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Commissioner of Income-tax (Delhi Central) Vs. Bharat Insurance Co. Ltd. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
Subject Direct Taxation
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberIncome-tax Reference No. 86 of 1974
Judge
Reported in(1983)34CTR(Del)371; [1983]142ITR342(Delhi)
ActsIncome Tax Act, 1961 - Sections 28 and 256(1); Insurance Act, 1938 - Sections 3(5B) and 3(5D)
AppellantCommissioner of Income-tax (Delhi Central)
RespondentBharat Insurance Co. Ltd.
Excerpt:
- - with the result that the license stood cancelled almost for good. the ito also found that no miscellaneous business was conducted by the assessed since 1952 or so and that the conduct of the assessed over a period of more than a decade clearly showed that there was no intention whatsoever to do insurance business in future......periods relevant to any or all the assessment years 1962-63, 1964-65 to 1968-70 ?' 2. m/s. bharat insurance co. ltd., the assessed, is a limited company. the assessment years in dispute are the years 1962-63, 1964-65 to 1969-70, while the previous years were the years ended december 31, 1961, december 31, 1963, to december 31, 1968. at the relevant time, the assessed derived income under the head 'interest on securities' and there is no dispute to this head of income. the dispute is as to the claim of the assessed that it carried on business in the relevant years of account. 3. when the insurance act, 1938, came into force, the assessed was carrying on the business of life insurance, fidelity guarantee bonds, guaranteeing the calcutta administrators, receivers, etc., and the fire.....
Judgment:

S.S. Chadha, J.

1. This is a reference under s. 256(1) of the I.T. Act, 1961, by which the following question has been referred to this court for opinion :

'Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the assessed-company was carrying on any business during any or all the accounting periods relevant to any or all the assessment years 1962-63, 1964-65 to 1968-70 ?'

2. M/s. Bharat Insurance Co. Ltd., the assessed, is a limited company. The assessment years in dispute are the years 1962-63, 1964-65 to 1969-70, while the previous years were the years ended December 31, 1961, December 31, 1963, to December 31, 1968. At the relevant time, the assessed derived income under the head 'Interest on securities' and there is no dispute to this head of income. The dispute is as to the claim of the assessed that it carried on business in the relevant years of account.

3. When the Insurance Act, 1938, came into force, the assessed was carrying on the business of life insurance, fidelity guarantee bonds, guaranteeing the Calcutta administrators, receivers, etc., and the fire insurance in respect of which the assessed was acting as employers of agents only. In addition to life insurance, the assessed was thus conducting miscellaneous insurance business under the High Court Guarantee Bonds. The assessed obtained in 1939 the requisite registration under the Insurance Act, 1938, for that class of business also. A separate deposit of Government securities was made with the Reserve Bank of India, Calcutta, as security required under s. 7 of the Insurance Act, 1938, in respect of that class of business, in addition to its life business. From 1939 to 1943, the assessed carried on the business of issuing bonds directly and in or about 1943, the assessed entered into an arrangement with Bharat Fire & General Insurance Co. Ltd., whereby the management of the bonds so far issued was taken over by Bharat Fire & General Insurance Co. Ltd. and new bonds were issued by M/s. Bharat Fire & General Insurance Co. Ltd in the name of the assessed. These bonds were in turn re-insured for the full amount with Bharat General Re-insurance Co. Ltd. This arrangement worked up to 1949, in which year the assessed ceased to issue any new bonds, either sold by it or through Bharat Fire and General Insurance Co. Ltd. The assessed continued the registration under the Insurance Act, 1938, for the miscellaneous insurance business from year to year. The Controller of Insurance cancelled the registration for the miscellaneous insurance business with effect from June 15, 1956, for non-renewal of registration.

4. Before the ITO, the assessed contended that the assessed should be deemed to be carrying on the business in respect of the High Court Guarantee Bonds during the relevant years. The ITO negatived that contention and held that no business was carried out by the assessed. He came to the conclusion that the company could not carry on general insurance business without the license under the provisions of Insurance Act, 1938, and the assessed had not even renewed its license for general insurance after the life business was taken over by bye L. I. C. with the result that the license stood cancelled almost for good. The ITO also found that no miscellaneous business was conducted by the assessed since 1952 or so and that the conduct of the assessed over a period of more than a decade clearly showed that there was no intention whatsoever to do insurance business in future. The ITO further found that it could not be said that there was merely a period of lull so far as the carrying on of the business was concerned as furnishing of fidelity bonds through the agent, M/s. Bharat Fire and General Insurance Co., further indicated that the assessed had no insurance business as such and that any commitment relating to the above business which had ceased to exist was sought to be covered by virtue of an internal arrangement between the assessed and M/s. Bharat General Re-insurance Co. The AAC concurred with the view taken by the ITO on the ground that, in the relevant yeas, there was not even a single transaction of business and that the assessed did not have any license under the provisions of the Insurance Act, 1938, for carrying on any general insurance business in the relevant years of account. The AAC also noticed that the assessed had got its memorandum and articles of association amended in the year 1969-70 so that insurance business ceased to be one of the objects of the assessed.

5. The assessed thereupon appealed to the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal. The Tribunal upheld the contentions put forward on behalf of the assessed and held that in all the relevant years of account, the assessed did carry on business of miscellaneous insurance. The Tribunal found that in so far as the fidelity bonds originally issued were concerned, there was no closure of the assessed's business, that the risk underlying the transactions continued to be borne by the assessed, although it was to a great extent neutralised by the cover of re-insurance but none the less the risk remained and that meant not merely incurring of a liability but also the possibility of making a profit or a loss. The Tribunal further observed that the mere fact that the memorandum and articles of association was amended subsequently did not change the factual position and the legal inference deducible there from for the relevant years in question.

6. Business is a term of wide amplitude which includes any trade, commerce or manufacture or any adventure or concern in the nature of trade commerce or manufacture. Even though the words are wide, but underlying each of them is the fundamental idea of the continued exercise of an activity. The frequency or repetition of an activity, though at times a decisive factor, is by no means an unfaultable test, and a transaction, though repeated, may not amount to a trade or an adventure in the nature of trade. Conversely an isolated adventure may fall within the definition of business. Ordinarily, business implied a continuous activity in carrying on a particular trade or avocation, but it may also include an activity which may be called quiescent. The Tribunal found that the assessed did carry on the business of miscellaneous insurance in connection with the fidelity bonds which it had already issued, although on an extremely small scale in the relevant years of account. This carrying on of business was because of the statutory provisions of the Insurance Act, 1938. Section 3(5B) of the Insurance Act, 1938, says that when a registration is cancelled, the insurer shall not, after the cancellation has taken effect, enter into any new contracts of insurance, but all rights and liabilities in respect of contracts of insurance entered into by him before such cancellation takes effect shall, subject to the provisions of sub-s. (5D) continue as if the cancellation had not taken effect. By the deeming fiction of the statute, all rights and liabilities in respect of the fidelity bonds originally issued by the assessed continued as the cancellation of the registration had no effect. The transaction of fidelity bonds is in the nature of an activity carried on under the statutory control and amounts to carrying on business within the meaning of I.T. Act, 1961. The primary liability was, and continued on the existing bonds to be that of the assessed which, in turn, was duly covered by reinsurance with M/s. Bharat General Reinsurance Co. There was no substitution of the assessed by the reinsurer and it was only a reinsurance of a risk by the assessed. There was no contract guaranteeing the Calcutta High Court for fidelity of trustees, administrators, receivers, etc., by the reinsurer. The liability continued on the existing bond to be that of the assessed and to that extent it amounted to the carrying on of business.

7. The reference is answered in the affirmative, i.e., in favor of the assessed and against the Revenue. On the facts and circumstances, there will be no order as to costs.


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