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Bai Aimai Gustadji Karaka (Since Deceased) (by Her Heir, Chandaben Jamshedji Karaka). Vs. Gift-tax Officer, Circle V, Ward B, Ahmedabad. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtGujarat High Court
Decided On
Case NumberSpecial Civil Application No. 918 of 1972
Reported in[1975]99ITR257(Guj)
AppellantBai Aimai Gustadji Karaka (Since Deceased) (by Her Heir, Chandaben Jamshedji Karaka).
RespondentGift-tax Officer, Circle V, Ward B, Ahmedabad.
Excerpt:
.....nothing in it which precisely or specifically brings out the correct state of facts concerning the taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment. a bare opinion of the inspecting assistant commissioner based on generalizations in respect of the value of properties in a particular locality and not related precisely to the value of the taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment, would not, in our opinion, constitute 'information'.it would not amount to instructive knowledge concerning the taxable gift on the basis of which the requisite belief which would justify the opening of a concluded assessment, can be formed. in view of the foregoing conclusion, we are of the opinion that in the present case there was no 'information' in the possession of the gift-tax..........gift-tax officer having jurisdiction in the matter a return in the prescribed form in which the taxable gift was valued at rs. 1,34,667. this figure was arrived at by computing the value of the two-third interest on the basis of the value of the entire property as shown in the gift deed and by deducting from the said amount a sum of rs. 10,000 in view of the statutory exemption given under section 5(2) of the gift-tax act, 1958 (hereinafter referred to as 'the act'). it appears that the gift-tax officer was not satisfied with the return and he, therefore, issued a notice under section 15(2) on the assessee directing her to produce evidence in support of the return. the assessee accordingly produced before the gift-tax office the report dated july 11, 1968, of a government approved.....
Judgment:

P. D. DESAI J. - The petitioner is an assessee owning an immovable property situate in Ahmedabad. The property consists of a plot of land admeasuring 5,484 square yards on which there are twelve super-structures. The super-structure occupy nearly 40 per cent. of the said plot of land. The remaining 60 per cent. of the said plot of land is not built upon. During the relevant year of account corresponding to the assessment year 1968-69, the assessee made a gift to the extent of two-third interest in the said property in favour of her two relatives. The gift was effected by a registered deed which was executed on December 2, 1967, and the value of the entire property which was the subject-matter of the gift was therein put at Rs. 2,17,000. In due course, the petitioner furnished to the Gift-tax Officer having jurisdiction in the matter a return in the prescribed form in which the taxable gift was valued at Rs. 1,34,667. This figure was arrived at by computing the value of the two-third interest on the basis of the value of the entire property as shown in the gift deed and by deducting from the said amount a sum of Rs. 10,000 in view of the statutory exemption given under section 5(2) of the Gift-tax Act, 1958 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act'). It appears that the Gift-tax Officer was not satisfied with the return and he, therefore, issued a notice under section 15(2) on the assessee directing her to produce evidence in support of the return. The assessee accordingly produced before the Gift-tax Office the report dated July 11, 1968, of a Government approved valuer valuing the entire property in question as on March 31, 1968. The approved valuer valued the super-structures and the land upon which they were constructed together at Rs. 4,69,476. It may be stated that 60 per cent. of the open land comprised in the property in question which was not built upon was not taken into consideration by the approved valuer while evaluating the property since, in his opinion, it had 'no value as it is used for passages, car-parking, etc.' The Gift-tax Office accepted the report and accordingly valued the taxable gift at Rs. 3,13,000. After deducting from the said amount a sum of Rs. 10,000 being the amount of the statutory exemption, he determined the value of the taxable gift at Rs. 3,03,000 and assessed gift-tax accordingly. This order of assessment was made on October 3, 1970.

On February 15, 1972, the Gift-tax Officer served upon the petitioner a notice under section 16(1) of the Act requiring her to file a fresh return in the prescribed form in respect of the above mentioned gift. The Gift-tax Officer stated in the notice that he had reasons to believe that the taxable gift had escaped assessment and that he, therefore, proposed to initiate reassessment proceedings. On April 6, 1972, the petitioner wrote to the Gift-tax Officer stating that she had filed an approved valuers report in the course of the original assessment proceedings as required by the Gift-tax Officer and that the assessment was finalised on the basis of the said report. In these circumstances, submitted the petitioner, there was no concealment or under-assessment and she presumed that the reopening of the case appeared to have been decided upon 'at the instance of audit instruction' and requested the Gift-tax Officer to let her know whether her presumption was correct. The Gift-tax Officer by his letter dated April 17, 1972, informed the petitioner that her case had been 'rightly and legally reopened' under section 16 and directed the petitioner to file the gift-tax return and co-operate with the department in finalising her reopened assessment. The petitioner has, thereupon, filed the present petition challenging the validity of the notice under section 16(1) issued by the Gift-tax Officer.

The Gift-tax Officer against whom the petition is directed has filed an affidavit-in-opposition to the petition. He has stated that it was true that the valuers report was produced before him in the course of the assessment proceedings. However, mere furnishing of such document did not amount to full disclosure, and, therefore, the petitioner had, in the submission of the Gift-tax Officer, failed to disclose fully and truly the particulars of gift made by her during the course of the previous year relevant to the assessment year in question. The Gift-tax Officer further stated that in the valuation report 60 per cent. of the open land comprised in the property in question was treated as bearing no value at all. He has further stated :

'I say that from the report of the Inspecting Assistant Commissioner Audit Circle, dated 7th December, 1970, this irregularity was pointed out and in pursuance of the said report my predecessor in office had reason to believe that the gift made by the petitioner for the assessment year 1968-69 had escaped assessment within the meaning of section 16 of the Gift-tax Act. In pursuance of the aforesaid, a notice dated February 18, 1972, being annexure F to the petition, was issued to the petitioner calling upon him to submit within 30 days of the receipt of the said notice the return of gift or gifts made by the petitioner assessable for the assessment year 1968-69.'

In the submission of the gift-tax Officer, the information gathered from the audit report amounted to 'information' within the meaning of section 16(1) (b) of the Act giving jurisdiction to the Gift-tax Officer to assess or reassess the assessee in respect of any taxable gift which had escaped assessment. It would thus appear that the stand of the Gift-tax Officer in the affidavit filed in opposition to the petition was that the impugned notice was issued both under section 16(1) (a) and 16(1) (b) of the Act. We may state, however, that at the hearing of this petition Mr. K. H. Kaji, learned advocate appearing on behalf of the revenue, has relied only upon the provisions of section 16(1) (b) and tried to support the notice only on the basis of the said provisions. According to Mr. Kaji the letter dated December 7, 1970, which is annexure 'A' to the affidavit-in-opposition of the Gift-tax Officer, amounted to 'information' in consequence of which the Gift-tax Officer had reason to believe that taxable gift had escaped assessment and he particularly relied upon the following portion of the said letter which, in his submission, amounted to 'information' within the meaning of section 16(1) (b) :

'It does not need to be said that land near Relief Road cannot be of no value whatever, even if it is suffering from certain encumbrances.'

The main question which, therefore, arises for consideration in the present case is, whether the impugned notice could be said to have been validly issued under the provisions of section 16(1) (b) of the Act. Section 16(1) (b) in so far as it is relevant for the purposes of this case, provides that if the Gift-tax Officer has, in consequence of any 'information' in his possession, reason to believe, that any taxable gift has escaped assessment for any year, whether by reason of under-assessment or assessment at too low a rate or otherwise, he may, within the time limit prescribed in the said sub-section, serve on the assessee a notice containing all or any of the requirements which may be included in a notice under section 13(2) and may proceed to assess or reassess any taxable gift which has escaped assessment. It is clear from the language of section 16(1) (b) that the assessment or reassessment of the escaped taxable gift can be made by the Gift-tax Officer only if he has, in consequence of information in his possession, reason to believe that such taxable gift has escaped assessment. Two conditions must be satisfied before the Gift-tax Officer can initiate an action under section 16(1) (b) : (1) the Gift-tax Officer should receive 'information' after the original assessments; and (2) in consequence of such 'information', he should reasonably believe that taxable gift has escaped assessment. This provision is, in all material respects, similar to the provision of section 147(b) of the Income-tax Act, 1961, and the decisions given in the context of section 147(b) would, therefore, be helpful in construing the provisions of section 16(1) (b).

Now, so far as section 147(1) (b) of the Income-tax Act, 1961, is concerned, it is well-settled as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in Commissioner of Income-tax v. A Raman & Company, that 'information' in the context in which it occurs in the said provision must mean 'instruction or knowledge derived from an external source concerning facts or particulars, or as to law relating to a matte bearing on the assessment'. Mere change of opinion on the part of the Income-tax Officer does not constitute 'information' so as to entitle the Income-tax Officer to initiate proceedings under section 147(6). On a parity of reasoning, for initiating action under section 16(1) (b) so as to entitle the Gift-tax Office to initiate proceedings for assessment or reassessment under the said provision. The Gift-tax Officer must receive 'information' as to facts or particulars or as to the correct state of law after the original assessment from an external source and it is only then that he would be justified in initiating action under section 16(1) (b). The question then is, whether these conditions are satisfied in the present case.

On behalf of the petitioner, the dispute which is raised is that the conditions laid down in section 16(1) (b) are not satisfied and that dispute is founded on two grounds : first, that the letter addressed by the Inspecting Assistant Commissioner to the Gift-tax Officer on which reliance has been placed, does not constitute 'information'; and, secondly, that the 'information' received by the assessing authority from an audit report cannot be said to be 'information' received from an external source. In our opinion, the present case can be disposed of on the basis of the first prong of the argument urged on behalf of the petitioner and it is, therefore, not necessary to go into the second aspect raised for our consideration.

Now, the true meaning and content of the word 'information' in the context in which it occurs in section 16(1) (b) has already been adverted to earlier. Accordingly, 'information' means instructive knowledge concerning a matter bearing on the assessment received from an external source after the completion of the original assessment. The 'information' may be as to the correct state of facts or of law relating to the taxable gift and it must be capable of arousing or suggesting ideas or notions not before existent in the mind of the recipient. In other words, it must be of such a nature as to acquaint, enlighten or instruct the mind of the Gift-tax Officer for the first time concerning a matter pertaining to the taxable gift so that he could form a reasonable belief that there has been an escapement of tax which requires to be set right by taking steps for reopening the assessment. 'Information' in the context in which it is used in section 16(1) (b) must, therefore, be derived from a source which has some authenticity and it must be precise and certain and must have relation with the taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment. Any way-side gossip, any inference or surmise drawn by a person from certain facts which are assumed to exist and not supported by any data or any general opinion expressed by a person not qualified, experienced or acquainted with the subject-matter, cannot amount to 'information' on which the Gift-tax Office might act for reopening a completed assessment. It must be remembered that section 16(1) empowers the Gift-tax Officer to disturb the finality of an assessment already made and to assess or reassess the taxable gift made by an assessee. Such an action is bound to result in considerable anxiety and harassment to the assessee and the legislature has, therefore, imposed certain conditions, subject to which alone, the Gift tax Office can reopen an assessment which is already concluded. These safeguards would be rendered illusory unless the word 'information' is given the aforesaid meaning in the context of section 16(1) (b).

Let us now proceed to consider whether the above mentioned test is satisfied in the present case so far as the letter of the Inspecting Assistant Commissioner on the basis of which proceedings under section 16(1) (b) have been taken is concerned. The Inspecting Assistant Commissioner in his letter expressed the opinion that it was not required to be stated that a piece or parcel of land in the locality in which the property which was the subject-matter of the gift was situated could not be of any value whatso-ever, even if it was burdened with certain encumbrances. This is the only portion of the letter on which reliance has been placed by the revenue as constituting 'information' within the meaning of section 16(1) (b). It it difficult to comprehend as to how this bare assertion on the part of the Inspecting Assistant Commissioner would constitute 'information' in the facts and circumstances of the case. It is no more than a bald or general statement based on certain facts which are assumed to exist. It is merely the expression of a general opinion-an opinion which was in terms opposed to the view of an approved valuer-and the said opinion was not supported by any data. There is nothing in it which precisely or specifically brings out the correct state of facts concerning the taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment. It would be difficult, therefore, to call it 'information' of the nature which is required before proceedings for reassessment of a taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment can be taken. A bare opinion of the Inspecting Assistant Commissioner based on generalizations in respect of the value of properties in a particular locality and not related precisely to the value of the taxable gift which is alleged to have escaped assessment, would not, in our opinion, constitute 'information'. It would not amount to instructive knowledge concerning the taxable gift on the basis of which the requisite belief which would justify the opening of a concluded assessment, can be formed.

In view of the foregoing conclusion, we are of the opinion that in the present case there was no 'information' in the possession of the Gift-tax Officer in consequence of which he could have reason to believe that any taxable gift had escaped assessment and, therefore, the condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction under section 16(1) (b) was not satisfied. We, accordingly, allow the petition and make the rule absolute by quashing and setting aside the notice dated February 15, 1972, issued by the Gift-tax Officer against the petitioner under section 16(1) of the Act. The respondent will pay the costs of the petition to the petitioner.

Petition allowed.


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