SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
NATURE OF INCENTIVE SUBSIDY RECEIVED BY A SUGAR FACTORY UNDER SCHEME OF 1980, 1987,1988 & 1993 FOR PURPOSE OF IT ACT, 1961
It is the object for which the subsidy/assistance is given which determines the nature of the incentive subsidy; the form of the mechanism through which the subsidy is given is irrelevant.
Ponni Sugar & Chemicals Ltd.
Civil Appeal No. 5694 of 2008
September 16, 2008
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
10. At the outset, it may be stated that during the relevant year in question, on account of economic factors, namely, high cost, the new sugar factories could not come up as it was not economically viable. Due to high cost, the financial institutions did not come forward to advance loans to the entrepreneurs of new sugar factories. Secondly, the tempo of establishing new sugar factories received a serious set back, therefore, the Government appointed a Committee known as Sampat Committee to examine the question relating to economic viability of new sugar factories. One of the terms of reference suggested was to work out various incentives for making new sugar factories economically viable units. The increase of the cost of the project during the relevant years was on account of the increase in the cost of Plant and Machinery. The said Committee gave its Report in which the Committee recommended that the economic viability of a factory would mean that the unit should not break even after meeting the working expenses, interest on borrowings, depreciation on Plant and Machinery, but it should also be able to declare a reasonable dividend on the equity capital. According to the Committee, the factory should be able to generate sufficient funds to repay the instalments of the term loans. Under Para 21.0 the said Committee stated that five possible incentives for making a sugar plant economically viable unit could be provided for, namely, capital subsidy, allowing a larger percentage of free sale sugar, high levy sugar price, allowing rebate on excise duty and remission of purchase tax. In this case, we are concerned with allowability of a larger percentage of free sale sugar and rebate on excise duty. Following the said Report of the Sampat Committee, the above Schemes came to be formulated.
11. We have examined in this case the 1980 and 1987 Schemes. Essentially all the four schemes are similar except in the matter of details. Four factors exist in the said Schemes, which are as follows:
(i) Benefit of the incentive subsidy was available only to new units and to substantially expanded units, not to supplement the trade receipts.
(ii) The minimum investment specified was Rs. 4 crores for new units and Rs. 2 crores for expansion units.
(iii) Increase in the free sale sugar quota depended upon increase in the production capacity. In other words, the extent of the increase of free sale sugar quota depended upon the increase in the production capacity.
(iv) The benefit of the scheme had to be utilized only for repayment of term loans.
12. One important aspect may also be noted that in the case of Salem Cooperative Sugar Mills Ltd. we are concerned with Notification dated 15.11.1980. It indicates the above factors of the Scheme. The important point to be noted is that Government of India, financial institutions as well as the sugar industries are parties to the scheme in the sense that but for the scheme the financial institutions would not have given term loans to set up new units/expansion of the existing units.
13. The main controversy arises in these cases because of the reason that the incentives were given through the mechanism of price differential and the duty differential. According to the Department, price and costs are essential items that are basic to the profit making process and that any price related mechanism would normally be presumed to be revenue in nature. In other words, according to the Department, since incentives were given through price and duty differentials, the character of the impugned incentive in this case was revenue and not capital in nature. On the other hand, according to the assessee, what was relevant to decide the character of the incentive is the purpose test and not the mechanism of payment.
14. In our view, the controversy in hand can be resolved if we apply the test laid down in the judgment of this Court in the case of Sahney Steel and Press Works Ltd. (supra). In that case, on behalf of the assessee, it was contended that the subsidy given was up to 10% of the capital investment calculated on the basis of the quantum of investment in capital and, therefore, receipt of such subsidy was on capital account and not on revenue account. It was also urged in that case that subsidy granted on the basis of refund of sales tax on raw materials, machinery and finished goods were also of capital nature as the object of granting refund of sales tax was that the assessee could set up new business or expand his existing business. The contention of the assessee in that case was dismissed by the Tribunal and, therefore, the assessee had come to this Court by way of a special leave petition. It was held by this Court on the facts of that case and on the basis of the analyses of the Scheme therein that the subsidy given was on revenue account because it was given by way of assistance in carrying on of trade or business. On the facts of that case, it was held that the subsidy given was to meet recurring expenses. It was not for acquiring the capital asset. It was not to meet part of the cost. It was not granted for production of or bringing into existence any new asset. The subsidies in that case were granted year after year only after setting up of the new industry and only after commencement of production and, therefore, such a subsidy could only be treated as assistance given for the purpose of carrying on the business of the assessee. Consequently, the contentions raised on behalf of the assessee on the facts of that case stood rejected and it was held that the subsidy received by Sahney Steel could not be regarded as anything but a revenue receipt. Accordingly the matter was decided against the assessee. The importance of the judgment of this Court in Sahney Steel case lies in the fact that it has discussed and analysed the entire case law and it has laid down the basic test to be applied in judging the character of a subsidy. That test is that the character of the receipt in the hands of the assessee has to be determined with respect to the purpose for which the subsidy is given. In other words, in such cases, one has to apply the purpose test. The point of time at which the subsidy is paid is not relevant. The source is immaterial. The form of subsidy is immaterial. The main eligibility condition in the scheme with which we are concerned in this case is that the incentive must be utilized for repayment of loans taken by the assessee to set up new units or for substantial expansion of existing units. On this aspect there is no dispute. If the object of the subsidy scheme was to enable the assessee to run the business more profitably then the receipt is on revenue account. On the other hand, if the object of the assistance under the subsidy scheme was to enable the assessee to set up a new unit or to expand the existing unit then the receipt of the subsidy was on capital account. Therefore, it is the object for which the subsidy/assistance is given which determines the nature of the incentive subsidy. The form of the mechanism through which the subsidy is given is irrelevant.
15. In the decision of House of Lords in the case of Seaham Harbour Dock Co. v. Crook (1931) 16 TC 333 the Harbour Dock Co. had applied for grants from the Unemployment Grants Committee from funds appropriated by Parliament. The said grants were paid as the work progressed the payments were made several times for some years. The Dock Co. had undertaken the work of extension of its docks. The extended dock was for relieving the unemployment. The main purpose was relief from unemployment. Therefore, the House of Lords held that the financial assistance given to the company for dock extension cannot be regarded as a trade receipt. It was found by the House of Lords that the assistance had nothing to do with the trading of the company because the work undertaken was dock extension. According to the House of Lords, the assistance in the form of a grant was made by the Government with the object that by its use men might be kept in employment and, therefore, its receipt was capital in nature. The importance of the judgment lies in the fact that the company had applied for financial assistance to the Unemployment Grants Committee. The Committee gave financial assistance from time to time as the work progressed and the payments were equivalent to half the interest for two years on approved expenditure met out of loans. Even though the payment was equivalent to half the interest amount payable on the loan (interest subsidy) still the House of Lords held that money received by the company was not in the course of trade but was of capital nature. The judgment of House of Lords shows that the source of payment or the form in which the subsidy is paid or the mechanism through which it is paid is immaterial and that what is relevant is the purpose for payment of assistance. Ordinarily such payments would have been on revenue account but since the purpose of the payment was to curtail/obliterate unemployment and since the purpose was dock extension, the House of Lords held that the payment made was of capital nature.
16. One more aspect needs to be mentioned. In Sahney Steel and Press Works Ltd. (supra) this Court found that the assessee was free to use the money in its business entirely as it liked. It was not obliged to spend the money for a particular purpose. In the case of Seaham Harbour Dock Co. (supra) assessee was obliged to spend the money for extension of its docks. This aspect is very important. In the present case also, receipt of the subsidy was capital in nature as the assessee was obliged to utilize the subsidy only for repayment of term loans undertaken by the assessee for setting up new units/expansion of existing business.
17. Applying the above tests to the facts of the present case and keeping in mind the object behind the payment of the incentive subsidy we are satisfied that such payment received by the assessee under the Scheme was not in the course of a trade but was of capital nature. Accordingly the first question is answered in favour of the assessee and against the Department.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **