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CIT vs. Sinhgad Technical Education Society (Supreme Court)
September, 08th 2017

S. 153A/ 153C: The seized incriminating material have to pertain to the AY in question and have co-relation, document-wise, with the AY. This requirement u/s 153C is essential and becomes a jurisdictional fact. It is an essential condition precedent that any money, bullion or jewellery or other valuable articles or thing or books of accounts or documents seized or requisitioned should belong to a person other than the person referred to in S. 153A. Kamleshbhai Dharamshibhai Patel 31 50 (Guj) approved. SSP Aviation 20 214 (Del) distinguished

(i) In these appeals, qua the aforesaid four Assessment Years, the assessment is quashed by the ITAT (which order is upheld by the High Court) on the sole ground that notice under Section 153C of the Act was legally unsustainable. The events recorded above further disclose that the issue pertaining to validity of notice under Section 153C of the Act was raised for the first time before the Tribunal and the Tribunal permitted the assessee to raise this additional ground and while dealing 12 with the same on merits, accepted the contention of the assessee.

(ii) First objection of the learned Solicitor General was that it was improper on the part of the ITAT to allow this ground to be raised, when the assessee had not objected to the jurisdiction under Section 153C of the Act before the AO. Therefore, in the first instance, it needs to be determined as to whether ITAT was right in permitting the assessee to raise this ground for the first time before it, as an additional ground.

(iii) The ITAT permitted this additional ground by giving a reason that it was a jurisdictional issue taken up on the basis of facts already on the record and, therefore, could be raised. In this behalf, it was noted by the ITAT that as per the provisions of Section 153C of the Act, incriminating material which was seized had to pertain to the Assessment Years in question and it is an undisputed fact that the documents which were seized did not establish any co-relation, document-wise, with these four Assessment Years. Since this requirement under Section 153C of the Act is essential for assessment under that provision, it becomes a jurisdictional fact. We find this reasoning to be logical and valid, having regard to the provisions of Section 153C of the Act. Para 9 of the order of the ITAT reveals that the ITAT had scanned through the Satisfaction Note and the material which was disclosed therein was culled out and it showed that the same belongs to Assessment Year 2004-05 or 13 thereafter. After taking note of the material in para 9 of the order, the position that emerges therefrom is discussed in para 10. It was specifically recorded that the counsel for the Department could not point out to the contrary. It is for this reason the High Court has also given its imprimatur to the aforesaid approach of the Tribunal. That apart, learned senior counsel appearing for the respondent, argued that notice in respect of Assessment Years 2000-01 and 2001-02 was even time barred.

(iv) We, thus, find that the ITAT rightly permitted this additional ground to be raised and correctly dealt with the same ground on merits as well. Order of the High Court affirming this view of the Tribunal is, therefore, without any blemish. Before us, it was argued by the respondent that notice in respect of the Assessment Years 2000-01 and 2001-02 was time barred. However, in view of our aforementioned findings, it is not necessary to enter into this controversy.

(v) Insofar as the judgment of the Gujarat High Court in Kamleshbhai Dharamshibhai Patel v. Commissioner of Income Tax-III, (2013) 31 50 (Gujarat) relied upon by the learned Solicitor General is concerned, we find that the High Court in that case has categorically held that it is an essential condition precedent that any money, bullion or jewellery or other valuable articles or thing or books of accounts or documents seized or requisitioned should belong to a person other than the person referred to in Section 153A of the Act. This proposition of law laid down by the High Court is correct, which is stated by the Bombay High Court in the impugned judgment as well. The judgment of the Gujarat High Court in the said case went in favour of the Revenue when it was found on facts that the documents seized, in fact, pertain to third party, i.e. the assessee, and, therefore, the said condition precedent for taking action under Section 153C of the Act had been satisfied.

(vi) Likewise, the Delhi High Court in SSP Aviation Limited v. Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax, (2012) 20 214 (Delhi), also decided the case on altogether different facts which will have no bearing once the matter is examined in the aforesaid hue on the facts of this case. The Bombay High Court has rightly distinguished the said judgment as not applicable giving the following reasons:

“8. Reliance on the judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court of Delhi reported in case of SSP Aviation Ltd. Vs. Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax (2012) 346 ITR 177 is misplaced. There, search was carried out in the case of “P” group of companies. It was found that the assessee before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court had acquired certain development rights from “P” group of companies. Based thereon, the satisfaction was recorded by the Assessing Officer and he issued notice in terms of Section 153C. Thereupon the proceedings were initiated under section 153A and the assessee was directed to file returns for the six assessment years commencing from 2003-04 onwards. The assessees filed returns for those years but disclosed Nil taxable income. These returns were accepted by the Assessing Officer, however, in respect of the assessment year 2007-08 there was a significant difference in the pattern of assessment for this year also, the return was filed for Nil 15 income but there were certain documents and which showed that there were transactions of sale of development rights and from which profits were generated and taxable for the assessment year 2007-08. Thus, the receipt of Rs.44 crores as deposit in the previous year relevant to the assessment year 2008-09 and later on became subject matter of the writ petition before the Delhi High Court. That was challenging the validity of notice under section 153C read with section 153A. In dealing with such situation and the peculiar facts that the Delhi High Court upheld the satisfaction and the Delhi High Court found that the machinery provided under section 153C read with section 153A equally facilitates inquiry regarding existence of undisclosed income in the hands of a person other than searched person. The provisions have been referred to in details in dealing with a challenge to the legality and validity of the seizure and action founded thereon. We do not find anything in this judgment which would enable us to hold that the tribunal’s understanding of the said legal provision suffers from any error apparent on the face of the record. The Delhi High Court judgment, therefore, will not carry the case of the revenue any further.”

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