assessed. According to the CIT the charging provision was Section 4 of the Act which was to be read with Section 113 of the Act that prescribes the rate and tax for search and seizure cases and rate of surcharge as specified in the Finance Act of the relevant year was to be applied. In this particular case the search and seizure operation took place on 14.07.1999 and treating this date as relevant, the Finance Act 1999 was to be applied.
The CIT, accordingly, cancelled the order dated 09.09.2003 not levying surcharge upon the assessee, as being erroneous and prejudicial to the interests of the revenue. The Assessing Officer was directed by the CIT to levy surcharge @ 10% and the amount of income tax computed and issue revised notice of demand. The order covered block period 01.04.1989 to 10.02.2000. This order of the CIT under Section 263 of the Act was passed on 23.03.2004. The assessee filed the appeal before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Tribunal’) against the said order of the CIT.
The Tribunal vide its order dated 23.06.2006 allowed the appeal of the assessee. The Tribunal held that the insertion of the proviso to Section 113 of the Income Tax Act cannot be held to be declaratory or clarificatory in nature and was prospective in its operation. Against the order of the Tribunal dated 23.06.2006 the revenue approached the High Court of Delhi by way of an appeal filed under Section 260 A of the Act for the block period 01 .04.1989 to 10.02.2000. This appeal has been dismissed vide order dated 17.04.2007 by the High Court. It is this order of the High Court which is the subject matter of the appeal in question.
It is clear from the aforesaid narration that the High Court has taken the view that proviso inserted in Section 113 of the Act by the Finance Act, 2002 was prospective in nature and the surcharge as leviable under the aforesaid proviso could not be made applicable to the block assessment in question of an earlier period i.e. the period from 01 .04.1989 to 10.02.2000 in the instant case.
The Reference Order
It so happened that this very issue about the said proviso to Section 113, viz., whether it is clarificatory and curative in nature and, therefore, can be applied retrospectively or it is to take effect from the date i.e. 01.06.2002 when it was inserted by the Finance Act, 2002, attracted the attention of this Court and was considered by the Division Bench in the case of Commissioner of Income Tax, Central II v. Suresh N. Gupta1. The Division Bench held that the said proviso is clarificatory in nature. When the instant appeal came up before another Division Bench on 06.01.2009 for hearing, the said Division Bench expressed its doubts about the correctness of the view taken in Suresh N. Gupta and directed the Registry to place the matter before Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India for constitution of a larger bench.
Bench Held as follows :-
Addition of proviso to section 113 in the Finance Act, 2003 further makes it clear that such a provision was necessary to provide for surcharge in the cases of block assessments and thereby making it prospective in nature. The charge in respect of the surcharge, having been created for the first time by the insertion of the proviso to Section 113, is clearly a substantive provision and hence is to be construed prospective in operation. The amendment neither purports to be merely clarificatory nor is there any material to suggest that it was intended by Parliament. Furthermore, an amendment made to a taxing statute can be said to be intended to remove ‘hardships’ only of the assessee, not of the Department. On the contrary, imposing a retrospective levy on the assessee would have caused undue hardship and for that reason Parliament specifically chose to make the proviso effective from 1.6.2002.
The aforesaid discursive of ours also makes it obvious that the conclusion of the Division Bench in Suresh N. Gupta treating the proviso as clarificatory and giving it retrospective effect is not a correct conclusion. Said judgment is accordingly overruled.