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B. Rajeevi R. Hegde Vs. Addl. Agricultural Income-tax Officer (1st Circle) and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Case NumberOriginal Petition No. 1338 of 1977 and Second Appeal No. 707 of 1980
Reported in[1981]127ITR855(Ker)
ActsKerala Agricultural Income Tax Act, 1950 - Sections 18(4) and 24
AppellantB. Rajeevi R. Hegde
RespondentAddl. Agricultural Income-tax Officer (1st Circle) and ors.
Appellant Advocate V. Rama Shenoi and; R. Raya Shenoi, Advs.
Respondent Advocate Government Pleader and;Adv. General
Cases ReferredVenkatapathi Raju v. Venkatanarasimha Raju
.....of tax due from a - in view of section 24 b could be called upon to pay tax only if she became legal representatives - a had only life estate which wholly extinguished with that life - a's right to receive income disappeared with him and interest in properties vanished - no element of his wealth passed on to anyone - estate of a did not survive him so as to be passed on to b or others - b did not inherit anything from a and not his legal representative - b did not participate in a's estate and did not become his legal representative in respect of properties - b not liable for agricultural income-tax due from a under section 24. - - and her attempt to get it reopened under section 19 and revised under section 34 also failed, except to the extent that the revisional authority..........the assessment under section 18(4) of the agrl. i.t. act, 1950. she contended that she was not the legal representative of ramayya. this was overruled and an assessment made; and her attempt to get it reopened under section 19 and revised under section 34 also failed, except to the extent that the revisional authority reduced the estimate of income. o. p. no. 1338/77 was, therefore, filed by rajeevi challenging the various orders passed and the demand notices issued, in respect of the assessment year 70-71.4. in august, 1970, the agrl. ito had passed an order assessing ramayya in respect of the assessment year 1969-70, and in 1975, the department demanded the tax from rajeevi, treating her as the legal representative of the deceased. when her objections were overruled and revenue.....

M.P. Menon, J.

1. One Kinhanna Naik of Mangalpadi Village, Kasar-agod Taluk, executed a will bequeathing his properties to his niece's daughter, Rajeevi, subject to a life-estate in favour of his nephews, Thayampanna Shetty and Ramayya Shetty. The will also provided that Rajeevi could not lay claim to acquisitions made by the nephews by utilising the savings from the properties in their management during their lifetime. After the death of Kinhanna Naik, the properties were in the possession of Thayampanna Shetty, and after the latter's death, Ramayya Shetty was in possession and enjoyment. Ramayya Shetty died on June 30, 1972.

2. Ramayya Shetty and Rajeevi were members of a kavaru (known as Denhi's kavaru) belonging to Bombrana family governed by the Aliasanthana law. Shetty belonged to a nissanthathi branch, i.e., a branch in which there was no female member below 50 years of age. According to a partition effected on July 8, 1950, some of the properties of the kavaru were set apart for the enjoyment of Shetty. Under the Aliasanthana law, a member of a nissanthathi branch has only a life interest in the properties allotted to him ; after his death, they are to revert to the santhathi branches. Thus, after the death of Ramayya Shetty in 1972, the properties in question (called Kidoor properties) reverted to three santhathi branches, Rajeevi getting a one-third share.

3. It appears that Ramayya Shetty had not filed a return of his agricultural income in respect of the assessment year 1970-71. After his death, notice was issued to Rajeevi proposing to complete the assessment under Section 18(4) of the Agrl. I.T. Act, 1950. She contended that she was not the legal representative of Ramayya. This was overruled and an assessment made; and her attempt to get it reopened under Section 19 and revised under Section 34 also failed, except to the extent that the revisional authority reduced the estimate of income. O. P. No. 1338/77 was, therefore, filed by Rajeevi challenging the various orders passed and the demand notices issued, in respect of the assessment year 70-71.

4. In August, 1970, the Agrl. ITO had passed an order assessing Ramayya in respect of the assessment year 1969-70, and in 1975, the department demanded the tax from Rajeevi, treating her as the legal representative of the deceased. When her objections were overruled and revenue recovery proceedings were initiated for the recovery, she and some others filed O.S. No. 10/76 for a declaration that they were not the legal representatives of Ramayya and for injunction restraining the State from proceeding against them. The trial court decreed the suit and granted injunction as prayed for. The State's appeal (A. S. No. 166/78) against the said decree having failed, it has now come up with S.A. No. 707/80.

5. It is not disputed that Ramayya had only a life interest in the Mangal-padi and Kidoor properties. In fact, that was how the case had proceeded before the taxing authorities and the two courts below. Paragraphs (3) and (4) of the additional counter-affidavit in the O. P. also proceed on that basis. And the only question, therefore, is whether Rajeevi (and the other plaintiffs in the suit) could be held liable for the arrears of tax due from Ramayya. The learned judge who referred the O. P. to the Bench has formulated the question in the following general terms :

' Whether a person who is a remainderman is liable for the liability of the deceased life-estate holder under the Agricultural Income-tax Act '

6. Under Section 3(1) of the Act, the tax is charged on the total agricultural income of every person; and Section 4(1) specifies that such income comprises all agricultural income derived from land situated within the State and received by him. The tax is thus on the income received by a person from lands inside the State. Under Section 17, it is for that person to furnish the return of income. Section 18 empowers the Agrl. ITO to assess the income and ' determine the sum payable by him '. Where a person in receipt of agricultural income transfers his interest in the land to another, Section 23 provides that the transferor and the transferee shall each be assessed in respect of his actual share. This provision is also consistent with the scheme of making a person liable for the income received by him. Then comes Section 24 dealing with ' tax of deceased person payable by representatives '. Where the person who has received the income dies after the assessment, the tax ' assessed as payable by such person ' is to be paid by his executor, administrator or legal representatives from ' out of the estate of the deceased '. Where the person dies before the assessment, then also the liability to pay is on the executor, administrator or legal representative, but again only out of the estate of the deceased, on the fictional footing that the deceased continued to be alive.

7. Now, Ramayya was admittedly receiving the income from the lands in question during his lifetime. In the year 1969-70, he was the assessee. In the year 70-71 also, the assessment was on the income received by him. In view of Section 24, therefore, Rajeevi could be called upon to pay the tax only if she became a legal representative of Ramayya after his death, with his estate devolving on her. What then is an ' estate ', and who is a ' legal representative ' The estate of a deceased person is the bundle of rights, powers, immunities and liabilities which survive him. With reference to a living person, 'estate' means the interest he has in lands and other subjects of property ; it designates property, real or personal, in which he has a right or interest. The degree, quantity, nature and extent of interest which he has in property is his 'estate', signifying everything of which riches or fortune may consist. The aggregate of a man's proprietary rights constitutes his estate, as distinct from those rights which are often called personal and which determine his status. Proprietary rights are valuable and are always worth something; they may be jus in rem or jus in personam; rights of either sort are proprietary, if they are the elements of a man's wealth which he can dispose of at his pleasure, or pass on to others. The term ' legal representative ' means one who stands in the place of and represents the interests of another, i.e., one who is entitled ' to take any descent or distribution '. It denotes one on whom the status of a representative is fastened by reason of the death of his ancestor. If on the death of a person, some of his rights fall on or accrue to another as successor, that another is a legal representative. If there is an executor or administrator for the estate of the deceased, he is the legal representative ; and in other cases, the heirs or legatees on whom his proprietary rights devolve are the legal representatives.

8. The right that Ramayya had in respect of the Mangalpadi and Kidoor properties was only to receive the income therefrom during his lifetime. That right died with him, that ' estate ' did not survive him. His wife and children had no right at all to the income from the properties after June 30, 1972. If any part of the income receivable before June 30, 1972, had remained unrealised, the wife and children could no doubt claim it. That was a right which had accrued to the deceased during his lifetime ; and that, along with the liabilities attached thereto, devolved on the wife and children. Rajeevi got the Mangalpadi properties as the legatee under the will of Kinhanna Naik. She got it not by reason of the death of Ramayya, because if the testator had bequeathed the remainder to anyone else, she would not have got it after the death of Ramayya. The death of Ramayya was only the occasion which passed on the properties to Rajeevi, not the reason. Similarly, she got the Kidoor properties by reason of the circumstance that she belonged to a santhathi branch of Denhi's kavaru; here again, Ramayya's death only provided the occasion and not the reason which was to be found in the principles of Aliasanthana law and the terms of the partition deed. In short, the estate of Ramayya as regards these two properties did not survive him so as to be passed on to Rajeevi or others. She did not inherit anything from Ramayya and she was not his legal representative. Dealing with the different modes of acquisition of properties, Salmond says (Salmond on Jurisprudence, 12th Edn., p. 442):

' The fourth and last mode of acquisition that we need consider is inheritance. In respect of the death of their owners all rights are divisible into two classes, being either inheritable or uninheritable. A right is inheritable if it survives its owner ; uninheritable if it dies with him. This division is, to a large extent, though far from completely, coincident with that between proprietary and personal rights. The latter are in almost all cases so intimately connected with the personality of him in whom they are vested, that they are incapable of separate and continued existence. They are not merely divested by death (as are rights of every sort), but are wholly extinguished. '

9. Ramayya had only a life estate which became wholly extinguished with that life. His rights were so intimately connected with his personality that they were incapable of 'separate and continued existence' after his death. His right to receive the income disappeared with him ; his interest in the properties vanished, with the result that no element of his wealth relatable thereto passed on to anyone also. It can, therefore, safely be said that Rajeevi did not participate in his estate and that she did not become his legal representative, in respect of both the properties. Under the circumstances, she cannot be held liable for the agricultural income-tax due from Ramayya under Section 24 of the Act.

10. If support is required for the above view, we find it in the Full Bench decision in Balakrishna Menon v. IAC of Agrl. I.T. : [1968]70ITR548(Ker) . The question was whether agricultural income-tax due in respect of the income derived by a sthanamdar from sthanam property was, after his death, leviable from the person or persons on whom the property had devolved; and it was answered in the negative for the reason that the sthanamdar's estate was akin to that of a Hindu widow, i.e., one which did not survive him. Speaking for the majority, Raman Nayar J. (as he then was) said (p. 551):

'Under Section 3, read with Sections 17 and 18 of the Act, the liability to pay the tax assessed is, subject to certain exceptions as in sections 23 and 24, solely that of the person who derives the income, and there is no provision in the Act which makes the liability a charge on the property from which the income is derived, or provides for recovery of the tax from the property as such, although of course, the defaulter's interest in the property (which interest might range from full ownership to that of a mere licensee or trespasser, or, when the interest has ceased, as on the determination of a lease, to nothing) being part of his property, can be proceeded against. '

11. In Rama Rao Naidu v. CIT : [1961]42ITR80(AP) , the question arose whether income-tax payable by a widow who had obtained only a life-estate in the properties under the will of her deceased husband, could be recovered from one of their sons after her death, under Section 24B of the Indian I.T. Act, 1922 ; and the court held that the son, who was only a legatee under his father's will, was not a legal representative of the mother.

12. On behalf of the State, some reliance was sought to be placed on Ex. R-1 (in the O.P.) wherein Rajeevi had stated that she was a legal repesentative of Thayampanna Shetty. That cannot estop her from contending that she is not a legal representative of Ramayya; and as pointed out by the Privy Council in Venkatapathi Raju v. Venkatanarasimha Raju, :

' It sometimes happens that persons make statements which serve their purpose or proceed upon ignorance of the true position ; and it is not their statements, but their relations with the estate, which should be taken into consideration in determining the issue. '

13. Ramanathan v. CIT : [1963]49ITR881(Mad) , cited by the learned Advocate-General, is not of much assistance. The facts of the case were these. Chidambara and Vridhachala were brothers, who became divided in 1942, and were thereafter being assessed to income-tax as individuals. Chidambara died issueless on 24th February, 1951. Ponnammal, his wife, who became a limited heir of the deceased's properties, surrendered the estate in favour of the reversioner, Vridhachala, in March, 1951. Vridhachala brought these properties also into the family hotchpot, the family consisting of himself, and his sons, Ramanathan and Rajagopalan. Ponnammal died in June, 1952, and Vridhachala, in February, 1956. In March, 1956, the department attempted to reopen the assessment of the income of Chidambara for the year ended 31st March, 1951, on the ground that part of it had escaped assessment. Notice under Section 34 of the Indian I.T. Act, 1922) was issued to Ramanathan who contended that ' the individuality of Chidambara had become merged in the joint family assets held by Vridhachala and his sons, and that he alone could not, therefore, represent the estate of Chidambara as a legal representative, under Section 24B ; and the court held, on the facts, that the proceedings were not invalid for the only reason that one of the legal representatives alone was impleaded. Ramanathan had not contended that he was not an heir or legal representative of Chidambara; his case was that there were others also to whom notice should have gone. The real question decided was whether the department could choose one out of many persons who were admittedly legal representatives under Section 24B, for assessing the income of a deceased person. There was no question as to whether a remainderman or reversioner could be treated as the legal representative of a life-estate holder.

14. In the light of what is stated above, the O.P. has to be allowed, and we do so by quashing Exs. P-6, P-7, P-8, P-10, P-12 and P-13. S.A. No. 707/80 will stand dismissed. Parties to suffer their own costs.

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