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S.S. Subbier and Vs. Commissioner of Excess Profits Tax, Madras - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCase Referred No. 39 of 1954
Judge
Reported inAIR1959Mad271; [1959]35ITR362(Mad)
ActsExcess Profits Tax Act, 1940 - Sections 2(5); Income Tax Act, 1922 - Sections 3; Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) , 1908 - Sections 11
AppellantS.S. Subbier and ;s.R. Narasimhachari, Proprietors, ;sri Kothandram Spinning Mills and ;kothandram
RespondentCommissioner of Excess Profits Tax, Madras
Appellant AdvocateAdv. General for ;K. Srinivasan and ;K. Narayanaswami, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateC.S. Rama Rao Sahib, Adv.
DispositionReference answered in affirmative
Cases ReferredNagore Durgah v. Commissioner of Income
Excerpt:
direct taxation - assessment - section 2 (5) of excess profits tax act, 1940, section 3 of income tax act, 1922 and section 11 of code of civil procedure, 1908 - profits of two businesses were combined and assessed as whole for purpose of act of 1940 - assessee opposed assessment on ground that entities must be treated as separate - issued decided in view of precedent by division bench - entities to be combined and assessed as whole. - - ' it is well-established that while a corporation is one artificial whole with partnerships the case is otherwise;.....from all this it is reasonable to conclude that though a business is carried on in the name of a firm, the persons carrying on the business are the partners themselves and not the firm. the persons carrying on the business within the meaning of the second proviso to section 2(5) of the excess profits tax act would in this view and in the present case be subbier and narasimhachari. no doubt under the indian income-tax act a firm is an assessable entity, but, it acquires that status by virtue of the explicit provisions contained in that act, and, there are no provisions in the excess profits tax act justifying the carrying forward of this concept into the latter act.17. the very same question which the learned advocate general raised before us has been dealt with in r.c. no. 21 of 1951......
Judgment:

Balakrishna Ayyar, J.

1. Under Section 68(2) of the Indian Income-tax Act, read with Section 21 of the Excess Profits Tax Act, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal has referred the following question for the decision of this Court:

'Whether, on the facts and circumstances of the case, the two partnerships entered into on 23-6-19441 and 23-9-1944 in respect of the weaving mills and the spinning mills, respectively, constitute one business carried on by the same person within the meaning of Section 2(5) of the Excess Profits Tax Act.'

2. The material facts are these: In December 1934 two brothers named Ramudu Iyer and Subbier started a weaving mill called Sri Kothandaram Weaving Mills. On 19th January 1938 a deed of partnership relating to this mill and setting out among other things to the proportion in which the profits were to be shared Was drawn up and executed by the partners. On 4th September 1941, this deed of partnership was replaced by a fresh one.

3. In January 1939 these two brothers jointly started a spinning mill called Sri Kothandaram Spinning Mills. Most of the money required for the erection of the spinning mills came from the Kothandaram Weaving Mills. In March 1942, a deed of partnership was executed in respect of the spinning mills. Ramudu Iyer died in December 1943. The partnership was continued between Subbier and Narasimhachari, son of Ramudu Iyer. Two fresh deeds of partnership were executed one on 23rd June 1944 in respect of the weaving mills and another on 23rd September 1944 in respect of the spinning mills.

'In the income-tax assessments for 1941-42 and 1912-43 and the excess profits tax assessment for the chargeable accounting periods 6th September 1940 to 12th April 1941 and 13th April 1941 to 12th April 1942 the weaving mills and the spinning mills were held to be separate concerns though they were owned by the same persons, Ramudu Iyar and Subbier. In the course of the income-tax assessment for 1943-44, the income of the two mills was treated as the income of one firm and a single assessment was made. This was upheld on appeal by the Appellate Assistant Commissioner.

The subsequent income-tax assessment for 1944-45 and the excess profits tax assessments for the two chargeable accounting periods ending with 13th April 1943 and 12th April 1944 were also made on the combined results of the two businesses.' -- Vide paragraphs 14 and 15 of the letter of reference by the Tribunal.

4. However, on 4th November 1945, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal held that the spinning mills and the weaving mills should be separately assessed. The Tribunal recorded the view:

'We find the businesses are governed by the two different deeds and the terms in each of them are different from the other. Thus, we find the very terms of the partnership do indicate that the businesses are separate.'

The Appellate Assistant Commissioner applied that decision to the Income-tax assessment for the assessment year 1944-45 and to the excess profits tax assessment for the chargeable accounting periods ended 13th April 1943 and 12th April 1944.

5. The appeal which the Department took to the Appellate Tribunal was dismissed on 13th December 1946. In dealing with the excess profits tax assessments, the Tribunal wrote:

'The question, therefore, before us is to determine whether the two businesses (i.e.) Kothandaram Weaving Mills and Kothandaram Spinning Mills are being carried on by the same person. Looking at the partnership deed, it is clear to us that the partnership is of one firm between two partners individually whereas the other partnership is between two partners as representatives of their respective Hindu undivided families. In other words, so far as Kothandaram Spinning Mills are concerned, it is a partnership entered into between the two Hindu undivided families through their kartas. It cannot, therefore, be said that they are carried on by the same persons. We are, therefore, not prepared to accede to the argument of the authorised representative of the department.'

6. For the chargeable accounting periods ended 12th April 1945 and 31st March 1946 the excess profits tax officer amalgamated the income of the two mills. He observed:

'For excess profits tax, the unit of assessment is the business and not the person.....In this case, there is no doubt that both the Sri Kothandaram Spinning Mill and the Sri Kothandaram Weaving Mill are carried on by the two persons. Messrs. S. R. Narasimhachari and S. S. Subbier jointly. Hence, whatever may be the position for income-tax, as regards the excess profits tax assessment is concerned, under the second proviso to Section 2(5) of the Excess Profits Tax Act, the two businesses have to be treated as one business for assessment.

As the facts, however, show that both in the Kothandaram Spinning Mills and in the Kothandaram Weaving Mills the partners were the same, viz., the undivided families, represented by the two individuals. S. S. Subbier and S. R. Narasimhachari, I am making this assessment jointly on the two partners combining the profits of the two businesses.'

7. The Appellate Assistant Commissioner confirmed this decision.

8. On appeal the Tribunal, reversing the conclusion it had reached on 4th November 1945 and 13th December 1946, held,

'that the weaving and spinning mills were parts of the same business carried on by the two partners Subbier and Narasimhachariar for purposes of Section 2(5) of the Excess Profits Tax Act.'

The assessees then came to this court and, in accordance with the directions issued to it, the Tribunal has referred the question quoted above for the determination of the court.

9. It is not controverted that the partners who were parties to the deed dated 23rd June 1944 and to the deed dated 23rd September 1944 are in both cases the very same persons. The learned Advocate General who appeared for the assessee contended that notwithstanding this fact, the firm created by the partnership deed of 23rd June 1944 is different from the firm created by the partnership deed of 23rd September 1944. He pointed out that though a firm is not a juristic person for all purposes it is an assessable entity under the Indian Income-tax Act.

Two persons may enter into a partnership to trade, say in rice in Tanjore. The very same persons may enter into another partnership to trade in cotton seed in Coimbatore. For the purpose of the Indian Income-tax Act the firm in Tanjore would be one entity and the firm in Coimbatore would be another entity. The two would be wholly distinct. It would be only logical and proper to carry this concept into the Excess Profits Tax Act also, and, if we do that, it will have to be held that the Kothandaram Weaving Mills and the Kolhandaram Spinning Mills have each to be assessed separately.

10. In the course of his arguments the learned Advocate General referred to Income-tax Commissioners v. Gibbs 1942 10 I. T. R. (Sup) 121. The material facts in that case are set out in the second paragraph of the speech of Lord Chancellor:

'The firm of Sri R. W. Garden and Co, at the time when the assessment was made consisted of four partners who for the present purpose may he designated A,B,C and D, and this continued to be the composition of the firm on January 1, 1938, when the first half of the income-tax resulting from the assessment became due. On February 7, 1938, however, the composition of the firm changed, owing to the taking in of a fifth partner, who may be called E. On July 27, 1938, the Inspector of Taxes, purporting to act in accordance with Rule 9(1) of the Cases I and II of Schedule D, certified to the general commissioners particulars of the change which had taken place and the commissioners thereupon purported to adjust the assessment by charging to the firm of five persons, out of the total assessment of 69355, the apportioned amount of 11078 with the result that the firm of four persons would be relieved of liability for tax on this latter figure, but would be left answerable for tax on the balance of 58,277.'

The point for determination is set out in paragraph 3 of his speech :

'But though the apportionment is correctly worked out, the respondents have throughout insisted that no such apportionment under Rule 9 could lawfully be made, since, according to them, the change during the year of assessment in the composition of the firm does not constitute a cesser in carrying on the trade by A, B, C and D, and the succession 'by another person', namely, A, B, C, and E in that trade. It is as to the validity of this contention, and as to the proper construction and application of Rule 9, that the House has now to pronounce.'

The Court of Appeal held that there had been no cesser in the carrying on of the trade by A. B. C. and D. In the Court of Appeal Clauson L.J. had reasoned,

'that it is not a partnership firm which carries on trade, but its individual members who carry it on in partnership, and that the old partnership is not to be regarded as ceasing to carry on trade, and the new partnership is not to be regarded as succeeding, when members of the old partnership are also some of the members of the new and thus do not individually cease to carry on the trade at all.'

This decision was reversed By the House of Lords. On pages 136 and 137, Lord Macmillan stated as follows :

'The important thing to ascertain is the meaning of the word 'person' in the vocabulary of the Incometax Acts. The word constantly occurs throughout the Acts, and I think that it is most generally used to denote what may be termed an entry of assessment that is, the possessor or recipient of an income which the Acts require to be separately assessed for tax purposes. Rule 10 provides that 'where a trade or profession is carried on by two or more persons jointly the tax in respect thereof shall be computed and stated jointly and in one sum, and shall be separate and distinct from any other tax chargeable on those persons or any of them and ft joint assessment shall be made in the partnership name.' The profits of a business carried on by a partnership are thus treated as a separate subject of assessment and the assessment is made in the partnership name. The personification of partnerships is even more manifest in Rule 12, by which in certain circumstances a 'partnership shall be deemed to reside outside the United Kingdom notwithstanding that some of the members of the said partnership are resident in the United Kingdom.' That rule used the expression 'the trade or business of a partnership firm', 'the said firm shall be chargeable', 'an assessment may be made on the said firm in respect of the said profits in the name of any partner resident in the United Kingdom.' Justification is thus not wanting for the view expressed by Romer L. J. that for taxing purposes 'a partnership firm is treated as an entity distinct from the persons who constitute the firm.' Watson & Everitt v. Blunden, (1934) 18 Tax Cas 402. Having regard to the special vocabulary of the incometax legislation, I find no difficulty in interpreting the words 'a person charged' in Rule 9 to include the case of several persons associated together in partnership for the purpose of carrying on a trade in common whose profits are by the Acts made the subject of separate assessment and separate charge.'

11. Reference was also made to Jesingbai Ujamshi v Commissioner of Income-tax, : [1950]18ITR23(Bom) . That was a case in which three persons carried on a business in partnership in Ahmedabad in insurance, brokerage, cotton etc. The very same persons carried on another business in Bhavanagar, and , the question was,

'whether these two partnerships constitute two different firms or whether the three partners carry on the same firm and the same business at Ahmedabad and Bhavanagar.'

The Court held that they formed two different firms.

12. The instant case however is not one under the Indian Income-tax Act but under the Excess Profits Tax Act. Section 2(5) of that Act, so far as is material, runs as follows :

' 'business' includes any trade, commerce or manufacture .-

Provided further that all businesses to which this Act applies carried on by the same person shall be treated as one business for the purposes of this Act.' The question therefore is what does the word 'person' in this proviso mean? The definition in Section 2(17) of 'person' is not helpful since all it says is that 'person' includes a Hindu undivided family.'

We have therefore to fall back on the General Clauses Act to find out what the word 'person' means. Clause 42 of Section 3 of that Act gives this definition:

' 'person' shall include any company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not.'

The association of persons who owned the Kothandaram Weaving Mills is the same association of persons who owned the Kothandaram Spinning Mills. Both are therefore the same 'person.' It is well-established that while a corporation is one artificial whole

'with partnerships the case is otherwise; the members of these do not form a collective whole, distinct from the individuals composing it; nor are they collectively endowed with any capacity of acquiring rights or incurring obligations. The rights and liabilities of a partnership are the rights and liabilities of the partners and are enforceable by and against them undividually.' See pages 23 and 24 of the eleventh edition of Lindley on Partnership.

13. In Vissonji Sons and Co. v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1946]14ITR272(Bom) , it was observed :

'In law a firm has no existence independently of its partners, and if there are two firms consisting of exactly the same partners, the real position in law is that there is only one firm. It may carry on separate businesses, and may carry on those businesses in different names but in fact there is only one firm in law.'

We must, however, mention that this statement of the law was commented on as obiter in : [1950]18ITR23(Bom)

14. In the case reported in Shantikumar Narottam Morarji v. Commissioner of Income-tax, : AIR1955Bom234 , the assessee claimed deduction under Sec, 10(2) of the Indian Income-tax Act and the question that the court had to consider was whether Section 10 had any application to the case of an assessee who is a partner of a registered firm. The contention of the department and the decision of the court in respect of that contention will appear from the following passage :

'Mr. Joshi's contention is that Section 10 has no application at all because Section 10 deals with the profits of a business carried on by the assessee and according to Mr. Joshi the business in this case is not carried on by the assessee but is carried on by the assessee along with a partner or partners. Mr. Joshi says that a firm under the Indian Income-tax Act is an assessable entity and therefore a distinction must be made between a business carried on by a firm and a business carried on by an individual. Although a firm is an assessable entity under the Indian Income-tax Act a firm is not a legal entity. In the eye of the law a firm is a compendious expression used to indicate that several persons constituting that firm are carrying on a business. But that compendious expression cannot give to the firm a legal entity or a legal existence. In law it is only the partners who exist and who carry on the business. It is equally true that looking to the definition of 'partnership' in Section 4 of the Partnership Act, when you have a partnership business, the business is carried on by each of the partners, and the definition of a partnership in the Partnership Act has been incorporated in the Indian Incometax Act in Section 2(6-B). Therefore the contention that Section 10(1) cannot apply to a partner in a registered firm is untenable because he does carry on the business although that business happens to be a partnership business, and therefore if any profits and gains are derived by the assessee from the business carried on by him, those profits and gains must be brought to tax only under this head, viz., the head falling under Section 10(1) which is the head of business.'

15. That decision was followed by a Bench of this Court in Muthuraman Chettiar V. Commissioner of Income-tax, : [1957]31ITR61(Mad) .

16. From all this it is reasonable to conclude that though a business is carried on in the name of a firm, the persons carrying on the business are the partners themselves and not the firm. The persons carrying on the business within the meaning of the second proviso to Section 2(5) of the Excess Profits Tax Act would in this view and in the present case be Subbier and Narasimhachari. No doubt under the Indian Income-tax Act a firm is an assessable entity, but, it acquires that status by virtue of the explicit provisions contained in that Act, and, there are no provisions in the Excess Profits Tax Act justifying the carrying forward of this concept into the latter Act.

17. The very same question which the learned Advocate General raised before us has been dealt with in R.C. No. 21 of 1951. The facts there were remarkably similar. The members Of a Hindu family, six in number, effected a division in status in 1930. A deed of partnership was drawn up, in October 1938. Thereafter the same members carried on business at two different places under two different names. One business was in Nandyal and the other was in Hindupur. Both the firms were registered under Section 26-A of the Incometax Act and so far as the incometax was concerned, they were assessed separately.

But for purposes of the Excess Profits Tax Act the profits of the two businesses were combined and assessed as a whole. The assessee contended that this was not correct as the two firms were different legal persons and the business must be treated as having been owned by two different, entities. This contention was negatived by the department and also by the Appellate Tribunal. On a reference made to this court it confirmed the views of the department and the Tribunal. The Court observed,

'The same association of persons commenced two businesses one at Nandyal and the other at Hindupur. In other words, the ownership of the two businesses is vested in the same association of persons .... There is only one combination of persons that carried on business both at Nandyal and Hindupur. ... So long as the partnership is not a legal entity and has no corporate existence in the eye of the law, it is impossible to treat the same association of persons as two different legal entities, merely because they were carrying on businesses at two different places under different styles and names.'

The Court further explained how the position under the Indian Income-tax Act was different.

18. The learned Advocate General did not dispute that this decision being that of a Division Bench of this court is binding on us. But, he suggested that the matter required re-consideration. We are, however, of the opinion that this decision lays down the law correctly. We see no justification for referring the matter to a Full Bench.

19. It was next pointed out on behalf of the assesses that in November 1945, and again in December 1946, the Tribunal took the view that the businesses were not carried on by the same persons and that it was not justified in reversing its view in respect of another year. No doubt it was not contended that the rule of res judicata applies to the Incometax Appellate Tribunal, but, it was suggested that the principles of res judicata should have been respected.

20. So far as this argument is concerned, it is sufficient to refer to the decision in the Trustees, Nagore Durgah v. Commissioner of Income-tax : [1954]26ITR805(Mad) the question is discussed at length and reference is made to the relevant English and Indian decisions. That decision is against the contention of the assessee.

21. In the result, we would answer the question referred to us in the affirmative and againstthe assesses. The Department will get its costs.Counsel's fee Rs. 250.


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