This is a reference under Section 66 (1) of the Indian Income-tax Act by which the following question of law has been referred to this Court for decision :-
'Whether, in the circumstances of the case, the Thakurji Lakshmi Nathji Trust, Cawnpore, is a public religious trust and as such whether the income derived by the trust is exempt from tax under Section 4 (3) (i) of the Income-tax Act ?'
This question has arisen in connection with three assessment years, namely, 1939-40, 1940-41 and 1941-42. It appears that there is an idol Sri Thakurji Lakshmi Nathji installed in the temple at Jhunjhnu in the Jaipur State. It was discovered that considerable income was earned in the name of this idol by the firm known as 'Ram Bilas Rai Chiranji Lal'. On an inquiry, the Income-tax Officer found that on February 1, 1919, the members of a Hindu family created an endowment in favour of the said idol and dedicated considerable movable and immovable properties to that idol. It was laid down in the deed of endowment that after meeting the expenditure of the temple the dharam karta should give in charity sums of money in his discretion and should also meet the expenses 'in respect of the pucca well, pathshala (school) and dharamshala (resthouse).' The Income-tax Officer came to the conclusion that the trust in question was a private religious trust and this finding was confirmed by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. The Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, however, took a different view and reached the conclusion that the endowment was of a public nature. In reaching this conclusion, the Tribunal took into consideration the fact that the dedication was irrevocable and that 'the public have free and unhampered access to worship in the temple and that they take part in the sadavart of the temple as also of the various charities and services that are rendered.' It was also remarked by the Tribunal that the members of the public had been resorting to the temple for a very long time. This finding has been challenged before us on behalf of the Commissioner of Income-tax at whose instance the reference was made by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, in the shape of the question mentioned above.
We have perused the deed of endowment for ourselves and have come to the conclusion that there is only one inference possible from the terms of that deed, namely, that the trust is a public, religious and charitable trust. This conclusion is strengthened by the mode in which this temple had been used by the members of the public. The material upon which the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal arrived at the conclusion at which it arrived was, in our opinion, proper material for such a conclusion.
For the reasons indicated above, we are of opinion that the question referred to us should be answered in the affirmative. We wish, however, to add that it is a matter of surprise that the Income-tax Department should have expended public money and time in referring a question to us which is as clear as this one.
As regards costs, our order is that the Commissioner of Income-tax should pay the costs of this reference to the assessee which we assessee at Rs. 150. Mr. Gupta is allowed six weeks time within which to file his fee certificate.
Reference answered in the affirmative.