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Associated Banking Corporation of India Ltd. Vs. Commissioner of Income-tax, Bombay City I - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberIncome-tax Reference No. 72 of 1957
Judge
Reported in[1958]34ITR557(Bom)
ActsIncome Tax Act, 1922 - Sections 10
AppellantAssociated Banking Corporation of India Ltd.
RespondentCommissioner of Income-tax, Bombay City I
Appellant AdvocateR.J. Kolah, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateG.N. Joshi, Adv.
Excerpt:
.....in its books under section 10 (2) (i) - only debts which are irrecoverable can be allowed as bad debts - assessee who maintains his account on mercantile basis can claim any amount as bad debts and as permissible deduction - bad debts exceeding claimed amount not to be allowed - assessee not entitled to certain amount as bad debt which had not been written off in his books of account - assessee failed to write off these debts so cannot claim permissible deduction. (ii) business expense - assessee claimed defalcation committed by secretary as permissible deduction - defalcation to be allowed as permissible deduction in year in which assessee comes to know of defalcation - held, assessee open to claim this deduction as trading loss in relevant accounting year. - - 1. the assessee..........would cause to an assessee in certain circumstances. what we point out was that if in a particular year a debt was written off and the debt was found to be not irrecoverable by the income-tax officer, the debt would not be allowed. in the next year, the debt might in fact become irrecoverable, but the assessee would not be entitled to the benefit because he did not write it off in that year, and we actually made a suggestion to the department that in cases like these, they could take a sympatheice attitude. our recommendation to department was again based on the clear view that we took that in section 10(2)(xi) the requirement was clear and that requirement was that the assessee must writ off a bad debt in his books before he can claim it as a permissible deduction. 7. mr. kolah's.....
Judgment:

Chagla, C.J.

1. The assessee is a bank in liquidation and it went into liquidation on the 21st of April, 1957. The liquidator made a return of the income of the bank for the assessment year 1948-49, and in this assessment he claimed bad debts amounting to Rs. 38,35,689. He also claimed as a business expense an amount Rs. 10,15,000 which represented a defalcation committed by the bank's secretary in respect of a particular transaction and a sum of Rs. 98,892 which is also represented a defalcation also committed by the bank's secretary in respect of another transaction. The Tribunal came to the conclusion that the liquiator was not entiled to these deduction.

2. Now, turning to the question with regard to bad debts, an interesting question has been raised by Mr. Kolah, Admittedly, these debts were not written off by the liquidator in the books of the bank. Mr. Kolah says that after liquidation, the bank was not conducting its normal business as a bank and all that the liquidator was doing was collecting the debts and paying off the creditors, and, therefore it was not possible for the liquidator to write off these debts as they might have been written off by the bank if it was carrying on its ordinary normal activities. But whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that these bad debts have not been written off, and the question that we have to consider is whether, looking to the provisions of section 10(2)(xi), it is competent to the assessee to claim a bad debt which has not been actually written off in its books. Turning to the section it provides :

'When the assessee's accounts in respect of any part of his business, profession or vocation are not kept on the cash basis, such sum, in respect of bad and doubtful debts, due to the assessee in respect of that part of his business, profession or vocation, and in the case of an assessee carrying on a banking or money-lending business, such sum in respect of loans made in the ordinary cause of such business as the Income-tax Officer may estimate to be irrecoverable but not exceeding the amount actually written off as irrecoverable in the books of the assessee.'

3. Therefore, in order that the assessee should be entitled to claim this deduction, he must in the first instance maintain his accounts on the mercantile basis unless the assessee is carrying on a business of banking or money-lending in which case, the bad debts must arise in respect of loans made by the assessee. Only such debts are allowed as bad debts as the Income-tax Office may estimate to be irrecoverable. Therefore, the Income-tax Officer must be satisfied that in the year of account in which bad debts are claimed, the debts could not be recovered. Then, there is a further limitation put upon the right of an assessee to claim amounts as bad debts and that limitation is that the bad debts which may be allowed must not exceed the amount actually written off as irrecoverable in the books of the assessee. Therefore, the Legislature seems to postulate not only the irrecoverability of the debt itself, but the actual writing off in the books of the assessee as a condition precedent to the right of the assessee to claim any amount as a bad dear. Now. what has been urged by Mr. Kolah is that the sub-section does not make it imperative and the language of a mandate is not used that the assessee should write off the debts in his books. What is urged is that if in fact the amount is written off, then there is a prohibition against the Income-tax Officer allowing any amount as bad debt in respect of beats which are in fact irrecoverable. The argument of Mr. Kolah may be put in another form. Mr. Kolah says that these no principle underlaying the suggestion made by the Department that even though the assessee may prove as a fact that a certain debt was irrecoverable in the year of account, the mere absence of a book entry should prevent him prevent him from claiming that bad debt as a permissible deduction. What is forcefully put forward is that no sancityty attaches to a mere entry as such. What is of importance is the actual fact established and if the actual fact of irrecoverability is established. then it is of no consequence if the assessee for some reason or other has not written off the debt as a bad debt in his books. It is pointed out that in this very case, looking to the facts and circumstances of the case, it was not possible for the liquidator to write off these, debts, and according to Mr. Kolah it would lead to an impossible and even absurd situation if the liquidator of the bank was prevented from claiming a large amount as bad debts although he may be in position to establish that they were irrecoverable, merely because he did not or could not write them off in his books. Forecful, as the argument of the other said is, we must look to the language of the section and the scheme underlying it. The first part of the section makes it clear that it is only in the case of an assessee who maintains his account on the mercantile basis that the can claim any amount as a bad debt and as a permissible deduction. The reason for this is obvious. It is only in the mercantile system of accounting that you credit an amount although you have not actually received it and your profit and/or losses are assessed not on the basis of receipts but on the basis of the account does not come in, and there is no hope of its coming in you must debit that amount in order to arrive at a correct result of your profits and losses and what the Legislature required was that the return made by an assessee should correctly reflect the book of account of the assessee in order that a proper picture of the state of profits or losses of the assessee should appear in that return. Unless the bad debt was actually written off, the account would show a higher profit, and it would also go to show that the assessee himself did not consider the debt as bad or doubtful because, if he did in order to ascertain his own profits or losses he would have written it off. The same is the position with regard to the second part of the section because in the case of a bank or a money-lender his profits or losses would only be ascertain by entires in the books of account with regard to the losses made by him. The loss of a loan would either go to reduce the profit or increase the losses, and therefore, what the Legislature intended was what that when a banker or a money-lender made his return, his return should correctly reflect his books of account and the proper state of profit or losses. But there is another aspect of the matter which seems to us almost conclusive. It cannot be disputed on any view of this section that if an assessee in his return claims particular amount as bad debt, the Income-tax Officer cannot allow him bad debts exceeding that amounts. Therefore, if an assessee were to show in his return bad debts as Rs. 5 or Rs. 10 the power of the Income-tax Officer would be restricted to allowing bad debts only to the extent of that amount. But it is said that if the assessee, instead of showing Rs. 5 of Rs. 10 were to show no bad debts at all, the power of the Income-tax Officer would be so large that he could permit as bad debts any amount even aggregating to lacs of rupees. Now, it seems to us that such a construction is illogical. If the intention of the Legislature was to restrict the power of the Income-tax Officer not to allow bad debts exceeding the amount written off by the assessee himself in his books of account, logically the restriction must be applied to a case where the assessee had not written off any amount at all in his book as bad debts. A restriction only in a case where an amount is written off and no restriction in a case where no amount in written off seem to be both illogical and without any principle. Either there was good reason why the Legislature wanted to put this restriction upon the power of the Income-tax Officer other was not. If there was good reason-and there must be good reason because the section clearly says so-then there is no reason why that good reason because the section clearly says so-then there is no reason why that good reason should not extend to a case where in fact no debt has been written off by the assessee.

4. Now, this view that we have taken is in conformity with the view which this court has constantly taken for all these years in interpreting this section. We are not aware of any single case where either the Department or the assessee even contend in this court that an assessee is entitiled to a certain amount as a bad debt which amount has in fact not been written off in his books of account., But apart from the settled practice, there are decisions of this court which have also proceeded on that view of the section. Mr. Kolah says that those decisions do not go to show that this question was ever argued. But the very reason why it was not argued was not argued was not both the Department and the assessee assumed that the other view was not tenable and the position which was accepted was incontrovertiable.

5. Now, turning to these decisions, in Commissioner of Income-tax and Excess Profits Tax v. Jwala Prasad Tiwari. the Department took up the extreme attitude that because the debts which were claimed as bad debts were not be considered to the account of the specific debtors, the debts could not be considered to have been written off. We rejected this contention holding that the debts had been actually written off in the assessee's books because they had been debited in one case to Shah's account and the other to another account which dealt with bad and doubtful debt. Now, this contention and this argument would have been unnecessary if the law was that it was necessary to writen off the debts in the books of accounts the assessee could claim amounts as permissible deductions. The whole of the judgment proceeds on the clear assumption that section 10(2)(xi) required that the amount should be written off. What we were concerned to decided was what was the method of writing off and we said that no particular or specific entry was necessary in the books of account provided it appeared clear from the books of the assessee that he had written off these debts.

6. The second judgment is in Karamsey Govindji v. Commissioner of Income-tax. What we held in this case was that the finding of the Income-tax Officer that a particular debt had not become bad in 1947 was justified on the evidence, and in this case we realised the difficulty that this inter partition of section 10(2)(xi) would cause to an assessee in certain circumstances. What we point out was that if in a particular year a debt was written off and the debt was found to be not irrecoverable by the Income-tax Officer, the debt would not be allowed. In the next year, the debt might in fact become irrecoverable, but the assessee would not be entitled to the benefit because he did not write it off in that year, and we actually made a suggestion to the Department that in cases like these, they could take a sympatheice attitude. Our recommendation to Department was again based on the clear view that we took that in section 10(2)(xi) the requirement was clear and that requirement was that the assessee must writ off a bad debt in his books before he can claim it as a permissible deduction.

7. Mr. Kolah's argument is really based on a recent decision of the Calcutta High Court in Begg Dunlop and Co. Ltd v. Commissioner of Exce ss Profits Tax. That was a case where not the Department but the assessee was contending that it was necessary that debt should be written off before, it could be claimed as a bad debt, because there although the debt was claimed by the assessee in a particular year and written off in a particular year, the Excess Profit Tax Officer purported to distribute this bad debt over a certain number of year taking the view that the whole debt did not become irrecoverable in a particular years, and the assessee contended that as he had written it off in one year it could only permitted in that year and in no other year. This contention was rejected by the Calcutta High Court, and the learned Chief Justice in his judgment has construed sector 10(2)(xi). What the learned Chief Justice says at page 284 is :

'I am entirely unable to hold that section 10(2)(xi) of the Income-tax Act imperatively requires that in order that any amount may be allowed as irrecoverable in any particular year such amount or a larger amount, must be 'actually written off as irrecoverable in the books of the assessee'. The relevant language of the section, if I may recall its terms, is 'such sum as the Income-tax Officer may estimate to be Irrecoverable but not exceeding the amount actually written off'. What that language means, to my mind, clearly is that while the Income-tax Officer is given a discretion to allow such amount as he himself may estimate to be irrecoverable a maximum limit or rather a ceiling is at the same time set, beyond or higher then which he may not go.'

8. But with great respect, what the learned Chief Justice overlooks is that if a a ceiling is fixed in the case where a debt is written off by the assessee, it is impossible to understand why a ceiling is not fixed in a case where the assessee does not write off a debt at all. If we were not confronted with out own settled practice and also out own decisions, we would certainly, have out of deference to the Calcutta High Court and the view we have always taken that on the interpretation of all India statutes there should be as far as possible uniformity of views between the different High Courts, accept the interretation put by the Calcutta High Court on this section; but for reason which we have just given, we regard, that we are complete to adhere to the view we have all along taken with regard to the interpretation of this sub-section. If we are right, this would dispose of the first question.

9. But Mr. Kolah says that in the case assessee wants to go higher, in order to obviate a remand at a very late stage, it would be desirable as we are sending the matter back with regard to the second question, that certain other facts with regard to the first question should be elicited from the Tribunal. Assuming we are in the wrong on the interpretation which we have put on section 10(2)(xi) and assuming that it is not necessary to write off the amount claimed by the assessee in the books of account of the assessee, even so there must be a finding that these debts were irrecoverable in the year of account, and this fact has not been found by the judicial member who says in his order that the question whether the debts actually became bad during the year of account or whether they were debts arising in the ordinary course of the business of the company is not being decided. As against this, the accountant member says :

'The fact that the assessee bank had large bad debts cannot be denied. Some of these debts must have become irrecoverable in the year of account.'

10. Now, this is not a clear finding. Therefore, when the Tribunal submits a supplementary statement of the case they should give an express finding whether the debts claimed by the liquidator or any part thereof became irrecoverable in the year of account.

11. Now, turning to the second question with regard to the defalcation by the secretary, the Tribunal seems to have applied the test laid down in Curtis v. J. & G. Oldfiled Ltd. Now, the test laid down by Mr. Justice Rowlatt in that case was, to put it briefly, that if moneys reached the till of the assessee and a defalcation took place subsequently, the assessee is not entitled to claim to the loss caused by the defalcation as a business loss, because it could not be said that the defalcation was in the ordinary course of business. But if the moneys are intercepted before they reached the till by an officer of the assessee to whom authority is delegated, then the defalcation may be looked upon as a business loss. Now, this case was considered by us in Lord's Dairy Farm Ltd. v. Commissioner Of Income-tax, and we gave reasons in that case why we though, with respect, to Mr. Justice Rowlatt, that the test that he laid down would not be a proper test in certain typed of cases, and the test we suggested was the one that finds place at page 707 :

'If in any case if it found that it was necessary to deputies certain duties to an employee and it was also found that the loss sprang directly from the necessity of doing so, then the loss would be a trading loss and the assessee would be entitled to claim that amount as a proper deduction.'

12. Now, we do not find that the facts have been found by the Tribunal from this point of view, and we direct that the Tribunal should find the necessary facts bearing in mind the test that we have laid down and not the test laid down by Mr. Justice Rowlatt in Curtis v. J. & G. Oldfield Ltd.

13. There is also another error into which the Tribunal has fallen, and that is that these losses could not be allowed because their is nothing on the record to show that these loses came to the knowledge of the liquidator in the year of account. Therefore, the view that seem to the have been taken by the Tribunal is that a defalcation may be allowed as a permissible deduction in the year in which the assessee comes to know of the defalcation. Here again, the Tribunal has gone contrary to the view that we have expressed in Lord's Dairy Farm Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-tax. At page 708 we had said :

'If we are right in the view that we have taken that what is claimed as a trading loss is not permissible deduction under section 10(2)(xv), then the material date obviously is not the date when the embezzlement, took place but the material date is when the loss is caused. So long as their is any possibility of the money being recovered from the employee who has embezzled the money, there is no loss to the assessee.'

14. Therefore, we want the Tribunal also to state the necessary facts from this point of view as to whether the loss was caused to the assessee in respect of these embezzlements in the year of account.

15. There seems to be also an error in framing question No. 2 because the claim made by the assessee may or may not fall under section 10(2)(xv). Very likely it does not fall in view of our decision in Lord's Dairy Farm Ltd.'s case. But even so, it will be open to the assessee to claim this deduction as trading loss. We would, therefore, reframe the question so as to read :

'Whether on the facts and circumstances of the case, the assessee is entitled to claim two sums of Rs. 10,15,000 and Rs. 98,892 as a business loss as a deduction under section 10(2)(xv) of the Indian Income-tax Act ?'

16. With regard to question No. 1 also some amendment is necessary because the amount of Rs. 48,50,689, mentioned in question No. 1 also includes the sum of Rs. 10,15,000 which is separately dealt with the question No. 2. Therefore, the figure of Rs. 38,35,689 will be substituted for Rs. 48,50,689 in question No. 1. We will answer these questions after we receive the supplementary statement of the case.

17. When the supplementary statement of the case comes back, it would be open to Mr. Joshi to contend that the principle laid down in Lord's Dairy Farm Ltd's case does not apply to the facts of this case, because Mr. Joshi says that this is a case where Secretary had full authority to do the bank's business and this is not a case where some special powers were delegated to an office of the bank. The Tribunal will also find what the power of the secretary were and submit the finding in the supplementary statement of the case.

18. No order on the notice of motion, nor order as to costs on the notice of motion.


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