The realm of anonymous donations to charitable organizations is a subject that has stirred debates and controversies within the framework of the Income Tax Act, of 1961.
Section 115BBC, introduced in 2006 and later amended in 2009, brings to light various nuances and intricacies in the taxation of such contributions.
In this article, let me unravel the complexities surrounding anonymous donations, exploring their definitions, exemptions, and controversies that have arisen over the years.
Understanding "Anonymous Donations"
According to sub-section (3) of Section 115BBC, an "anonymous donation" refers to any voluntary contribution where the recipient fails to maintain records of the donor's identity, including name, address, and other prescribed particulars. Notably, there is no requirement to record the PAN/Aadhaar of the donor.
Sub-section (1) outlines the taxation of anonymous donations at a specified rate of 30%, without allowing any deductions or set-offs. The tax is applicable on the aggregate of donations exceeding either 5% of total donations or one lakh rupees, whichever is higher. However, relief is provided through exemptions in sub-section (2) for trusts or institutions with religious or charitable purposes.
Controversies and Confusions
- Vague Terminology: The phrase "wholly for religious and charitable purposes" has sparked confusion. It seems contradictory, especially for trusts with mixed purposes. The literal interpretation raises questions about the taxability of trusts established for both religious and charitable causes.
- Specific Directions from Anonymous Donors: The use of the term "specific direction" in clause (b) of sub-section (2) raises eyebrows. How can an anonymous donor provide specific directions? The article questions whether such directions, if valid, would impact the classification of the donation as a "voluntary contribution."
- Legislative Intent: The article explores the legislative intent behind using the phrase "wholly for religious and charitable purposes." It argues that the legislature aimed to impose restrictions on both religious and charitable trusts, particularly when donations are earmarked for educational or medical institutions.
Controversies Regarding Wholly Religious and Charitable Trusts
The debate extends to wholly religious trusts, as clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (2) appear independent. Now the question arrises, whether a religious trust, exempted under clause (a), can be subjected to the restrictions in clause (b), highlighting potential litigation risks.
Mumbai Tribunal's Judgment
A recent Mumbai Tribunal judgment in the case of Shree Sai Baba Sansthan Trust sheds light on the non-taxability of anonymous donations for trusts existing for both charitable and religious purposes. The Tribunal emphasized that the legislation aimed to prevent unaccounted money inflow into specific institutions, and exemptions apply to trusts with religious purposes.
Disclosure and Compliance
Trusts to furnish particulars of anonymous donations. Despite not explicitly requiring records of anonymous donations, trusts bear the burden of proving donor identities.
Application & Accumulation of Anonymous Donations
If a Trust or Institution avails an exemption for anonymous donation to the extent of 5% of its total income or Rs. 1 lakh whichever is higher, the rest amount tax will be chargeable at a flat rate of 30%
Implications of PMLA
The Prevention of Money Laundering Act applies to all NGOs, Trusts, or Institutions irrespective of the fact that they are religious or charitable and so, all trusts or institutions will have to provide details of donors, particularly in case of foreign receipts.
Though religious organizations may claim that the provisions of section 115BBC are not applicable to them, they cannot enjoy any immunity under Money Laundering Act.