CA Urvashi Porwal
Brief of the Case
In the case of Commissioner, Central Excise & Customs, Kerala Vs. M/s Larsen & Toubro Ltd., it was held by Supreme Court that service tax cannot be levied on indivisible works contracts prior to introduction, on 1st June, 2007.
The present appeal is concerned with whether service tax can be levied on indivisible works contracts prior to the introduction, on 1st June, 2007, of the Finance Act, 2007 which expressly makes such works contracts liable to service tax.
It all began with State of Madras v. Gannon Dunkerley & Co. (Madras) Ltd., 1959 SCR 379. A Constitution Bench of this Court held that in a building contract which was one and entirely indivisible, there was no sale of goods and it was not within the competence of the
State Provincial Legislature to impose a tax on the supply of materials used in such a contract, treating it as a sale. The above statement was founded on the premise that a works contract is a composite contract which is inseparable and indivisible, and which consists of several elements which include not only a transfer of property in goods but labour and service elements as well. Entry 48 of List II to the 7th Schedule to the Government of India Act, 1935 was what was under consideration before this Court in Gannon Dunkerley’s case. It was observed that the expression “sale of goods” in that entry has become “nomen juris” and that therefore it has the same meaning as the said expression had in the Sale of Goods Act, 1930. In other words, the essential ingredients of a sale of goods, namely, that there has to be an agreement to sell movables for a price, and property must pass therein pursuant to such agreement, are both preconditions to the taxation power of the States under the said entry. This Court, after considering a large number of judgments, ultimately came to the following conclusion:-
“To sum up, the expression “sale of goods” in Entry 48 is a nomen juris, its essential ingredients being an agreement to sell movables for a price and property passing therein pursuant to that agreement. In a building contract which is, as in the present case, one, entire and indivisible — and that is its norm, there is no sale of goods, and it is not within the competence of the Provincial Legislature under Entry 48 to impose a tax on the supply of the materials used in such a contract treating it as a sale.”
Held by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that Service tax was introduced by the Finance Act, 1994 and various services were set out in Section 65 thereof as being amenable to tax.
All the present cases are cases which arise before the 2007 amendment was made, which introduced the concept of “works contract” as being a separate subject matter of taxation. Various amendments were made in the sections of the Finance Act by which “works contracts” which were indivisible and composite were split so that only the labour and service element of such contracts would be taxed under the heading “Service Tax”.
The Hon’ble Court further stated that a works contract is a separate species of contract distinct from contracts for services simpliciter recognized by the world of commerce and law as such, and has to be taxed separately as such. In Gannon Dunkerley, 1959 SCR 379, this Court recognized works contracts as a separate species of contract as follows:–
“To avoid misconception, it must be stated that the above conclusion has reference to works contracts, which are entire and indivisible, as the contracts of the respondents have been held by the learned Judges of the Court below to be. The several forms which such kinds of contracts can assume are set out in Hudson on Building Contracts, at p. 165. It is possible that the parties might enter into distinct and separate contracts, one for the transfer of materials for money consideration, and the other for payment of remuneration for services and for work done. In such a case, there are really two agreements, though there is a single instrument embodying them, and the power of the State to separate the agreement to sell, from the agreement to do work and render service and to impose a tax thereon cannot be questioned, and will stand untouched by the present judgment.”
Similarly, in Kone Elevator India (P) Ltd. v. State of T.N., (2014) 7 SCC 1, this Court held:-
“Coming to the stand and stance of the State of Haryana, as put forth by Mr Mishra, the same suffers from two basic fallacies, first, the supply and installation of lift treating it as a contract for sale on the basis of the overwhelming component test, because there is a stipulation in the contract that the customer is obliged to undertake the work of civil construction and the bulk of the material used in construction belongs to the manufacturer, is not correct, as the subsequent discussion would show; and second, the Notification dated 17-5-2010 issued by the Government of Haryana, Excise and Taxation Department, whereby certain rules of the Haryana Value Added Tax Rules, 2003 have been amended and a table has been annexed providing for “Percentages for Works Contract and Job Works” under the heading “Labour, service and other like charges as percentage of total value of the contract” specifying 15% for fabrication and installation of elevators (lifts) and escalators, is self-contradictory, for once it is treated as a composite contract invoking labour and service, as a natural corollary, it would be works contract and not a contract for sale. To elaborate, the submission that the element of labour and service can be deducted from the total contract value without treating the composite contract as a works contract is absolutely fallacious.
The Hon’ble further stated that a close look at the Finance Act, 1994 would show that the five taxable services referred to in the charging Section 65(105) would refer only to service contracts simpliciter and not to composite works contracts. This is clear from the very language of Section 65(105) which defines “taxable service” as “any service provided”. All the services referred to in the said sub-clauses are service contracts simpliciter without any other element in them, such as for example, a service contract which is a commissioning and installation, or erection, commissioning and installation contract. Further, under Section 67, as has been pointed out above, the value of a taxable service is the gross amount charged by the service provider for such service rendered by him. This would unmistakably show that what is referred to in the charging provision is the taxation of service contracts simpliciter and not composite works contracts, such as are contained on the facts of the present cases. It will also be noticed that no attempt to remove the non-service elements from the composite works contracts has been made by any of the aforesaid Sections by deducting from the gross value of the works contract the value of property in goods transferred in the execution of a works contract.
In fact, by way of contrast, Section 67 post amendment (by the Finance Act, 2006) for the first time prescribes, in cases like the present, where the provision of service is for a consideration which is not ascertainable, to be the amount as may be determined in the prescribed manner.
It is interesting to note that while introducing the concept of service tax on indivisible works contracts various exclusions are also made such as works contracts in respect of roads, airports, airways transport bridges, tunnels, and dams. These infrastructure projects have been excluded and continue to be excluded presumably because they are conceived in the national interest. If learned counsel for the revenue were right, each of these excluded works contracts could be taxed under the five sub-heads of Section 65(105) contained in the Finance Act, 1994. For example, a works contract involving the construction of a bridge or dam or tunnel would presumably fall within Section 65(105) (zzd) as a contract which relates to erection, commissioning or installation. It is clear that such contracts were never intended to be the subject matter of service tax. Yet, if learned counsel for the revenue is right, such contracts, not being exempt under the Finance Act, 1994, would fall within its tentacles, which was never the intention of Parliament.
The Delhi High Court judgment unfortunately misread the judgment of this Court in Mahim Patram’s case to arrive at the conclusion that it was an authority for the proposition that a tax is leviable even if no rules are framed for assessment of such tax, which is wholly incorrect.
The Hon’ble Court further stated that the said Finance Act lays down no charge or machinery to levy and assess service tax on indivisible composite works contracts, such argument must fail. This is also for the simple reason that there is no subterfuge in entering into composite works contracts containing elements both of transfer of property in goods as well as labour and services.
In view of the above, the appeals of the assessees are allowed and all the appeals of the revenue are dismissed.