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Commissioners of Income-tax Vs. Raman and Raman Ltd. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectDirect Taxation;Commercial
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCase Referred No. 16 of 1948
Judge
Reported inAIR1951Mad905; [1951]19ITR558(Mad); (1951)1MLJ684
ActsIncome Tax Act, 1922 - Sections 10 and 10(2); Sale of Goods Act, 1930 - Sections 20 and 32
AppellantCommissioners of Income-tax
RespondentRaman and Raman Ltd.
Appellant AdvocateC.S. Rama Rao Sahib, Adv.
Respondent AdvocateT.V. Viswanath Aiyar and ;S. Narayanaswami, Advs.
Cases ReferredB. & O. v. Kameswar Singh of Darbhanga
Excerpt:
.....company on litigation - litigation was to defend title of buses of company - nothing in nature of capital asset acquired by such expenditure - such expenses to be treated as business expenditure and allowable under section 10 (2) (xv). - - the company's possession of the buses was not unlawful & it had a right therefore to defend its title as well as possession. it was clearly a capital expenditure & its deduction is not permitted under section 10(2) (xv), income-tax act. 205 .the learned lord says :where an expenditure is made, not only once & for all but with a view to bringing into existence an asset or advantage for the enduring benefit of a trade, i think there is very good reason (in the absence of special circumstances leading to an opposite conclusion) for treating such an..........defending the above suit & other proceedings.courts connected with the transfer of the buses, the company incurred an expenditure of rs. 1392-2-0 during the year of account & claimed this sumas revenue expenditure in the course of its assessment of income-tax. the claim of the company for treating this expenditure as revenue expenditurewas upheld by the appellate tribunal differing from the income-tax officer & the appellate assistant commissioner. hence this reference at the instance of the commissioner of income-tax. 3. mr. c.s. rama rao sahib for the commissioner of income-tax urged that this sum of rs. 1392-2-0 was a capital expenditure, & therefore not allowable as a deduction under section 10 (2) (xv), income-tax act. he put his case this way: thecompany sought to acquire capital.....
Judgment:

Viswanatha Sastri, J.

1. The following question has been referred to us by the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal at the instance of the Commissioner of Income-tax :

'Whether on the facts & in the circumstances of the case, the litigation expenses of Rs. 1392 incurred by the assesses company are allowable as business expenditure under Section 10(2) (xv), Income-tax Act '

The assessee is Raman & Raman Ltd., a private limited company carrying on business at Kumbakonam in the Tanjore district & will hereafter be referred to as 'the company.' The company owns a number of motor buses plying for hire in specific routes in the Tanjore district. Another bus service run under the name of Chamundeswari Bus Service had five buses plying between Kumbakonam in the Tanjore district & Karaikkal in the French territory. On 9-3-1944 the company through its Managing Director entered into an agreement for the purchase of the five buses of the Chamundeswari Bus Service with one T.D. Ralasubramania Pillai in whose name the buses were registered & the permits for running the buses on the routes specified therein stood. The material portion of the agreement was in theseterms :

'The five buses owned by T. D. Balasubramania Pillai & detailed below have been purchased by Raman & Raman Ltd. for Rs. 31001; on this date Raman & Raman Ltd. have paid Rs. 1001 to T. D. Balasubramania Pillai. The Managing director P. S. Narayanan has agreed to pay the balance of Rs. 30,000, by giving on 15th March 1944 a sum of Rs. 10,000 the remaining Rs. 20,000 to be paid by him within a week after the transfer of ownership of the said five buses & the relative route permits in his name. These five buses belong solely to T. D. Balasubramania Pillai & nobody else has absolutely any right whatever to these buses. The tin shed in the Post office Road where the fire buses are now parked & which belongs to T. D. Balasubramania Pillai has now been sold for Rs. 700 to Raman & Raman Ltd. .... The spare parts, accessories, lubricating oils, greases, batteries, tools, charcoal etc. relating to the buses of T. D. Balasubramania Pillai will be listed & evaluated according to the current prices & taken over within 3 days by Raman & Raman Ltd. after paying their value. The undermentioned five buses have already been on this date handed over by T. D. Balasubramania Pillai to P. S. Narayanan, the Managing Director of Raman & Raman Ltd.'

Then follows a detailed description of the fivebuses with their registration numbers & other particulars.

2. Pursuant to this agreement, the five buses were handed over to the company & they were plying for hire, on the Kumbakonam Karaikkal: route for about ten days. On the day following, the agreement, that is, on 10-3-1944, the Managing; Director of the company & Balasubramania Pillai signed a joint application to the Secretary, Road Traffic Board, Tanjore, for the transfer of G. permits of the five buses to the name of the company. The previous G permit for the buses standing in the name of deft. 3 was delivered over to the company & they ran the bus service in the name of T. D. Balasubramania Pillai pending recognition of the transfer. The company made the necessary payments for the issue of fitness certificates in respect of these buses & byway of taxes. When the sum of Rs. 10,000 the first instalment of the price payable 15-3-1944 was tendered by the company to Balasubramania, Pillai, the latter refused to accept the cheque tendered & put forward the plea that he had been cheated by the company into entering into the bargain. Moreover, one Veerappa Pillai filed a suit on 3-10-1944 on the file of the Court of the Subordinate Judge of Kumbakonam claiming title to these five buses & seeking to recover possession; of them on the ground that on 10-4-1944 they had been sold to him by Balasubramania Pillai with the consent & express authority of Gnanasundaram Pillai who, according to the pltf. was the real owner of the buses bat who was undergoing imprisonment in jail at Karaikkal. The pltf. in the suit impugned the contract for the sale of these buses to the company entered into by B. T. D. Balasubramania Pillai as not having been authorised by Gnanasundarani Pillai the real owner of the buses. The buses were run by the company from 10-3-1944 till 19-3-1944. Thereafter, the buses remained idle in the possession of the company. From 14-8-1945, the buses were run by Veerappa Pillai as receiver appointed by the Court. The buses, therefore, were in custodia legis till the end of the litigation. The Subordinate Judge found that the five buses belonged both to Balasubramania Pillai & Gnanasundarani Pillai as joint owners & the pltf. Veerappa Pillai was entitled to a decree for possession of the buses. On appeal the decision of the Subordinate Judge was reversed & this Court held that the pltff. had not established that T. D. Balasubramania Pillai was a benamidar or agent for Gnanasundarani Pillai or that he was not the real owner of the buses. This Court, therefore, dismissed the suit of the pltff. on the ground that he was attempting in concert with Balasubramania Pillai to sabotage the contract entered into between the company & Balasubramania Pillai. Further into the merits of the dispute it is unnecessary for us to enter as the litigation has not been carried to the Supreme Court. In defending the above suit & other proceedings.Courts connected with the transfer of the buses, the company incurred an expenditure of Rs. 1392-2-0 during the year of account & claimed this sumas revenue expenditure in the course of its assessment of income-tax. The claim of the company for treating this expenditure as revenue expenditurewas upheld by the Appellate Tribunal differing from the Income-tax Officer & the Appellate Assistant Commissioner. Hence this reference at the instance of the Commissioner of Income-tax.

3. Mr. C.S. Rama Rao Sahib for the Commissioner of Income-tax urged that this sum of Rs. 1392-2-0 was a capital expenditure, & therefore not allowable as a deduction under Section 10 (2) (xv), Income-tax Act. He put his case this way: Thecompany sought to acquire capital asset in the shape of five buses, & what was more valuable than the buses themselves, the right to ply these buses for hire along the routes already assigned to them by the Road Traffic Board. The right to ply these buses in the routes designated by the Road Transport Authority is a valuable right & in the nature of a monopoly. For the acquisition of the buses along with this right, the company agreed to pay a sum of Rs. 31001. The company purchased not only the buses but also the garage where they were parked & the accessories, tools & implements. What was sought to be purchased was substantially a new asset for the benefit of the assessee's trade in the way of fixed capital. Thecontract for sale did not pass the property in the buses to the company, & many things had to be done before the company could acquire an effective title to these buses, namely, the payment of the balance of the consideration, the transfer ofpermits & so on. In order to acquire a true & clear title to this asset, the company had to spend a sum of Rs. 1392-2-0 & this sum must be deemed, to be a part of the total cost of the acquisition of thecapital asset. Even if it was an extension of theexisting business of the company by the acquisition of new buses & the right to new routes the same principle would apply. He maintained that the five buses had not become the property of the company under the contract of sale & that it had only an inchoate or imperfect title which had to be perfected by having it established in a Court of law on the suit already referred to. He argued that this was not a case where money had to bespent for the protection of the assessee's title to an existing business asset against hostile litigious attacks but a case where money was spent in the process of acquiring title to a capital asset & it was, therefore, part of the cost of the acquisition of that asset itself. He compared the expenditure in this case to the preliminary expenses in connection with the floatation of a company which are regarded as capital expenditure incurred notearning profits, but in bringing into existence the profit earning machinery. He also referred to some English & Indian decisions which will be noticed presently.

4. In our view, it is important to consider the rights of the company which flow from the contract. The contention of Mr. Rama Rao Sahib was that the property in the buses would pass to the company only on payment of the remaining consideration of Rs. 30,000 on the due dates. He also maintained that having regard to the object of the contract namely the acquisition of the right to ply the buses along the routes assigned to them, the transfer of registry of these buses in the name of the company & the issue of fresh permits to the company for plying on the routes would be necessary to implement its title to the property agreed to be sold under the contract. We cannot accept this contention. Under Section 32 of the Sale of Goods Act, in the absence of a contract to the contrary, delivery of the goods & payment of the price are concurrent conditions. But here we have got a definite contract to the contrary, namely, that the price was to be paid in specified instalments. Under Section 20 of the Sale of Goods Act, where, as in this case, there is an unconditional contract for the sale of specific goods in a deliverable state, the property in the goods passes to the buyer when the contract is made, & it is immaterial whether the time of payment of the price is postponed. In our opinion, there was here an unconditional contract for the sale of the five specified buses for Rs. 31,001 & the contract itself recited, what indeed was a fact, that the buses had been delivered into the possession of the buyer on that date. Mr. Rama Rao Sahib refers to the clause in the contract relating to the payment of Rs. 20 000 within a week after the transfer of ownership of the said five buses & the relative route permits in the name of the company as indicating that the title to the buses was not to pass to the purchaser until the payment of Rs. 20,000 was made, the registry was changed & the route permits also issued in the name of the purchaser. In our opinion, this is not a proper reading of the clause in the contract. All that is indicated by this clause is that the balance of the price, namely, Rs. 20,000 was to be paid by the purchaser to the seller within a week after the transfer of the registry of the buses in the name of the purchaser & the issue of permits in the name of the purchaser for plying these buses along the routes assigned to them. It has to be remembered in this connection that the transfer of the registry & the issue of permits in the name of the purchaser require the co-operation & the joint endeavour of the seller & in order to ensure that the seller would perform his part of the contract the balance of Rs. 20,000 out of the purchase price was agreed to be paid after the registry had been transferred & the route permits also issued in the name of the purchaser. We hold, therefore, on a construction of the contract that the title to the five buses passed to the purchaser on the date of the contract itself & thereafter the property in the buses was in the company. It is no doubt true that forabout ten days after the contract the buses plied for hire on the routes assigned to them as if Balasubramania Pillai, the seller, was entitled to ply them for hire. That was because the registry of the buses had not been transferred & the permits for running the buses on the specified routes had not been issued to the purchaser. It was merely in order to avoid a transgression of the Motor Vehicle Rules that this procedure was adopted. But that had nothing to do with the passing of the title in the buses to the purchaser. Thereafter when the vendor himself started criminal proceedings & purported to enter into an agreement for sale of these five buses to Veerappa Pillai, the pltff. In the suit in the Sub-Court, the company had no option but to defend its title to the valuable property which it had acquired under the contract. Not only the buses but also the routes which had been assigned to the buses & which were usually recognised by the Road Transport Authority, not as a matter of law, but in practice, as entitling the purchasers to ply along the routes assigned to the buses, were sought to be taken away from the company by Veerappa Pillai. The company's possession of the buses was not unlawful & it had a right therefore to defend its title as well as possession. As we already stated it is unnecessary now to determine whether Balasubramania Pillai or Ghanasundaram Pillai or both were the real owners of the buses. Suffice it to say that the vendor Balasubramania Pillai was in possession of the buses which had been registered in his name. The permits for plying these buses also stood in his name. The company dealt with them as a person entitled to dispose of the buses, paid valuable consideration & also took possession of the buses & plied them for some time on the routes assigned to these buses. It was in order to defend this right of the company both to the buses & the routes which usually followed the ownership of the buses as a matter of practice, that the company had spent the money.

5. It is clear that the sum of Rs. 31001 paid by the company to the seller for the five buses together with the prospective advantage of plying these buses on the routes assigned to them was an expenditure incurred in connection with the trade or business of the company. It was clearly a capital expenditure & its deduction is not permitted under Section 10(2) (xv), Income-tax Act. The position is, in our opinion, different with regard to the sum of Rs. 1392-2-0 expended in connection with the litigation. It is conceded that the expenditure was incurred in the course of the business as trade of the company & in its character as trader. The only question is whether or not it was in the nature of a capital expenditure. In oar opinion it is an expenditure incurred for the purpose of retaining the capital asset, something which was vital to the business of the company, something that would enable the company to earn more profits in the future. The company honestlyconsidered it was entitled so to do that it should take steps necessary or proper for protecting its interests & to engage in litigation for the protection or preservation of valuable assets acquired by it for the purpose of its trade or business. If the company succeeded in the litigation the profits from its business would increase & a company which spends money for increasing its profits spends it for the purpose of its business. Litigation is often conducted by business men in order to maintain, preserve or defend an existing right or title to property or to prevent the invasion of such right in future. Legal expenses incurred in such litigation do not create a new capital asset or stock-in-trade but are incurred in the ordinary course of the preserving or maintaining the assets or stock-in-trade of the business. We, therefore, think that such expenses are part of the revenue expenditure of the business & their, deduction is permissible under Section 10 (2) (xv), Income-tax Act. This is our opinion unassisted by authority.

6. In Ushers Wiltshire Brewery Ld. v. Bruce, 1915 A. C. 433, it was held by the House of Lords reversing the decision of the Court of appeal that a brewery company was entitled to deduct legal expenses incurred in connection with the renewal of licences; preferring of complaints against tenants & obtaining advices as regards thefts of beer, etc , such expenses had the effect of preserving the brewery company's interest just as much as the defending of an action attacking the title of the company to the property in which it carried on its business. The leading modern authority on the subject of what is a business expenditure & what is not, is the judgment of Lord Cave in British Insulated & Halsby Cables Ltd. v. Atherton, 1926 A. C. 205 . The learned Lord says :

'Where an expenditure is made, not only once & for all but with a view to bringing into existence an asset or advantage for the enduring benefit of a trade, I think there is very good reason (in the absence of special circumstances leading to an opposite conclusion) for treating such an expenditure as properly attributable not to revenue but to capital,'

The next decision which need be noticed is Van den Berghs Ltd. v. Clark, 1935 A. C. 431, where the House of Lords held that a sum of money paid upon the cancellation of a contract was a capital expenditure, the contract in that case not being an ordinary contrast entered into in the course of the business but one which related to the whole structure of the company's business, & the totality of its capital assets. The House of Lords held that the payment made was for a radical alteration of those capital assets & was therefore a capital payment.

7. These decisions were relied on on behalf of the Crown in Southern v. Borax Consolidated Ltd., (1941) 1 K. B. 111, where the question was whether legal expenses incurred by a company in defending its title to a property where its business was partly carried on were admissible deductions in computing its profits. Lawrence J., held that as the land in connection with which the expenditure was incurred was used by the assessee in connection with its business the profits of which were taxed, the expenses incurred in defending title to the property were allowable deductions in computing the profits of the company for income-tax purposes, being in the nature of a revenue expenditure. This decision is very instructive as showing on which side of the line the present case falls. The learned Judge considered that the principle deducible from the cases was that where a sum of money was laid out for the acquisition or the improvement of a fixed capital asset, it was attributable to capital, bat that if no alteration was made in the fixed capital asset by the payment, then it was properly attributable to revenue being in substance a matter of maintenance, the maintenance of capital structure, or the capital asset of the company. In the present case the only way in which it can be said that there was anything like an alteration in the capital assets of the respondent company was that Veerappa Pillai, the pltf. in the suit filed in the Court of the Subordinate Judge of Kumbakonam, was removed from the category of possible litigants who might challenge the title of the company to the buses. In our opinion, it could not be said that this expenditure in any way altered the original character of the capital asset which was acquired by the company. If it had done so, certainly it would be a payment in respect of capital. As the capital assets of the company remained absolutely unaltered & all that was done was to retain the capital assets in the hands of the company by resisting attempts to deprive the company of such assets, the expenses incurred in connection with the defences of a litigation threatening the title to these assets would properly be attributable to revenue. The decision of Lawrence J., was summed up in the last para, of the judgment in these terms :

'It appears to me that the legal expenses which were incurred by the respondent company did not create any new asset at all, but were expenses which were incurred in the ordinary course of maintaining assets of the company & the fact that it was maintaining the title & not the value of the company's business does not in my opinion make it any the different.'

We respectfully follow this reasoning of the learned Judge & hold that the present case is similar in its facts to the decision in Southern v. Borax Consolidated Ltd., (1941) 1 K. B. 111. The learned advocate for the revenue authority referred to the decision of the Court of Appeal in Associated Portland Cement . v. Kerr, (1947) 27 T.c. 103 . Lord Greene M.R. who delivered the leading judgment in this case quoted with approval the decision of Lawrence J. in Southern v. Borax Consolidated Ltd., (1941) 1 K. B. 111 & observed as follows:

'The money that you spend in defending the title to a capital asset which is assailed unjustly is obviously a revenue expenditure. There, again, there is all thedifference in the world between defending your assets against the claim of some body who has no claim against them & the acquiring of a new asset or adding to an existing asset. If you acquire the benefit of a covenant which improves the value of your goodwill, in my opinion, you have acquired a capital asset.'

This decision clearly approves of the reasoning in Southern v. Borax Consolidated Ltd., 1941 1 K. B. 111 & merely decides that acquisition of or addition to goodwill is acquisition of a capitals asset. As regards Indian decisions we need only refer to the decision of the Lahore High Court in Mahabir Prasad & Sons v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Punjab, 1945 13 I. T. B. 340 overruling an earlier decision of the same Court in Kangra Valley State Co. Ld. v. Commissioner of Income-tax, (1934) 3 I. T. R. 324. The Court there held that the expenses of defending a suit for pre-emption in respect of property acquired for the purpose of storing its stock-in-trade was a revenue expenditure. It is not necessary that the litigation should be even of a defensive character to enable the assessee to deduct the expenses incurred in connection therewith. In Income-tax Appellate Tribunal v. Central India Spinning, Weaving & Manufacturing Co., Ld., (1943) II I. T. R. 266, the Nagpur High Court held that legal expenses incurred in connection with a suit brought by the assessees against another company to restrain the latter from using the trade mark to which the assessee claimed exclusive right was deductible as revenue expenditure. It may be said that at least in the opinion of Digby J. one of the learned Judges who decided that case, the threat was directed not against the capital of the assessee, but against its trade & the object of the litigation was to prevent a drop in the sales & a loss of profits. The attack on trade mark by infringement was treated as an attack not on capital asset but rather as an attack on the existing & future trade & on the value of the stock-in-trade existing & in the course of manufacture & to be manufactured in future. It may be that a trademark is in the nature of a capital asset & expenses incurred in repelling an attack on an existing capital asset must be attributed to revenue. Legal expenses incurred in connection with the acquisition or protection of stock-in- trade are clearly in the nature of revenue expenditure. It is on this ground that litigation expenses incurred by a money-lender in connection with loans advanced or capital invested in the course of his business have been held to be admissible deductions money being his stock-in-trade--See Commissioner of Income-tax, B. & O. v. Kameswar Singh of Darbhanga, 1942 2 M. L. J. 261.

8. We are unable to accept the contention of the revenue authority that the expenditure in this case was incurred for the acquisition of fixed capital assets. The expenditure, as we already stated, did not create any new asset nor did it alter the character of the capital asset that had been acquired by the company under the con-tract, That remained unaltered. The asset, to defend the title to which the expenditure was incurred was an existing asset & was not acquired in consequence of the expenditure. Nor was there any improvement of the capital assets of the company by reason of the litigation. For these reasons we hold that the decision of the Appellate Tribunal was correct & that the reference must be answered in the affirmative & in favour of the company. The Commissioner of Income-tax shall pay a sum of Rs. 250 as costs of this reference to the assessee.


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