This is a case stated to us under Section 66 of the Indian Income-tax Act by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal. The assessee is a temple known as the Shri Dwarka Dheesh Temple of Cawnpore and the assessments which are brought into question are those for the assessment years 1939-40, 1940-41 and 1941-42.
The facts as stated by the statement of the case are relatively simple. It appears that the temple was founded in the year 1883 but was not consecrated until the year 1886. On the 11th July, 1887, there was what is described as an instrument of dedication. This document, which is Ex. T-K., dealt with a sum of Rs. 42,000 which had apparently been collected for the purpose of building and endowing the temple, and out of it Rs. 20,000 had been spent on the construction of the temple itself, a further Rs. 5,000 had been spent on ornaments and Rs. 17,000 remained to be disposed of. The deed declared that this balance should be invested in the purchase of particular type of immovable property or should remain 'deposited' at interest, and proceeded at some pains to make it quite clear that the donors of the fund had released all interest in it. It then in a somewhat inadequate way went on to provide for the management of the temple, but it is clear that some further and more comprehensive document was contemplated. However, as far as it goes, the investment of 11th July, 1887, makes it abundantly clear that the seventeen thousand rupees in question was to be used exclusively for the purposes of the temple.
In the interval of time between 1887 and now, the fund, of which the original Rs. 17,000 is now part, has multiplies itself many times over and we are told that it is now represented by a sum of several lakhs of rupees whether in money, property or investments and it is with the income of this substantial fund that we are now concerned. To put the matter shortly, the income is received by certain members of the original settlors family as trustees and the Income-tax authorities now claim that this income is taxable.
The question in the form in which it comes to us involves Section 4, sub-section (3), of the Indian Income-tax Act. That sub-section exempts from the charge of Income-tax :-
'(1) Any income derived from property held under trust or other legal obligation wholly for religious or charitable purposes, and in the case of property so held in part only for such purposes, the income applied, or finally set apart for application, thereto.'
This exemption is, however, qualified by a final proviso which runs thus :-
'In this sub-section charitable purposes includes relief of the poor, education, medical relief, and the advancement of any other object of general public utility, but nothing contained in clause (i).....shall operate to exempt from the provisions of this Act that part of the income of a private religious trust which does not enure for the benefit of the public.'
The answer, accordingly, given by the assessee to the Income-tax Officer is that the income in question is 'derived from property held under trust for religious or charitable purposes.' The Income-tax Officer, however, counters this by saying that the income in this case is merely the income of 'a private religious trust which does not enure for the benefit of the public.' We concede that this issue raises both questions of fact and questions of law, or possibly mixed questions of fact and law.
Turning now to the statement of case, we have to see what facts are presented in order to decide the question of law to set up. The question has been stated by the Income-tax Tribunal in the following language :-
'Whether in the circumstances of the case the Shri Dwarka Dheesh Temple Trust, Cawnpore, is a public religious trust and as such whether the income derived by the trust is exempt from taxation under Section 4(3)(i) of the Income-tax Act ?'
The facts stated by the Appellate Tribunal in their statement of the case are these. First, we told that the public have from the very beginning exercised the right of going to the temple and worshipping the deity there. Secondly, we are told that the income of the temple properties is spent on Sadavart, Pathashala, Dharmshala, Bhog, Utsav etc., thirdly, that for foregoing benefits are open to the public, who come there to get them, in their own right. Fourthly, that every day some 100 or 150 members of the public come to the temple for worship and, fifthly, that there is no prohibition of any kind upon anyone having access to the temple, except the single qualification that he must be sober. Moreover, the Tribunal has stated as a fact that the temple has throughout been treated as a place of public worship and its properties have always been administered as belonging to a public trust.
Now, those are the facts before us. The Income-tax department, which in this case is the applicant, makes a point of the circumstances that the instrument of 1887 is silent as to whether this trust is a public or a private trust. It is true that it is not stated in so many words in the document itself whether the trust is a public or private one and there is no presumption one way or the other. When we look, however, at the course of events during the intervening fifty years stated as facts in the case now before us, no doubt can possibly be left in anybodys mind but that there was ample evidence upon what the Income-tax Officer could have concluded, as the Tribunal has now concluded, that this was a public, and not a private trust. We have pressed hard by Mr. Pathak to go behind the statements of facts set out in the statement of the case by the Appellate Tribunal. The suggestion is that if we were to do this, we might find other facts which might or might not shake the conclusions of fact stated to us. As a matter of principle we do not think that any jurisdiction is entrusted to us by Section 66 of the Income-tax Act either to go behind or to questions statements of fact made by the Appellate Tribunal in the statement of a case. Our only jurisdiction is that, if in any case we are not satisfied that the statements contained in the statement of the case are sufficient to enable us to determine the question raised by it, we have power to send it back to the Appellate Tribunal for a second statement of facts. Here it is impossible to say that the facts as stated in the statement of the case were insufficient to have enabled the Income-tax Officer to conclude that the trust in this case was from the beginning, and is now, a public trust. That is sufficient to dispose of the matter upon the ground that this religious trust is not a private one at all but it is a public one. Even if this had been so, the findings of the Appellate Tribunal would still have been ample to show that the income of the trust, whether public or private, enures for the benefit of the public. For these reasons we answer the question put to us by saying that the assessee temple is a public religious trust, and, as such, is exempt from taxation in respect of the income derived from the trust in question by virtue of Section 4(3)(i) of the Indian Income-tax Act.
The respondent assessee is entitled to his costs of this reference. We fix the fee of the learned counsel appearing for the department at two hundred rupees.
Reference answered accordingly.