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Commissioner of Income-tax, Bombay City-ii Vs. T.C. Dolwani - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberIncome-tax Reference No. 15 of 1967
Judge
Reported in[1978]111ITR650(Bom)
ActsIncome Tax Act, 1922 - Sections 34(1)
AppellantCommissioner of Income-tax, Bombay City-ii
RespondentT.C. Dolwani
Appellant AdvocateR.J. Joshi, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateR.J. Kolah, Adv.
Excerpt:
direct taxation - reopening of assessment - sections 16 (3) (a) (3),16 (a) (3) (4) and 34 (1) of income tax act, 1922 - assessment of assessee reopened on grounds that income derived by assessee's wife and minor son as partners of firm liable for inclusion in total income of assessee under sections 16 (3) (a) (3) and 16 (a) (3) (4) - tribunal held that action under section 34 (1) (b) was without jurisdiction and allowed appeal of assessee against reopening of assessment - revenue sought reference against allowing appeal of assessee - as per judicial precedent it is for revenue to justify reopening and to satisfy tribunal or court that there had not been change of opinion unsupported by fresh information but change of opinion supported and based upon such fresh information which may be.....desai, j.1. this is a reference by the income-tax appellate tribunal under section 66(1) of the indian income-tax act, 1922, made at the instance of the commissioner. a few facts may be stated : 2. the assessee is an individual. the reference pertains to the assessment year 1957-58, the accounting year being the year ended on 31st march, 1957. the original assessment for this year of the assessee was completed on 27th january, 1959, in the sum of rs. 80,119. subsequently, the said assessment was reopened under section 34(1)(b) on the ground that incomes derived by the assessee's wife and a minor son as partners of a firm called m/s. standard garage were liable for inclusion in the total income of the assessee under sections 16(3)(a)(iii) and 16(3)(a)(iv) of the act of 1922. the reason why.....
Judgment:

Desai, J.

1. This is a reference by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal under section 66(1) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, made at the instance of the Commissioner. A few facts may be stated :

2. The assessee is an individual. The reference pertains to the assessment year 1957-58, the accounting year being the year ended on 31st March, 1957. The original assessment for this year of the assessee was completed on 27th January, 1959, in the sum of Rs. 80,119. Subsequently, the said assessment was reopened under section 34(1)(b) on the ground that incomes derived by the assessee's wife and a minor son as partners of a firm called M/s. Standard Garage were liable for inclusion in the total income of the assessee under sections 16(3)(a)(iii) and 16(3)(a)(iv) of the Act of 1922. The reason why the Income-tax Officer considered that these provisions for clubbing were applicable was that the entire capital of Rs.80,000 contributed by the assessee's wife and minor son came from the assessee himself. The assessee, prior to 1947, had been carrying on extensive business in his individual capacity in various places which subsequently became part of Pakistan. After partition he came down to Indian and in December, 1947, he started a business in Bombay in motor spare-parts in the name of Standard Garage. The assessee's family joined him in Bombay some time in 1948. On 1st April, 1949, the business of Standard Garage was taken over by a partnership consisting of the assessee's major son, Jaidev Tekchand Dolwani (who is the assessee's son by the first wife who died in 1935) and Smt. Haribai, the assessee's second wife, whom he married in 1936. To the benefits of this partnership the assessee's minor son, Vishindas (by his second wife) was admitted. The share of Jaidev was 5 annas 6 pies in a rupee, while the shares of Haribai and Vishindas were 5 annas 3 pies each. The latter two parties invested Rs. 40,000 each in the partnership. This firm of Standard Garage was assessed as a registered firm from 1950-51 itself. The first assessment of the firm was made on 15th October, 1951, by the Income-tax Officer, Special Survey Circle III, after which the case was transferred to the territorial ward, i.e., Ward D-II. At the time of completing this first assessment of the firm for 1950-51, the Income-tax Officer prepared a note regarding the conversion of the business of Standard Garage into a firm. The other facts relating to the formation of the firm as ascertained by him were also recorded in the note. This note has been extracted in full in the Tribunal's order and we shall have occasion to refer to the same in extenso later on. After the file of the registered firm of Standard Garage was transferred to D-II Ward, all its assessment up to and including the assessment for 1957-58, were handle by the 4th Income-tax Officer, D-II Ward. The assessee's case, where also the first assessment was for 1950-51, was handled by various Income-tax Officers, D-II Ward. For the assessment year in question, viz., 1957-58, the original assessment was made by the 4th Income-tax Officer, one Shri Bhagwat, on 27th January, 1959. Thus, for the material year the original assessment of the assessee as well as the assessment of the firm of Standard Garage in which his wife and minor son were interested were handled by the same Income-tax Officer. But that Income-tax Officer, Shri Bhagwat, did not include in the assessee's income the shares of the assessee's wife and the minor son in the firm. Later on, the assessee's case came to be transferred to the 1st Income-tax Officer, D-II Ward, who as stated earlier, purported to re-open the assessment under section 34(1)(b) of the Act. He rejected all the contentions of the assessee and completed the reassessment on 31st December, 1962. The assessee contested the reassessment before the Appellate Assistant Commissioner both on the question of jurisdiction of the Income-tax Officer to act under section 34(1)(b) as well as the merits of the addition. Both the contentions were rejected by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. Thereafter, the assessee went in second appeal to the Tribunal, where the reassessment was challenged on the following grounds :

(1) Action under section 34(1)(b) was taken without jurisdiction;

(2) The capital of Rs. 80,000 invested by the wife and the minor son did not flow from the assessee; and

(3) On a proper construction of section 16(3) it could not be said that that section was applicable to profits from business even assuming that the wife and the minor son received the capital contributed by them from the assessee.

3. The Tribunal found in favour of the assessee on the first of these three grounds and did not choose to give its findings on the other two grounds, although it recorded the rival contentions pertaining thereto. According to the Tribunal, it was not possible to say that the 1st Income-tax Officer, D-II Ward, who purported to reopen the proceedings had information that income had escaped assessment, and, accordingly, it held that action under section 34(1)(b) was taken without jurisdiction. On that limited footing and not on the merits of the other two contentions, the assessee's appeal was allowed by the Tribunal. It may be pointed out that according to the Tribunal, its decision was based on the view of the statutory provisions taken by the Nagpur High Court in D. R. Dhanwatay v. Commissioner of Income-tax and by the Bombay High Court in Dr. M. R. Dalal v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1963]49ITR492(Bom) . The Appellate Assistant Commissioner, who had earlier rejected the appeal, and the Income-tax Officer had chosen to follow a decision of the Madras High Court in Commissioner of Income-tax v. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar : [1964]51ITR204(Mad) . The Tribunal observed that it was bound to follow the Nagpur and Bombay decision in preference to the said Madras decision and similarly an earlier decision of the very same High Court, viz., Family of V.A.M. Sankaralinga Nadar v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1963]48ITR314(Mad) , where the view of section 34(1)(b) different from that taken by the Nagpur and the Bombay High Courts had been taken. According to the Tribunal, on the facts of this case, it could not be said that this was a matter where there was a manifest error but a case where the applicability of section 16(3)(a)(iii) and (iv) had to be considered - a matter on which two opinions were possible. To arrive at that conclusions the Tribunal went in detail through the history of the assessments in the case of the assessee as we as of the firm of Standard Garage and held that the 1st Income-tax Officer, who reopened the assessment, was only acting on the basis of a change of opinion and not on the basis of fresh information.

4. The following question has been referred to us :

'Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Tribunal was right in holding that action under section 34(1)(b) was not validly initiated ?'

5. Mr. Joshi, on behalf of the Commissioner, submitted that the Tribunal was in error in placing reliance on the two decisions of the Nagpur and the Bombay High Courts earlier referred to, viz., Dhanwatay's case and Dr. Dalal's case : [1963]49ITR492(Bom) and in rejecting the Madras view inasmuch as in Kalyanji Mavji & Co. v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , a Division Bench of the Supreme Court has taken the view substantially confirming the Madras approach and overruling the Nagpur and Bombay decisions, on which reliance was placed by the Tribunal. On the other hand, the learned counsel for the assessee drew our attention to a decision of the Bombay High Court subsequent to the two Nagpur and Bombay decisions but given prior to Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , viz., Commissioner of Income-tax v. H. Holck Larsen : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) , and contended that the facts of the matter referred to us would fall squarely within the observations of Chandrachud J. made in the above Bombay case, which observations have been approved by the Supreme Court in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) . According to counsel's submission, the view taken by the 1st Income-tax Officer represented a change of opinion unsupported by subsequent information and not a change of opinion based on information subsequently obtained. In the latter case, it was submitted that re-opening would be with jurisdiction; in the former case the reopening was improper and the view taken by the Tribunal holding it to be so was liable to be confirmed. In these circumstances, it becomes necessary to consider these authorities and to decide in the first place the proper principles of law as are applicable to the question of re-opening of assessment under the provisions contained in section 34(1)(b) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922. However, before doing so, one further argument which counsel for the assessee sought to advance before us may be stated and rejected. It was submitted by him that, before action of reassessment under section 34(1)(b) can be considered to be valid, two conditions were required to be satisfied, (i) that the Income-tax Officer had, in consequence of information in his possession, reason to believe that some income, profits or gains had escaped assessment, and (ii) that such income, profit or gains were chargeable to to income-tax. Mr.Kolah submitted that he would be able to substantiate that even if it may be assumed that the entire capital contributed by the wife of the assessee and his minor son had emanated from the assessee himself, the share of the profits of the firm of Standard Garage to which these two parties were entitled under the deed of partnership could not be clubbed with the income of the assessee, i.e., to show that the second condition was not satisfied. According to his submission, if he was able to win this, then the re-opening under section 34(1)(b) would be demonstrated to be improper as the second condition requisite would not be satisfied. For the purpose of satisfying us that the entire share of profits earned by these two parties, i.e., the wife and the minor son of the assessee could not be clubbed under any of the provisions of section 16, Mr. Kolah drew our attention to the observations to be found in Commissioner of Income-tax v. Prem Bhai Parekh : [1970]77ITR27(SC) , where the Supreme Court has observed on similar facts that the connection between the gift and the income in question must be considered to be remote. According to the Supreme Court, there was no nexus between the transfer of the assets and the income in question, and for the purpose of being clubbed the income in question must arise as a result of transfer and not in some manner connected with it.

6. In our opinion, this aspect of the argument would have relevance only qua the third branch of the argument of the assessee before the Tribunal on which the rival contentions have been noted by the Tribunal but on which no decision has been given by it. A fair reading of the statutory provision permitting re-opening would suggest that at the initial stage all that the Income-tax Officer is required to have, is a reasonable belief that such income, profits or gains has escaped assessment. It is possible to conceive of a case where after proceedings by way of reassessment have been validly initiated the assessee is able to satisfy the Income-tax Officer that such income, profits or gains in respect of which the Income-tax Officer did possess a reasonable belief of having escaped assessment had in fact not escaped assessment or were in fact not liable to be assessed as income of the assessee. A full consideration of any such aspect of the matter will only arise at a later stage of the proceedings; and, with respect to the learned counsel for the assessee, it will not be possible for us to consider this aspect of the matter whilst considering whether the Tribunal was right in coming to the conclusion that the proceedings by way of re-opening had not been validly initiated. As a matter of fact, the Tribunal itself has not at all applied its mind to any such argument and, thus, it cannot be considered to be an aspect arising from the order of the Tribunal.

7. It becomes necessary, therefore, to briefly refer to the Nagpur, Bombay and the Madras authorities indicated in the order of the Tribunal and the two later decisions in Holck Larsen's case : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) and Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , which decisions came to be given after the Tribunal decided the appeal in question in favour of the assessee.

8. In Dhanwatay's case , a Division Bench of the Nagpur High Court consisting of Mudholkar and Deo JJ. held that under section 34(1)(b) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, for the purposes of reassessment the belief entertained by the Income-tax Officer that income has escaped assessment must be based upon information of the fact and not of law. In that case, the assessee, his wife and his four major sons were the partners of a firm, in which firm his two minor sons were also admitted to the benefits. The Income-tax Officer overlooked the provisions of section 16(3)(a)(i) and (ii). He assessed the assessee, his wife and the minor sons separately. A successor to that Income-tax Officer realised that an error had been committed and issued a notice of reassessment under section 34(1)(b). It was held in Dhanwatay's case that the Income-tax Officer must be deemed to have been conversant with the provisions of law and if he had omitted to apply them, neither he nor his successor could resort to clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 34 for the purpose of reassessment.

9. In Dr. Dalal's case : [1963]49ITR492(Bom) , one Dr. Dalal had on 23rd October, 1939, made a trust settling certain shares and securities on trust for the benefit of his son and two daughters. By virtue of clause 13 of the trust deed the trust was made irrevocable for a period of seven years. At the time when the trust deed was made one of the daughters was a minor. In the assessment year 1940-41, the income-tax authorities accepted the trust and excluded the share of income from the trust property of the major son and daughter from the income of Dr. Dalal, but the one-third share of the income of the minor daughter was deemed to be income of Dr. Dalal by reason of the provisions of section 16(3)(a)(iv) of the Act. This state of affairs continued till this daughter attained majority, after which date all the three children were separately separately assessed in respect of their share of income in the trust property and Dr. Dalal was separately assessed in respect of his income from other sources. The court was considering the assessment year 1952-53 for which Dr. Dalal's widow in her capacity as the legal representative of her deceased husband filed the return in respect of Dr. Dalal's income which did not include any income from the trust property. The order of assessment in respect of this income was completed on 27th January, 1952. For the same assessment year a limited company, which was one of the executors of the trust, had filed a return of income in which the Income-tax Officer noticed that the period of seven years during which the trust had been made irrevocable had expired, after which the trust was liable to be considered to be a revocable trust, and hence the entire income from the trust property was assessable in the hands of Dr. Dalal. This Income-tax Officer communicated his reading of the provisions of the trust deed to the Income-tax Officer who had completed the assessment of Dr. Dalal's income, who thereupon issued a notice under section 34(1)(b) and initiated reassessment proceedings. His jurisdiction to do so was challenged and it was held by the court that the action taken by the income-tax authorities under section 34(1)(b) could not be justified. According to the court, all the relevant facts, materials and documents were available on the record of the case of Dr. Dalal to the Income-tax Officer, who had made the original assessment on 27th January, 1954. Therefore, in the opinion of the court, it could not be said that any fresh information had come into the possession of the Income-tax Officer merely by reason that he had received a communication from the Income-tax Officer, A-IV Ward, Bombay, drawing his attention to the provisions in the trust deed which made it revocable after the expiry of seven years. Accordingly, the purported reassessment was quashed.

10. As far as the Madras cases are concerned, we think it will be proper to refer to only one of them, viz., Mudaliar's case : [1964]51ITR204(Mad) . In the said decision it is observed that the information contemplated by section 34(1)(b) which gives jurisdiction to the Income-tax Officer to reopen the assessment is information that income, profits and gains chargeable to income-tax had escaped assessment in the assessment of the assessee. Even inadvertence or error in the making of assessment would bring a case within section 34(1)(b); and if an error is discovered after the assessment was made, that is information subsequent to the original assessment. It was further observed that information relevant to section 34(1)(b) need not be wholly extraneous to the record but may be derived from the record of the assessment itself, as for instance, an error of inadvertence in assessment by which income had escaped assessment, is discovered after the assessment. It is unnecessary to set out the facts of the Madras case Commissioner of Income-tax v. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar : [1964]51ITR204(Mad) . It may be stated, however, that they are somewhat similar to the facts of Dhanwatay's case , where the Nagpur High Court had quashed the re-opened assessment. On the other hand, the Madras High Court took view that the reopening of the assessment of the father was permissible on the footing that the discovery of the Income-tax Officer after he had made the assessment that he had committed an error in not including the minor's income in the father's assessment was 'information' obtained after the assessment, and even though all the facts were in the original records, the case was covered by section 34(1)(b).

11. Chronologically, the next decision to which reference may be made is the decision of the Supreme Court in Commissioner of Income-tax v. A. Raman & Co. : [1968]67ITR11(SC) . But inasmuch as this decision has been cited and applied in both Holck Larsen's case : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) and Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , we may consider only these two decisions.

12. In Commissioner of Income-tax v. H. Holck Larsen : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) , the question which a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court was required to consider was the validity of reopening the assessment proceedings under section 34(1)(b) of the Act of 1922. The assessee, in that case, had shown certain profits arising from the sale of shares held by him in a limited company as capital gains on the footing that the shares were held by him as investment; and his claim to be an investor was accepted by the Income-tax Officer who had also accepted similar claims in the previous year. The assessments for the two years in question were completed on 29th January, 1958, and 9th October, 1958, respectively. The very same Income-tax Officer then took up assessment proceedings for the two subsequent years. In the course of those proceedings he reviewed the entire course of transactions from the year 1946, and held that though the assessee was an investor till 31st March, 1954, he had converted his investment shares into stock-in-trade after 1st April, 1954, and had become a dealer in shares. Accordingly, the Income-tax Officer brought to tax the profit made by the assessee by sale of shares as business profits. In the light of this finding the Income-tax Officer re-opened the assessments for earlier assessment years 1957-58 and 1958-59 under section 34(1)(b), to which course the assessment objected. It was observed by Chandrachud J., speaking for the Bench, that in that case it was impossible to take the view that the Income-tax Officer had any information at all in his possession so as to justify the re-opening of assessment proceedings. The Bench considered the reason given by the Income-tax Officer for re-opening the assessment. The reason recorded was that he had recorded a finding in the assessment proceedings of the subsequent years that the assessee was a dealer in shares. That, according to the Division Bench, was no justification for re-opening the old assessments. The decision goes on to set out a passage from A. Raman & Co.'s case : [1968]67ITR11(SC) , where the Supreme Court states :

'Jurisdiction of the Income-tax Officer to reassess income arises if he has in consequence of information in his possession reason to believe that income chargeable to tax has escaped assessment. That information, must,..... have come into the possession of the Income-tax Officer after the previous assessment......'

13. At page 473 of the report : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) Chandrachud J. goes on to say with reference to the facts of the case before the court as follows :

'It is, therefore, clear that the assessment proceedings were re-opened by the Income-tax Officer, not in consequence of data - factual or legal - received by him after the completion of those proceedings but for the reason, merely, that he wanted to adopt a different approach to the same set of facts on an application of the self-same principles of law. The only subsequent 'information' which the Income-tax Officer had was that in later assessments he had himself taken a different view of the same facts. Information as to the state of law and information regarding relevant judicial decisions is undoubtedly information within the meaning of section 34(1)(b)......'

14. But, according to Chandrachud J.,

'...... informing oneself of one's own subsequent decision, a decision that has yielded no new facts, is based on no new law nor has revealed a new awareness of what already was law, is not receiving `information' such as would justify the re-opening of an assessment.'

After considering a number of decisions of the Supreme Court it is observed by Chandrachud J. that (page 479) : '...... a mere change of opinion would not justify the reopening of an assessment......'

15. However, this aspect of the matter is thereafter crystallised and clarified in a passage to be found at page 479 of the report, which passage may be fully set out as it so subsequently indicated with approval in the decision of the Supreme Court in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) . It may further be mentioned that this passage is to be found after the learned judge has dealt with the two decisions of the Supreme Court in A. Raman & Co's case : [1968]67ITR11(SC) and Anandji Haridas's case [1968] 21 STC 326 (and which later decision was on a similar provision under Sales Tax Act). The passage may now be extracted (See 85 ITR 479) :

'But, it is still true to say that a mere change of opinion would not justify the reopening of an assessment under section 34(1)(b) of the Act. It does not matter whether the Income-tax Officer obtains information from his own record or whether he receives information from an outside source. What is obligatory in order to apply section 34(1)(b) is that he must have 'information' in his possession in consequence of which he has reason to believe that the income has escaped assessment or is under-assessed, etc. The distinction really consists in a change of opinion unsupported by subsequent information on the one hand and a change of opinion based on information subsequently obtained, on the other. In the former class of cases, the assessment proceedings are attempted to be reopened without the discovery of an error and without receiving any information as to fact or law. The Income-tax Officer has a fresh look at the earlier assessment order and he decides to adopt a different approach to the matter. Such a reopening is based on a 'mere' change of opinion and is without jurisdiction. The Income-tax Officer cannot reopen an assessment at his `sweet will and pleasure'. In the latter class of cases, the reopening is based on information leading to the requisite belief and is therefore within the jurisdiction of the officer. It is then not for the High Court to determine whether the assessment should be reopened, for it is for the Income-tax Officer to administer the Act.'

16. Applying these principles, the Division Bench held that the reopening was invalid and answered the question in favour of the assessee. It may, however, be pointed out that it gave a clear finding to the effect that the facts on the basis of which the Income-tax Officer reopened the assessment proceedings were all on the record of the original assessment. It also observed further that the Income-tax Officer had consciously applied his mind to those facts and, on a correlation and evaluation of those facts and on application of the true legal principles, he had come to the original conclusion that the assessee was an investor and not a dealer in shares in the two assessment years in question.

17. We shall now deal with the decision given in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , on which decision great reliance has been placed by learned counsel for the Commissioner. The assessee before the Supreme Court was a registered partnership firm engaged in various commercial activities. It had filed its return for the year 1956-57, corresponding to the Gujarati Diwali year 2001, showing a total income of Rs. 7,44,551 after claiming a deduction of a sum of Rs. 43,116 being the amount of interest paid by the assessee on the debts incurred for the partnership business. The Income-tax Officer accepted the return, but on an appeal to the Appellate Assistant Commissioner, the assessment was reduced by a sum of Rs. 9,200. For the next assessment year 1957-58, assessee-firm showed the same income and the deduction claimed was allowed. The next year 1958-59, however, presented a different complexion. In that year, the Income-tax Officer concerned perhaps suspected the correctness of the return and found that the amount of deduction claimed had been utilised for giving interest-free loans to the partners for clearing up their income-tax dues. Since the loan could not be said to be one incurred for the expenses of the partnership business, the said claim of deduction was rejected. This discovery led the Income-tax Officer to issue notice to the assessee under section 34(1)(b) for reopening the assessment of the year 1956-57 on the ground that the deduction having been wrongfully allowed, taxable income had escaped assessment. After hearing the assessee, the Income-tax Officer completed the assessment and included a further amount of Rs. 43,116 in the total income shown by the assessee. The assessee's appeal to the Appellate Assistant Commissioner was dismissed; but the assessee succeeded before the Tribunal which found that the information of the Income-tax Officer resulting in the notice under section 34(1)(b) to the assessee was not based on any fresh facts but was derived from the materials on the record of the original assessment. The Tribunal further found that if the Income-tax Officer while completing the original assessment had been careful enough to scrutinise the balance-sheet, he would have at once detected the infirmity on the basis of which the subsequent Income-tax Officer issued the notice under section 34(1)(b) of the Act to the assessee. According to the Tribunal, this was merely change of opinion on the basis of the very materials and that it was not sufficient to attract the provisions of section 34(1)(b). On a reference, the High Court decided against the assessee holding that the facts fell squarely within the ambit of section 34(1)(b) inasmuch as information on the basis of which the Income-tax Officer sought to reopen the assessment was based on subsequent facts as also on the materials of the original assessment revealed by more careful and closer circumspection of those materials. In the appeal to the Supreme Court it was contended that the view taken by the High Court was legally erroneous. It was further contended that the information had not been derived from external sources but amounted to a mere change of opinion on the very facts and materials that were present on the record to the original assessment. This argument did not find favour with the Supreme Court. It referred to its earlier decision in Kamal Singh (Maharaj Kumar) v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1959]35ITR1(SC) , where the court appeared to be in favour of placing not a narrow but a liberal interpretation on the provisions of section 34(1)(b) of the Act. Murtaza Fazal Ali J., speaking for the Supreme Court in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , referred to a number of decisions of the Supreme Court ending with A. Raman & Co's case : [1968]67ITR11(SC) and held as follows (page 296) :

'On a combined review of the decisions of this court the following tests and principles would apply to determine the applicability of section 34(1)(b) to the following categories of cases :

(1) where the information is as to the true and correct state of the law derived from relevant judicial decisions;

(2) where in the original assessment the income liable to tax has escaped assessment due to oversight, inadvertence or a mistake committed by the Income-tax Officer. This is obviously based on the principle that the tax-payer would not be allowed to take advantage of an oversight or mistake committed by the taxing authority;

(3) where the information is derived from an external source of any kind. Such external source would include discovery of new and important matters or knowledge of fresh facts which were not present at the time of the original assessment;

(4) where the information may be obtained even from the record of the original assessment from an investigation of the materials on the records, or the facts disclosed thereby or from other enquiry or research into facts or law.

18. It these conditions are satisfied, then the Income-tax Officer would have compete jurisdiction to reopen the original assessment. It is obvious that where the Income-tax Officer gets no subsequent information, but merely proceeds to reopen the original assessment without any fresh facts or materials or without any enquiry into the materials which form part of the original assessment, section 34(1)(b) would have no application.'

19. It may be pointed out that in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , for the concerned year 1958-59, in which the Income-tax Officer had made a closer investigation into the deduction claimed by the assessee-firm, the assessee had been called upon to substantiate the deductions and had failed to adduce any evidence in support of its plea. At page 300 of the report, the Supreme Court considered this as one of the fresh facts which had come to the notice of the Income-tax Officer. On that very page the passage from Holck Larsen's case : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) above reproduced is set out and it is observed : 'We are no doubt inclined to agree with the view expressed by Chandrachud J., in the aforesaid case', though it must be said that a definite decision on the point was not given as it was unnecessary.

20. Mr. Joshi, on behalf of the revenue, submitted that on the facts before us it was clear that there was oversight, inadvertence or a mistake committed by the original Income-tax Officer, i.e., Shri Bhagwat (4th ITO, D-II Ward), who had completed the original assessment of the assessee for the year in question, and that the assessee should not be allowed to take advantage of such oversight or mistake committed by the taxing authorities. Alternatively he submitted that the reopening of the assessment could be supported also under the 4th head as indicated by Murtaza Fazal Ali J. above and that it may be concluded that the reopening was a result of proper investigation of the materials on record by the 1st Income-tax Officer who issued the notice for reassessment.

21. On the other hand, the learned counsel for the assessee submitted that there was no material on record to come to the conclusion that there had been any oversight, inadvertence or mistake originally committed by the 4th Income-tax Officer, nor did the record show that there was any information subsequently garnered from an investigation of the materials on the record or research into facts or law embarked upon by the 1st Income-tax Officer. Accordingly, it was submitted that this was a case of change of opinion unsupported by subsequent information and that the reopening which was based on such change of opinion must be held to be without jurisdiction. It becomes necessary, therefore, to delve a little deeper into the factual aspects of the matter.

22. Normally one would consider the facts chronologically. But it would be appropriate before embarking upon such chronological investigation to deal with the order of the 1st Income-tax Officer. The said order has been made part of the statement of case as annexure 'B'. The first paragraph of the same reads as follows :

'The assessment for the year was reopened under section 34(1)(b) as it was found that the incomes derived by the assessee's wife and a minor son as partners of M/s. Standard Garage were liable for inclusion in the total income of the assessee under section 16(3)(a)(iii) and (iv) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, and in fact not included.'

23. The remaining portion of the said order is not material for our purposes as it deals with the contentions of the assessee and what transpired during the fresh (reopened) assessment.

24. Now, fairly analysed, the only thing mentioned in this order and stated as the reason for reopening was that the 1st Income-tax Officer, Hira Singh, found that the incomes of the assessee's wife and minor son as partners of M/s. Standard Garage were liable for inclusion under the statutory provisions mentioned in the said para. viz., section 16(3)(a)(iii) and (iv) of the Act of 1922 and in fact omitted from inclusion. All that this paragraph indicates, therefore, is that the said Income-tax Officer has arrived at his prima facie opinion that these two amounts were liable to be clubbed with the income of the assessee and it is this aspect that had led to the reopening of the assessment and the application of the provisions of section 34(1)(b) of the Act. There is no indication in the said order about any other information having come to the notice of the said Income-tax Officer either from an extraneous source or from the record or discovery that the Income-tax Officer, Bhagwat, who made the original assessment, or the earlier officers who were concerned with the assessments of the assessee in the previous years had through any mistake, inadvertence, omission or failure to apply their mind failed to club the incomes of the wife and the minor son, i.e., their share of profits from the said concern with that of the assessee. With this background then let us start with the facts commencing from the very first assessment of the said Partnership firm. As stated earlier, as per practice the first assessment of this firm was made by the Income-tax Officer, Special Survey Circle III, Shri Gopalkrishnan Nair, who made the following note at the time of completing the assessment for 1950-51. The note is, in our opinion, very important; the same has been fully set out by the Tribunal in its order and it is required to be set out in extenso in this judgment also.

'Note :

The following facts with regard to the firm are worth nothing :-

Standard Garage was originally started in January, 1949, by Mr. Tekchand Chandiram Dolwani. Mr. Dolwani was a refugee from Quetta and is said to have left behind large source of incomes like distilleries, cinema theatres, etc. In April, 1949, he sold the business to a firm consisting of three partners, Mr. Jaidev Tekchand, Vishindas Tekchand and Mrs. Haribai Tekchand. The first two partners are the sons of Mr. Tekchand Chandiram Dolwani and the third partner is his wife. The garage was taken over by the firm at an agreed value of Rs. 1,38,652. The partners' contributions falling short of the actual requirement, large sums were borrowed from Mr. Tekchand Chandiram Dolwani and interest is paid by the firm to him. Whatever capital the partners themselves have contributed is from gifts made by Mr. Chandiram under a gift deed dated 31-3-46, by which he gave Rs. 60,000 to Jaidev and Rs. 40,000 each to the others.

There were two objects in the formation of the firm to take over the garage. One was to prevent Mr. Tekchand Chandiram being declared an evacuee by the Pakistan Government, and the other to set up his elder son in business. That the income from the firm, really goes to Mr. Tekchand Chandiram is forcibly denied.

Mr. Tekchand Chandiram has other interest income in India and he is assessed in D-II Ward. His interest in the above firm is to be intimated to the ITO-D-II Ward.'

25. In the first para. of the said note the said officer has clearly given his finding that whatever capital the partners themselves have contributed is from gifts made by Mr. Chandiram (obviously a reference to the assessee, though by the wrong name) under the gift deed dated 31st March, 1946, by which he gave Rs. 60,000 to Jaidev (the major son) and Rs. 40,000 each to the other two, i.e., his second wife and the minor son, Vishindas. It is also clear that, within the expression 'partners', the minor son, Vishindas, who is admitted to the benefit of the partnership is also included. The final para. of the said note contains a direction that as Tekchand Chandiram who has gifted these amounts to the partners is being assessed in D-II Ward his interest in the above firm is to be intimated to the Income-tax Officer, D-II Ward. It is pertinent to note that after this assessment (wherein the note was made) was completed the firm's record were also transferred to the very same ward, i.e., D-II Ward. Mr. Kolah has submitted that the direction to be found in the ultimate paragraph of the note an have only one meaning that the findings of the Income-tax Officer pertaining to the assessee's interest in the said firm were to be informed to the Income-tax Officer concerned with his individual assessment, and it was submitted that normally this would be done by furnishing a copy of the note itself to the officer concerned instead of summarising or paraphrasing the same and forwarding the summary to the said officer. He also submitted that it must be presumed that the needful had been done, and he wanted to avail of the presumptions provided for under the Indian Evidence Act, one of which was to the effect that the effect that the court should presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in their relation to the facts of the particular case. (See section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act). In our opinion, there is considerable force in this submission, although it must be conceded that there is no actual finding by the Tribunal that any such note was forwarded or not forwarded by the said officer, Gopalkrishnan Nair to the Income-tax Officer concerned, D-II Ward, dealing with the particular assessment of the assessee. However, it must be stated that there is no reason to suppose that an official act which had been directed by the officer to be done would not have been done and, therefore, there would be justification for applying the presumption extracted above which is based on the provisions contained in section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act. In the assessee's individual case also the first assessment was for 1950-51. Therefore, the firms assessment as well as the individual assessment were both being handled by the Income-tax Officers, D-II Ward, and for the assessment year in question, i.e., 1957-58, we have the position that these two assessments, viz., one for the assessee and the other for the registered firm of M/s. Standard Garage were in charge of very same officer, viz., R. S. Bhagwat. For this year, according to the Tribunal, the assessment of the firm was completed on 25th November, 1958, whereas that of the assessee for the very same year was completed on 27th January, 1959. The Tribunal in its order has observed that it would appear that there is no duty case on the Income-tax Officer when he was handling a particular assessment to ascertain whether there was any connected case in the file which should be seen before deciding the case before him. This proposition was sought to be applied in favour of the department to rebut the submission that when the Income-tax Officer, Bhagwat, completed the assessment of the assessee it was his duty to consider and bear in mind the earlier assessments he had made of he registered firm of Standard Garage. It appears to us that the question is not whether there was any order assessment from which the said officer could have ascertained the true position, but whether by reason of the earlier note which had been directed to be sent to the Income-tax Officer dealing with the case of the assessee there was information in the records of the assessee itself, on which information the officer could have decided to apply or not to apply the provisions contained in section 16 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922. It is to be remembered when this question is posed that this was not the very first year in which the two assessments were made. The assessments of the firm and of the individual, viz., the assessee, were being made right from 1950-51, to the year in question, viz., 1957-58. For all these years, despite the necessary materials, i.e., the note being on record, the officers concerned with the assessment of the assessee had not applied the provisions for clubbing and had chosen not to include the income of the wife and the minor son with that of the assessee relying on the said provisions. It is true that on the findings as they exist, it is not possible to say definitely as could be said by Chandrachud J. in Holck Larsen's case, : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) , that the facts on the basis of which the 1st Income-tax Officer reopened the assessment were on the record of the original assessment and that at the time of the original assessment the Income-tax Officer had consciously applied his mind to those facts. In this context after perusing the order of the 1st Income-tax Officer once again, it must be observed that he has not indicated in the said order whether the initiative to reopen had come about as a result of discovery of a fact or ascertainment that the previous Income-tax Officer concerned with the original assessment had made mistake or had been guilty of any inadvertence or omission. The position could conceivably have been different if on the facts only one view was possible. In such an eventuality it would be possible to submit that this was a clear case of inadvertence or failure to apply clearly applicable provisions of law, as a result of which only one consequence would ensue, viz., the clubbing of the incomes and hence a higher liability to tax. As indicated earlier, though we have had no occasion to investigate closely that submission, two views are certainly possible on the question whether the entire profits of the wife and the minor child from the firm could be clubbed with the income of the assessee even on the factual footing as indicated in the note, viz., that the entire capital contribution for these two parties had been gifted by the assessee. See Commissioner of Income-tax v. Prem Bhai Parekh : [1970]77ITR27(SC) .

26. This discussion would indicate at least three clear aspects which are required to be borne in mind : (1) that certain findings and conclusions had been arrived at by the Income-tax Officer, Gopalkrishnan Nair, who had dealt with the first assessment of the registered firm of Standard Garage and who had directed the substance of his finding and conclusion as far as the assessee was concerned to be communicated to the Income-tax Officer in D-II Ward, dealing with the individual assessment of the assessee; (2) that even on this factual finding two opinions were possible on the question whether the entire amount or share of profits which came to these two parties could in law be added to the income of the assessee-clubbed with his income under the provisions contained in section 16 of the Indian Income-tax Act. 1922; and (3) that from 1950-51 to 1957-58, i.e., right up to the time when the assessee's file was transferred to the 1st Income-tax Officer, the officers concerned did not in fact apply the provisions contained in section 16 of the profits derived by the assessee's wife and his minor son, Vishindas, from the firm of Standard Garage. To all this must be added a rather important aspect, viz., that for the year in question the assessment of the firm and of the individual, i.e., the assessee, were handled by the very same Income-tax Officer, viz., Bhagwat. To these points must be further added what we have already emphasised earlier that there is nothing in the order of the first Income-tax Officer or otherwise on record to indicate clearly what was the new information apart from his opinion that income liable to be included had escaped assessment, nor anything to indicate what was the mistake or omission or inadvertence or failure to apply any applicable provision of law on the part of the Income-tax Officer concerned with the original assessment, viz., Bhagwat. On these facts it would appear that the action of the Income-tax Officer, Hira Singh, is action as a result of or by reason of change of opinion unsupported by subsequent information or discovery of any mistake or omission and not a change of opinion based on information subsequently obtained. It is not possible to accept the argument which could be urged, that the decision or prima facie conclusion by the first Income-tax Officer that these provisions were applicable and were not applied, would itself amount to discovery of a mistake or failure to apply the provisions. As discussed earlier, the position is not that, on the facts, even as found by the original officer and even on the basis of a gift of the capital contribution, there is only one view possible, viz., that the provisions contained in section 16 are clearly applicable and on their application the entire amount of profit (derived by the wife and the minor son of the assessee) would be liable to be clubbed with the income of the assessee. Since two views are possible on the facts of the case, it appears to us that it would be possible to proceed on the footing that the Income-tax Officer, Bhagwat, and the other officers had on a consideration of the matter chosen not to club the share of profits in the firm of the wife and the minor son with that of the assessee.

27. It was submitted by the learned counsel for the Commissioner that on the finding as given by the Tribunal there was not sufficient material on the record to indicate whether there was discovery of a new fact or error or whether it was merely a case of change of opinion, and that in such a case fresh findings should be sought for from the Tribunal on such factual aspect as the High Court may require for properly answering the question referred to us. It is true that to a certain extent the findings of the Tribunal even on this aspect of the question are not as complete and not as exhaustive as we would like them to be. The reason for this is also quite obvious. The Tribunal had proceeded to apply the principles laid down by the Nagpur High Court in Dhanwatay's case and the Bombay High Court in Dr. Dalal's case : [1963]49ITR492(Bom) (the latter decision being binding on the Tribunal) and for the application of these principles the findings reached by the Tribunal and as indicated in its order and the statement of case were quite sufficient. What has been decided in these two cases can no longer be held to be a satisfactory enunciation of the correct legal position by reason of the subsequent decision of the our own High Court in Holck Larsen's case : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) and the decision of the Supreme Court in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) . In an appropriate case, perhaps, the course suggested by learned counsel for the revenue may be the proper course to adopt. It has to be remembered, however, that in this reference we are concerned with the assessment year 1957-58, the accounting year being the one ended on 31st March, 1957. It has been further ascertained that the decision we shall give on this reference will be relevant only for this year and we have ascertained that no similar question pertaining to the earlier or later years is open. The question then is : Would it be fair or proper to keep the matter undecided even after this long lapse of time The answer to such question is self- evident. Another view that can be taken on this aspect is that where the Income-tax Officer (whether the same one who completed the original assessment or the new one to whom the file was transferred) seeks to reopen the assessment on the ground of new information in his possession or error or mistake as a result of which income liable to be taxed has escaped, it is for him to indicate or subsequently set down the basis of his action when his decision to initiate reassessment is challenged. It would appear that it is for the Commissioner to satisfy us on the record as to what was the fresh information in the possession of the Income-tax Officer, Hira Singh, or what was the mistake, inadvertence, omission or failure on the part of the Income-tax Officer, Bhagwat, or the previous six Income-tax Officer who had dealt with the assessments of the assessee for the years from 1950-51 up to 1956-57, and had not applied the provisions contained in section 16 of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922. It is to be borne in mind that if we were to accede to the suggestion of Mr. Joshi and seek fresh findings from the Tribunal, such findings may not be restricted to the assessment year in question or even to the officers concerned, viz., Bhagwat and Hira Singh. Findings may be required regarding the position right from the very first year of assessment (in which year we are concerned with the note) as also whether this aspect of the matter had been considered by any of the officers concerned with the subsequent assessments of the assessee right up to Bhagwat. It was submitted that necessary information could be gleaned from the record and that the officers could also make affidavits from the record. This does not appear to us to be a very satisfactory state of affairs. It is also clear that apart from the record no Income-tax Officer (or any other person) can today from his memory be able to state exactly what had happened and what had not happened during this period. At this length of time it would be difficult for any officer to remember what exactly was done or the reason or the basis of his action. As indicated earlier, it can be contended that it is for the revenue to justify the reopening and to satisfy the Tribunal or the court that there has not been a change of opinion unsupported by fresh in formation or discovery but a change of opinion supported and based upon such fresh information which may be even from the record itself or realisation of an earlier or discovery. If once this position is accepted, then it would be clear that it was for the revenue to have brought the necessary evidence on the record. If there is any lacuna on the record, then such lacuna would amount to failure on the part of the revenue to carry out its obligations in this behalf particularly since the assessee has been challenging the action, viz., the decision of the first Income-tax Officer to reopen the assessment from the very inception. After this long interval of time it would appear that it would not be fair to the assessee to seek fresh findings from the Tribunal. It is true that in an appropriate case there will be such discretion in the High Court irrespective of the lapse of time. But for the exercise of such discretion, which must be a discretion in favour of the revenue, there must be some special fact or circumstance. In this case no such special fact or circumstance has been brought to our attention. Thus if the record is incomplete and if there is nothing on the record to show what was the fresh information or fresh material which led to the change of opinion, it must be held that the reopening was not warranted. On the record as it stands it is not possible to hold that the view of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal that there has been a change of opinion only and that, therefore, action under section 34(1)(b) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, would not be proper was erroneous. It may be that the Tribunal had based its conclusion on the decisions which are no longer good law. But even applying the principles laid down by Chandrachud J. in Holck Larsen's case : [1972]85ITR467(Bom) , particularly the observations which have been subsequently set down with qualified approval by the Supreme Court in Kalyanji Mavji's case : [1976]102ITR287(SC) , it is not possible to accept the submission made by the learned counsel for the Commissioner that the conclusion of the Tribunal was erroneous, improper, invalid or illegal.

28. In the result, the question referred to us is answered in the affirmative and in favour of the assessee.

29. The Commissioner will pay to the assessee the costs of this reference.


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