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Commissioner of Income-tax Tamil Nadu-i Vs. M. Ramalakshmi Reddy - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberTax Case No. 680 of 1976 (Reference No. 548 of 1976)
Judge
Reported in(1980)19CTR(Mad)270; [1981]131ITR415(Mad)
ActsIncome Tax Act 1961 - Sections 10(3)
AppellantCommissioner of Income-tax Tamil Nadu-i
RespondentM. Ramalakshmi Reddy
Appellant AdvocateJ. Jayaraman, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateM. Utham Reddy, Adv.
Cases ReferredIn Griffiths v. J. P. Harrison
Excerpt:
.....was right in holding that the amount received by the assessee from the two concerns for sale of water is casual and non-recurring receipts and did not arise from business or exercise of a profession or occupation by the assessee and, therefore, exempt from taxation under section 10(3) of the income-tax act? ; held, where a person gets some receipt for money where he does not angle for it or where it is not the product of an organised seeking after emoluments, or where it is merely a chance encounter with a venture, which while enriching him, does not form part of any scheme of profit making, the idea of income is absent. the real basis for this conception of non-taxable casual receipt is that the transaction in question which produces it does not constitute any trade or an adventure..........in holding that the sum of rs. 37,770 received by the assessee from the two concerns for sale of water is casual and non-recurring receipt and did not arise from business or the exercise of a profession or occupation by the assessee and, therefore, exempt from taxation under section 10(3) of the income-tax act ?' 2. the tribunal, in their stated case, have given us a vivid account of the circumstances in which the receipt in question came about. the assessee in the case is mrs. ramalakshmi reddy. she was the owner of a nine-ground plot of land in kodambakkam, madras. she applied to the corporation of madras for approval of her plan to construct a residential building in her plot. with the plan sanctioned, she started construction work. almost the first thing she did at the site was to.....
Judgment:

Balasubrahmanyan, J.

1. In this reference made by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, Madras, at the instance of the Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, under s. 256(1) of the I.T. Act, 1961, the following question of law had been referred for our opinion :

'Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Appellate Tribunal was right in holding that the sum of Rs. 37,770 received by the assessee from the two concerns for sale of water is casual and non-recurring receipt and did not arise from business or the exercise of a profession or occupation by the assessee and, therefore, exempt from taxation under section 10(3) of the Income-tax Act ?'

2. The Tribunal, in their stated case, have given us a vivid account of the circumstances in which the receipt in question came about. The assessee in the case is Mrs. Ramalakshmi Reddy. She was the owner of a nine-ground plot of land in Kodambakkam, Madras. She applied to the Corporation of Madras for approval of her plan to construct a residential building in her plot. With the plan sanctioned, she started construction work. Almost the first thing she did at the site was to find a spot and dig a well, for there was no municipal water supply in that locality and she needed water, initially, for building operations, and, thereafter, to serve sheer god fortune, she happened to strike a perennial spring at the spot where she cut for the well. The water was good. It was also plentiful. This was just abut the time when the rest of Madras found itself in the throes of an acute water famine. Scarcity of water was not only a practical problem, but was apparently the main topic of conversation among city dwellers. In may, 1969, when the drought was at its worst, the assessee's husband had been to a Rotary meeting at Hotel Connemara. There he chanced to meet the secretary of Spencer and Co. Ltd., Madras. Spencer had an aerated water factory in the city. They were exeriencing production problems on account of depletion of their usual sources of water supply. When the assessee's husband heard about their difficulties, he made a sporting offer to the secretary then and there. He said that Spencers might unreservedly help themselves from his wife's well to help their factory out of their shortages. Spencers fell in with the suggestion, and later found that the assessee's well could meet all heir demands with ease. Thus began a steady baling out of lorry loads of water by Spencers from the assessee's domestic well. The whole thing happened just like that, in this casual off-hand way. There was no thought in anyone's mind abut payment for the water. Later, however, Spencers did not, and could not, grudge paying the assessee at the rate of Rs. 50 a lorry, considering that they made quite a profit out of processing it in their aerated water factory. A neighbour of Spencers at Mount Road, the First National City Bank of New York, also had a water problem of their own. They needed potable water to keep their air-conditioning plant going. They too approached the assessee and obtained a like facility from her paying for their lorry loads at the same rate of Rs. 50 a load. In this way, by the end of the year, the assessee had received as much as Rs. 37,770 from both these concerns.

3. The ITO assessed this amount in its entirety as constituting the assessee's taxable income. He did not explain under what head to taxable income he was bringing the amount to charge. He simply described the amount in his assessment order as 'profit from sale of water', and levied tax on it.

4. The assessee appealed against this assessment, saying that the receipts were casual receipts and they could not be treated as chargeable to income-tax. The AAC accepted this contention and deleted the amount from the assessment. He said that the money which the assessee got was the outcome entirely of fortuitous circumstances. He said that the assessee was but a housewife and the receipt was purely casual in her hands.

5. The I.T. Dept. appealed against this order to the Tribunal, contending that the receipt was not casual in nature, exempt as such from income-tax under s. 10(3) of the Act, but was assessable as income. The Tribunal negatived this contention. They pointed out that the receipt of money by the assessee was rendered possible by the drought conditions which the prevailed in the city, and, although the recurrence of a similar situation was not altogether beyond the realms of possibility, the receipt as such in the hands of the assessee must be regarded as casual and non-recurring. The Tribunal pointed out that the assessee was only a housewife and the receipts from sale of well-water did not arise in the course of any business which might be said to have been carried on by her.

6. In this reference, Mr. Jayaraman, learned counsel for the revenue, challenged the Tribunal's conclusion as based on a misconception. He said that much was made by the Tribunal of the circumstances that the assessee was a mere housewife and had had no previous business dealings to her credit. We do not, however, think that the Tribunal was wrong in drawing attention to the life style of the assessee. We regard it as a fact of the utmost importance to this case that the assessee was a married woman who was intent upon building a family residence and running her family in it and who had no thought of running business of any sort of her own.

7. Mr. Jayaraman then urged that the Tribunal was wrong in thinking that the receipts in question were casual receipts. He said that receipts cannot properly be regarded as casual when they are known, foreseen, anticipated and provided for, as had happened in this case. He pointed out that what the assessee got was so much per lorry load of water, and this was nothing but a commercial price mutually agree to between the parties for the quantity sold. Receipts from a series of such sales, Mr. Jayaraman said, cannot be regarded as casual or fortuitous.

8. Learned counsel's line of argument cannot be accepted in this case. The taxing enactment does not say that receipts obtained by a person musts be absolutely unforeseen or unimaginable in order that they may be regarded as non-taxable receipts. it is often said, and quite correctly, that windfall is not income. But, this does not mean that only manna from heaven is exempt from income-tax. What the courts have laid down is that a receipt cannot be treated as income where no characteristic of income can be detected in it. Where a person gets some receipt of money where he does not angle for it, or where it is not the product of an organized seeking after emoluments, or where it is merely a chance encounter with a venture, which while enriching him, does not form part of any scheme of profit-making, the idea of income is absent. The real basis for this conception of non-taxable casual receipt is that the transaction in question which produces it does not constitute any trade or an adventure in the nature of trade. As had been well said by Justice Rowlatt, where you have an isolated transaction which results in some gain or other to the taxpayer, either it is a casual receipt and is exempt as such, or it is a profit from an adventure in the nature of trade, and taxable as such. There can be no middle course open to the revenue to catch the receipt within the net of taxation, by viewing it in any other manner.

9. The I.T. Act, 1961, has been recently amended to include within the concept of taxable income certain kinds of windfall receipts such, for instance, as winnings from lotteries, winnings from horse races, prizes from cross-word puzzles, taking from card games of any sort and receipts from betting and gambling. Nevertheless, the Act even now continues to exclude from taxable income all other receipts of a casual or non-recurring nature, other than capital gains, other than additions to an exployee's remuneration and other than those which arise from an adventure in the nature of trade : See s. 10(3) of the Act. The real question in this case, therefore, is that given the fact that the assessee in this case was housewife with no known commercial proclivities of her own, can she yet be regarded as having indulged in an adventure in the nature of trade when she sold her well water to two concerns in Mount Road at a time of acute water scarcity, after they made overtures in that regard.

10. What a trade is, and what a business is, it is difficult to say in a nutshell, or within the framework of a formula. Even more difficult is the answer t the question what an adventure in the nature of trade is. But faced with questions of this kind to decide, what the courts and tribunals can do is to look fairly at the facts of the given case before them, examine all their different aspects and determine whether the given transaction is an adventure or concern in the nature of trade. The conclusion to be reached by this manner of enquiry is thus one of mixed fact and law. It is quite permissible for the courts, in the process, to draw upon their judicial expertise to seek to arrive at a proper conclusion in law, on the facts disclosed by the case before them. in the very nature of an inquiry of this kind, the value of precedents is, and is recognized on all hands to be, very minimal. And yet it is a part of the tradition of tax cases to find in judgment after judgment considerable citation of previous case law. In this case too learned counsel on both sides cited a few reported decisions at the hearing. Mr. Jayaraman particularly relied on CIT v. V. P. Rao : [1950]18ITR825(Mad) . That was a case of a retired High Court judge taking up an assignment as arbitrator to decide a dispute which had arisen between two District Boards in the Province. For acting as arbitrator the Government paid him Rs. 3,000. This remuneration had been agreed upon at the time he was appointed as arbitrator. It was found that the amount was fixed on the basis of the emoluments of a High Court judge. The question before the Division Bench was, whether this receipt of Rs. 3,000 as fee for arbitration could be assessed as part of the taxable income of the retired judge. It was held that there was no casual or non-recurring quality in the payment, and even though the assessee had retired from the office of a judge, he must be regarded as carrying on a vocation, for, he could be no means be said to have taken up the task of arbitration as a mere hobby. Nor could the arbitration be regarded, in the opinion of the learned judges, as a purely voluntary service rendered by the assessee when actually it had been the subject of a precedent contract for remuneration for services to be rendered.

11. We can easily distinguish this case from the present by saying that whereas the retired judge had not fully rid himself of his vocational aptitudes and preferences on his retirement, the assessee in the present case had never been known to have run a business in her life, nor exhibited any commercial proclivities at any time before. However, we think, we had better eschew further discussion of this case an dals references to other reported decisions cited by counsel on both sides. For, we regard the case before us as not only exceptional, but quite unique. Here is a married lady who dug a well in her backyard. She might have been quite satisfied if the water had been tolerably good and just adequate for her needs. That it was excellent and almost inexhaustible did not apparently put any ideas into her head. It was a casual talk of her husband in the Conemara which brought Spencers to the well. And it was the tremendous potential of the spring that made Spencers ask for the water. There is no evidence that the assessee had thought of her well as a commercial asset. As a housewife she might even have had qualms about marketing such a thing as well-water for a price, least of all at a time of general drought. This must, indeed, have been the reason why in he initial stages Spencers were in a position to help themselves free with the water from the assessee's well. Only later did it occur to hem to pay for the precious liquid, considering that they were turning it to good account in their soda factory. It is true that the assessee did not refuse payment of Rs. 50 a lorry load when it was offered to her every time, but the acceptance of this payment does not, in our judgment, make it a business profit, when all the attendant facts and circumstances, considered as a whole, do not unmistakably point to the existence of any trade or trading element whatever. It is not uncommon for womenfolk even in on-trading families to sell milk, butter-milk and other products in excess of their family requirements to neighbours and others. In such cases, a court or tribunal might well form the opinion that a trade is being carried on by the housewives concerned. In the present case, however, there is no suggestion that the assessee was a regular dealer in well-water, all the while remaining a housewife, and tending her family. Nor does the evidence show that the assessee jumped at the opportunity of exploiting the resources of her well to make a neat little profit for herself out of the general misery of city dwellers hit by the water-famine. If there was adventure of any kind which we can discern in this case that occurred when the water divination made a lucky strike, and the spring gushed forth from mother earth like an inverse mana. The element of adventure in this case was by no means an adventure in the nature of trade. For, the potential profit from the well was not commercially foreseen, commercially sought after, and commercially exploited.

12. In Griffiths v. J. P. Harrison (Watford) Ltd. [1965] 58 ITR 328, the House of Lords had to consider whether a dividend-stripping operation by a joint stock company was to be regarded as an adventure 'in the nature of' trade. On the facts it was found that the dividend-stripping which the taxpayer company had put forth was avowedly for the purpose of registering losses and not for the purpose of obtaining profits. On this feature of the operation, it was suggested for the taxpayer that an intention to make losses cannot be regarded as an attribute of trade. It was, however, held by the House of Lords, by a majority, that dividend-stripping, in the circumstances of that case, must be regarded as an adventure in the nature of trade, and none the less so, from the fact that a commercial loss was thereby devoutly wished for, and obtained. Lord Denning, while dissenting from the other Law Lords on the particular conclusion they arrived at in that case, debated the question as to what was an adventure 'in the nature' of trade. Posing the hypothetical question whether burglary was in the nature of a trade. Lord Denning made the following observations (p. 344) :

'Or nearer still, take a gang of burglars. Are they engaged in trade or an adventure in the nature of trade They have an organisation. They spend money on equipment. They acquire goods by their efforts. They sell the goods. They make a profit. What detail is lacking in their adventure You may say it lacks legality, but it has been held that legality is not an essential characteristic of a trade. you cannot point to any detail that it lacks. But still it is not a trade nor an adventure in the nature of trade. And how does it help to ask the question : If it is not a trade, what is it It is burglary, and that is all there is to say about it. So here it is dividend-stripping, and nothing else.'

13. Adopting the phraseology of Lord Denning, we may ask the question : Is sale of well-water by a housewife from the copious supply in her back-door well an adventure in the nature of trade And answer the question, in the same manner, by saying that it is only a sale of well-water, and that is all there is to say about it.

14. We are satisfied that the Tribunal came to a correct conclusion when it held that the sum of Rs. 37,770 received by the assessee by sale of water from her well is exempt from income-tax under s. 10(3) of the Act. The question of law referred to us is, accordingly, answered in favour of the assessee. The assessee will have her costs. Counsel's fee Rs. 500.


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