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Group M. Media India Pvt. Ltd vs. UOI (Bombay High Court)
October, 26th 2016

S. 143(1D): AO cannot rely on Instruction No.1/2015 dated 13.01.2015 to withhold refunds as the same has been struck down by the Delhi High Court in Tata Teleservices & the same is binding on all AOs across the Country. Action of the AO in not giving reasons for not processing the refund application is “most disturbing” and stating that he will wait till the last date is “preposterous”. Action of the AO suggests that it is not enough that the deity (Act) is pleased but the priest (AO) must also be pleased

(i) Mr. Mohanty does not dispute the fact that in view of the Delhi High Court decision in Tata Teleservices Ltd W.P. (C) No.12304/2015 and CM 32604/2015., Instruction No.1 of 2015 dated 13th January, 2015 of the CBDT would not fetter the Assessing Officer in any manner from exercising his discretion to process the return of income under Section 143(1) of the Act and considering the grant of refund under Section 143(1D) of the Act. The petitioner before the Delhi High Court was not granted refund, pending scrutiny assessment in view of Instruction No.1/2015 dated 13th January, 2015. The Delhi High Court held that the instruction issued is without jurisdiction. This for the reason that although Section 119 of the Act does empower the CBDT to issue instructions for the proper administration of the Act, this power is hedged in by limitations as provided in the proviso to Sections 119(1) and also 119(2) of the Act, i.e. the CBDT cannot direct an Assessing Officer to dispose of a case in a particular manner nor can the instructions be prejudicial to the assessee. Therefore, the circulars / orders / instructions issued by the CBDT under Section 119 of the Act would be binding upon the Revenue only to the extent they are beneficial to the assessee. Such Instructions, if not beneficial to the assessee, cannot prevail over the Act. In the above view, the Delhi High Court held that Instruction No.1 of 2015 dated 13th January, 2015 issued by the CBDT is unsustainable in law and, therefore, set it aside. It must also be pointed out that the Revenue is not disputing the decision of the Delhi High Court in Tata Teleservices Ltd. (supra) either on facts or in law. Therefore, in view of the decision of this Court in Godavaridevi Saraf (supra), the officers implementing the Act are bound by the decision of the Delhi High Court and Instruction No.1 of 2015 dated 13th January, 2015 has ceased to exist. Therefore, no reference to the above Instruction can be made by the Assessing Officer while disposing of the petitioner’s application in processing its return under Section 143(1) of the Act and consequent refund, if any, under Section 143(1D) of the Act. Needless to state that the Assessing Officer would independently apply his mind and take a decision in terms of Section 143 (1D) of the Act whether or not to grant a refund in the facts and circumstances of the petitioner’s case for A.Y. 2015-16.

(ii) The only contention on behalf of the Revenue to oppose the petition is that as the Assessing Officer has time available to process the refund till 31st March, 2017, no mandamus can be issued till 31st March, 2015. We repeatedly asked of Mr. Mohanty, the learned Counsel for the Revenue, if there was any reason why the return could not be processed before 31st March, 2017. No reasons are forthcoming from the Revenue as to why the Assessing Officer will not able to dispose of the application for refund or process the return under Section 143(1) of the Act before 31st March, 2017. This conduct / stand of the Assessing Officer, to say the least, is most disturbing in the context of the fact that the petitioners have been seeking refund since April, 2016. First, he does not deem it proper to inform the petitioner in writing why he cannot deal with the application and after the petitioner moves the Court, the stand taken is that no direction can be given to him till 31st March, 2017 which is the last date to process the return under Section 143(1) of the Act. This attitude on the part of the Assessing Officer is preposterous.

(iii) The action of the officer on the ground urged seems to be in complete variance with the higher echelons of administration of the tax administration being an assessee friendly regime. In fact, the CBDT has itself issued Instruction No.7/2012, dated 1st August, 2002 wherein they have specifically directed the officers of the Revenue to process all returns in which refunds are payable expeditiously. Similarly, as late as in 2014 in the Citizen’s Charter issued by the Income Tax Department in its vision statement states that the Department aspires to issue refunds along with interest under Section 143(1) of the Act within 6 months from date of electronically filing the returns. In this case, the return was filed on 29th November, 2015, yet there is no reason why the Assessing Officer has not processed the refund and taken a decision to grant or not grant a refund under Section 143(1D) of the Act.

(iv) This attitude on the part of the Assessing Officer leaves us with a feeling (not based on any evidence) that the Officers of the Revenue seem to believe that it is not enough for the assessee to please the deity (Income Tax Act) but the assessee must also please the priest (Income Tax Officer) before getting what is due to him under the Act. The officers of the State must ensure that their conduct does not give rise to the above feeling even remotely.

(v) Lastly, we must for the benefit of the Revenue reiterate that our powers under Article 226 of the Constitution are very wide for the purpose of doing justice. The powers of a Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India are not limited only to prerogative writs but also to issue any direction or order for doing justice. Therefore, Article 226(1) of the Constitution empowers the Court to issue directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari or any of them. Therefore, in view of the conduct of the Assessing Officer, we are compelled to direct the Assessing Officer to consider and process the petitioner’s representation dated 12th August, 2016 and dispose of the same as expeditiously as possible within a period of 8 weeks from today.

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