Case Law Details

Case Name : Anheuser Busch Inbev India Ltd. Vs Commissioner of Central Tax (CESTAT Bangalore)
Appeal Number : Service Tax Appeal No. 20374 of 2020
Date of Judgement/Order : 18/02/2021
Related Assessment Year :

Anheuser Busch Inbev India Ltd. Vs Commissioner of Central Tax (CESTAT Bangalore)

The Hon’ble CESTAT Bangalore, in M/S. Anheuser Busch Inbev India Ltd. v. Commissioner of Central Tax [Service Tax Appeal No. 20374 of 2020, decided on February 18, 2021] held that no service tax under reverse charge mechanism is payable on the license fee and other application fee paid to the State Excise department for grant of liquor license. Further, confirmed the Service tax demand on Storage License fee for CO2 which the Appellant is liable to pay along with interest.

Facts:

M/S. Anheuser Busch Inbev India Ltd. (“the Appellant”) is engaged in manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Pursuant to the enquiry initiated by the Directorate General of Central Excise Intelligence, Bangalore (“DGCEI”), a Show Cause Notice dated June 18, 2018 (“SCN”) was issued to the Appellant, inter alia, demanding Service tax of INR 17,77,85,108/- under reverse charge mechanism on the certain amount paid towards license fee and other application fee (including  Export Pass fee, Import Pass fee, Permit fee, Excise Staff Salary and overtime allowances/charges etc.) to the State Excise department for grant of liquor license. It alleged that the fees paid by the Appellant are with respect to the purported service provided by the State Government for which the Appellant is liable to pay Service tax under reverse charge mechanism on  same.

Thereafter, the Commissioner (“the Respondent”), vide order dated March 18, 2020, confirmed Service tax demand of INR 4,89,95,805/- with respect to Export Pass fee and Import fee, Storage License Renewal fee, Excise Staff Salary & Overtime charges and Permit fee paid to the State Excise department. Further, dropped the demand with respect to Brewery License Fee, Bond Registration Renewal Fee, Factory License Renewal Fee, Brand Registration Fee, Barcode Fee, Bottling Fee and Appeal Filing Fee.

Aggrieved by the Service Tax demand confirmed by the Respondent, the Appellant has filed the present appeal.

Issue:

Whether the Appellant is liable to pay Service tax on the license fee and other application fees charged for grant of liquor license paid to State Excise department?

Held:

The Hon’ble CESTAT Bangalore, in Service Tax Appeal No. 20374 of 2020, decided on February 18, 2021 held as under:

  • The Respondent has wrongly considered the fee paid by the Appellant to the State Excise department and various other Government departments/agencies as having an element of a quid pro quo in it and hence as a service provided by the State Excise department. Noted that, the fee charged for grant of license is not a consideration for service, but a price charged for “exclusive privilege” parted by the State, the export fee does not have an element of service and therefore not a service and accordingly not subject to levy of Service tax.
  • Noted that, the GST Council in its 26th meeting on March 10, 2018 has recommended that GST was not leviable on license fee and application fee, “by whatever name called”, payable for alcoholic liquor for human consumption and that this would apply mutatis mutandis to the demand raised by the Service tax/Excise authorities on license fee for alcoholic liquor for human consumption in the pre-GST era i.e., for the period from April 2016 to June 30, 2017. Specific inclusion of word “by whatever name called”, the Legislature made it abundantly clear that any fee paid under the purview of State Excise legislation would not be leviable to Service tax.
  • Observed that, in August, 2019, the Finance Act, 2019 (“Finance Act”) was enacted amending Section 66B of the Finance Act, 1994 and pursuant to the retrospective amendment vide Section 117 of the Finance Act, it became even more clear and the dispute regarding the leviability of Service tax on fee paid to State Government in relation to alcoholic liquor for human consumption has come to an end.
  • Held that, the Appellant is not liable to pay Service tax on Export Pass fee, Import Pass fee, Permit fee, Excise Staff Salary and overtime allowances/charges and set aside the demand on all these services.
  • Further, held that the Appellant is not liable to pay penalties in view of the fact that demand itself is not sustainable.
  • Upheld the Service tax demand only on Storage License fee for CO2 and held that, it cannot be considered as fee paid towards grant of liquor license and the Appellant is liable to pay tax along with interest.

Relevant Provisions:

Section 66B of the Finance Act, 1994:

“Charge of service tax on and after Finance Act, 2012.

66B. There shall be levied a tax (hereinafter referred to as the service tax) at the rate of fourteen per cent. on the value of all services, other than those services specified in the negative list, provided or agreed to be provided in the taxable territory by one person to another and collected in such manner as may be prescribed.”

Section 117(1) of the Finance Act:

“117. Special provision for retrospective exemption from service tax on service by way of grant of liquor license

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 66B of Chapter V of the Finance Act, 1994 as it stood prior to its omission vide Section 173 of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 with effect from the 1st day of July, 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the said Chapter), no service tax shall be levied or collected in respect of taxable service provided or agreed to be provided by the State Government by way of grant of liquor licence, against consideration in the form of licence fee or application fee, by whatever name called, during the period commencing from the 1st day of April, 2016 and ending with the 30th day of June, 2017 (both days inclusive).”

**********

FULL TEXT OF THE CESTAT JUDGEMENT

The present appeal is directed against the impugned order dated 6.03.2020/18.03.2020 passed by the Commissioner of Central Tax, Bangalore whereby the learned Commissioner has confirmed the demand of Rs.4,89,95,805/- along with interest under Section 75 of the Finance Act, 1994. The Commissioner has also imposed penalty of Rs.10,000/- under Section 77(2) of the Finance Act 1994 and Rs.4,89,95,805/- under Section 78 of the Finance Act, 1994. The period of dispute is from April 2016 to June 2017 and SCN was issued on 18.06.2018.

2. Briefly the facts of the present case are that the appellants are engaged, inter alia, in manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Pursuant to the enquiry initiated by the DGCEI, Bangalore, Zonal Unit, a SCN dated 18.06.2018 was issued to the appellant, inter alia, demanding service tax of Rs.17,77,85,108/- under reverse charge mechanism on the following fees paid to the State Excise department:

(i) Brewery License Fee

(ii)Bond Registration Renewal Fee

(iii) Storage License Fee for CO2

(iv) Factory License Renewal Fee

(v) Excise Staff Salary and Overtime allowance/charges

(vi) Permit Fee

(vii)Brand Registration Fee

(viii) Barcode Fee

(ix) Bottling Fee

(x) Export Pass Fee

(xi) Import Pass Fee

(xii) Appeal Filing Fee

2.1. It was further alleged in the SCN that the aforesaid fees paid by the appellant are with respect to the purported service provided by the State Government and in view of the amendment made to Section 66D of the Finance Act vide Finance Act, 2015, read with Notification No.06/2016-ST dated 18.02.2016, the appellant is liable to pay service tax under reverse charge mechanism on the same. During the course of investigation, the appellant had deposited Rs.17,77,85,108/- under protest. Subsequently, vide Section 117 of the Finance Act, 2019, it was provided that no service tax shall be levied or collected in respect of taxable service provided or agreed to be provided by the State Government by way of grant of liquor license, against consideration in the form of license fee or application fee, by whatever name called, during the period commencing from 01.04.2016 and ending with the 30.06.2017 (both days inclusive). Thereafter, after following the due process, the learned Commissioner, vide the impugned order dated 18.03.2020, confirmed service tax demand of Rs.4,89,95,805/- with respect to Export Pass fee and Import fee, Storage License Renewal fee, Excise Staff Salary & Overtime charges and Permit fee paid to the State Excise department. Further, the learned Commissioner dropped the demand with respect to Brewery License Fee, Bond Registration Renewal Fee, Factory License Renewal Fee, Brand Registration Fee, Barcode Fee, Bottling Fee and Appeal Filing Fee. Aggrieved by the Service Tax demand confirmed by the learned Commissioner, the appellant has filed the present appeal.

3. Heard both the parties and perused the records of the case.

4. Learned Counsel for the appellant submitted that the impugned order is not sustainable in law as the same has been passed without properly appreciating the facts, law and the binding judicial precedents on the issue involved in the present case. He further submitted that in terms of Entry 8 of List-II of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, production, manufacture, possession, transport, purchase and sale of intoxicating liquors is the “exclusive privilege” of the State. He also submitted that the State Government instead of engaging itself, can part with its “exclusive privilege” of trade in liquor on payment of such fee and on such terms and conditions as it can deem fit from time to time. Learned Counsel also submitted that there is no quid quo in the license fee and service, if any, rendered by the State Government. The license fee charged by the State Government is neither any tax nor fee, but it is the consideration charged by the State Government for parting with its privilege and granting it to licensee for manufacture and sale of liquor. He relied upon the Constitutional Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Har Shankar Vs Excise & Taxation Commissioner, (1975) 1 SCC 737, wherein the Hon’ble Apex Court held , that the licensee fee is not a fee properly so-called nor indeed a tax but is in the nature of the price of a privilege, which the purchaser has to pay in any trading or business transactions. It is his further submission that the license fee charged by the State Government is not subject to tax as the same is not for any service. Pursuant to the retrospective amendment vide Section 117 of the Finance Act, 2019, it became even more clear that no service tax is leviable or payable on the license fee paid to the State Excise Department. He further submitted that the learned Commissioner has rightly dropped the service tax demand on license fee but has erred in confirming the demand with respect to the Import Pass fee, Export Pass fee and Permit fee etc. He also submitted that the learned Commissioner has erred in holding that permit granted for import/export of liquor cannot be treated as license. He further submitted that the learned Commissioner has erred in not appreciating that like the License fee, Import Pass fee and Export Pass fee are also the consideration charged by the State Government for parting with its exclusive privilege to import and export liquor. He relied upon the Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of State of Punjab and Orissa Vs Devans Modern Breweries Ltd. and Others reported in (2004) 11 SCC 26 wherein it has been held that import fee levied is the price for parting with the privilege given to the licensee to import beer in to the State. He further submitted that the learned Commissioner has erred in holding that the Permit fee given for transportation of beer is temporary in nature and cannot be treated as License. For this submission, he relied upon the decision of Hon’ble Rajasthan High court in the case of Inertia Industries Vs State of Rajasthan and Others, 2001 SCC Online Raj 937 wherein it has been held Permit fee charged by the State for allowing transport of liquor is the consideration charged by the State for parting with its exclusive privilege in favour of a person. He also relied upon the decision of Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of State of Orissa and Others Vs Narain Prasad and Others, (1996) 5 SCC 740, wherein it has been held that “privilege” means the License or Permit granted by the State. He further submitted that the learned Commissioner has erred in giving a very narrow meaning to term “Licensee Fee” whereas the term “Licensee Fee” shall include consideration charged by the State in any form for parting with its exclusive privilege. He also cited Section 117 of the Finance Act, 2019 which uses the words “by whatever name called” and the learned Commissioner has erred in not giving due meaning to the words “by whatever name called”. As far as service tax on Excise Staff Salary and Overtime charges are concerned, the learned Counsel submitted that the learned Commissioner has wrongly held that the Excise Staff Salary and Overtime charges are with respect to service provided by the State Government. For this submission, he relied upon the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Gupta Modern Breweries Vs State of J&K and Others, (2007) 6 SCC 317 wherein it has been held that there is no quid pro quo between the staff’s salary and service rendered. The Hon’ble Supreme Court further held that the administrative charges recovered by the State are in the nature of tax. He also referred to Circular No.192/02/2016-ST dated 13.04.2016, wherein CBIC has clarified that taxes, cesses or duties levied are not consideration for any particular service as such and hence not leviable to Service Tax. Hence, he has prayed that no service tax should be levied on Excise Staff Salary and Overtime charges. Similarly, he has prayed that no service tax is payable on Storage License Fee for CO2. Learned Counsel also contested the penalties imposed on the appellant on the ground that when the demand itself is not sustainable, the question of imposition of penalty does not arise and further the issue involved is of interpretation of law and therefore penalty is not imposable.

5. On the other hand, learned AR reiterated the findings of the impugned order.

6. After considering the submissions of both the parties at length and after going through various provisions of the Finance Act, 1994 and the various decisions relied upon by the appellant cited supra, we find that the only issue involved in the present case is whether the appellant is liable to pay service tax under Reverse Charge Mechanism on the Export Pass fee and Import fee, Storage License Renewal fee, Excise Staff Salary and Overtime charges, Permit fee paid to the State Excise department. With regard to other fees, learned Commissioner himself has granted relief in view of the amendment made in Section 117 of the Finance Act, 2019 with retrospect. Here it is pertinent to refer to the amendment in Section 117(1) vide Finance Act, 2019 which is reproduced herein below:

117(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 66B of Chapter V of the Finance Act, 1994 as it stood prior to its omission vide Section 173 of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 with effect from the 1st day of July, 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the said Chapter), no service tax shall be levied or collected in respect of taxable service provided or agreed to be provided by the State Government by way of grant of liquor licence, against consideration in the form of licence fee or application fee, by whatever name called, during the period commencing from the 1st day of April, 2016 and ending with the 30th day of June, 2017 (both days inclusive).

6.1. Further, we note that learned Commissioner has wrongly considered the fee paid by the appellant to the State Excise department and various other Government departments/agencies as having an element of a quid pro quo in it and hence services provided by the State Excise department. We also note that the fee charged for grant of license is not a consideration for service, but a price charged for “exclusive privilege” parted by the State, the export fee does not have an element of service and therefore not a service and accordingly not subject to levy of service tax. The State Legislature is empowered to make laws in terms of Article 246 read with the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. The State Legislature is empowered to make laws in respect of Entries 8 and 66 of the State List which cover production, manufacture, possession, transport, purchase and sale of intoxicating liquors and fees in respect of any of the matters in this List excluding fees taken in any court. We further note that to deal with intoxicating liquor is part of the State responsibility and it is in exercise of these privileges, State has exclusive rights to manufacture, possession, consumption, transport etc. of liquor within its territory and to grant licenses and permits to ensure compliance. Further, we find that in August, 2019, the Finance Act, 2019 was enacted amending Section 66B of the Act, to the effect that service tax was not leviable on services provided by the State Government by way of grant of liquor licenses against consideration in the form of license fee or application fee “by whatever name called”, during 01.04.2016 to 30.06.2017 along with this amendment the dispute regarding the leviability of service tax on fee paid to State Government in relation to alcoholic liquor for human consumption has come to an end and it is clear that service tax is not leviable on the said fees from April 2016 to June 2017. Specific inclusion of word “by whatever name called”, the Legislature made it abundantly clear that any fee paid under the purview of State Excise legislation would not be leviable to service tax. Further, it is pertinent to note that the word “License Fee” is defined by Oxford Dictionary to mean “a fee paid to an organization for permission to own, use or do something”. The Hon’ble Apex Court in the case of State of Orissa Vs Narain Prasad cited supra specifically explained the meaning of expression “Privilege” and held that “Privilege really means the license or permit granted by the State”. Further, in view of State of Punjab and Orissa Vs Devans Modern Breweries Ltd. cited supra Import fee levied as price for parting with privilege given to the licensee by the State. Further, in view of Inertia Industries Vs State of Rajasthan cited supra Permit fee charged by the State for allowing transport of liquor is the considerations charged by the State for parting with its exclusive privilege and is not liable to service tax. Further in view of the Hon’ble Supreme Court decision in the case of Gupta Modern Breweries Vs State of J&K cited supra it is held that there is no quid pro quo between the Staff Salary and the services rendered hence the same is not liable to service tax. As far as levy of service tax on Storage License fee for CO2 is concerned, we find that learned Commissioner has observed that the said license is issued to the appellant by the State Excise department for the specific purpose of storing CO2. The appellant has paid the fee against the renewal of license for storing CO2 which fact is admitted by Ashish Jain, Manager of appellant in his statement dated 05.02.2018. In our view, the learned Commissioner has rightly upheld the demand of service tax on Storage License Renewal fee which cannot be considered as fee paid towards grant of liquor license. Moreover, the learned Counsel for the appellant has also not pressed against the confirmation of this demand hence we uphold the demand of service tax on Storage License fee for CO2 along with interest.

7. Further, we may also note that the issue with respect to tax liability on license fee and other application fee paid to the State authorities continued to be an issue under GST as well and the GST Council in its 26th meeting on 10.03.2018 recommended that GST was not leviable on license fee and application fee, “by whatever name called”, payable for alcoholic liquor for human consumption and that this would apply mutatis mutandis to the demand raised by the Service Tax/Excise authorities on license fee for alcoholic liquor for human consumption in the pre-GST era i.e. for the period from April 2016 to 30th June 2017.

8. In view of our discussion above and by following the ratios of the various judgments relied upon by the appellant cited supra, we are of the considered opinion that the appellant is not liable to pay service tax on Export Pass fee, Import Pass fee, Permit fee, Excise Staff Salary and overtime allowances/charges and we set aside the demand on all these services. We confirmed the service tax demand on Storage License fee for CO2 which the appellant is liable to pay along with interest. We also hold that appellants are not liable to pay penalties in view of the fact that demand itself is not sustainable. In view of our discussion above, we allow the appeal of the appellant partly to the extent noted above. Hence, the appeal is partly allowed.

(Order pronounced in the open court on 18/02/2021)

*****

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are strictly of the author and A2Z Taxcorp LLP. The contents of this article are solely for informational purpose. It does not constitute professional advice or recommendation of firm. Neither the author nor firm and its affiliates accepts any liabilities for any loss or damage of any kind arising out of any information in this article nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

Download Judgment/Order

Author Bio

More Under Service Tax

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Search Posts by Date

April 2021
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930