LEACH, C.J. - The assessee was the manager of a joint Hindu family the members of which carried on a money-lending business. On the 20th April 1940 a partition was effected, but the erstwhile coparceners decided to continue the business in partnership. A formal deed embodying the terms of separation was executed on the 10th May 1940. The joint family consisted of an uncle and two nephews. Although as members of the joint family they had equal shares in the business, it was agreed that the uncle, who had been the managing member, should have a larger share than each of his nephews. The ratio was to be 26 : 19 : 19. For the year of account (1939-40) the Income-tax Officer calculated that the income of the family was Rs. 46,127, of which Rs. 44,420 had been derived from the business. By consent the year of account was deemed to commence on the 13th April 1939 and to end on the 20th April 1940. The extra days were added in order that the end of the financial year should coincide with the date of the partition. The total tax due on this assessment was Rs. 6,129 which the Income-tax Officer directed should be recovered equally from each of the three groups into which the family had been divided. The assessee was the managing member and as such he objected to the assessment. The business had been assessed under the Income-tax Act of 1918. He claimed that the partnership had succeeded to the business of the joint family within the meaning of Section 26 (2) of the present Act and therefore the joint family was entitled to the relief contemplated by Section 25 (4). Relying on the decision of this Court in Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, the Income-tax Officer rejected the contention. The judgment in that case rendered full support for his action. He was asked to ignore the judgment because other High Courts had taken a different view. As he was functioning within the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court, the Income-tax Officer very properly considered himself to be bound by that case. The Appellate Assistant Commissioner upheld the decision of the Income-tax Officer, as did the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal, Calcutta Bench. At the request of the assessee and in view of the conflict disclosed by the reported cases the Tribunal referred the following question for the opinion of this Court :-
'Whether in the circumstances of the case the assessees are entitled to the relief contemplated by Section 25 (4) of the Act.'
The reference has been placed before a Bench of five Judges as it calls for the reconsideration of the judgment in Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, and of an earlier case of this Court, each of which was decided by a Bench of three Judges.
Before entering upon a discussion of these cases the position under the Act of 1918 and the position under the Act of 1922, as now amended, should be stated. Under the Act of 1918 the tax was levied on the income actually earned in the year of assessment. The Act of 1922 made a great change. It provided that the tax levied in the year of assessment should be calculated on the income earned in the previous year. In order to prevent the injustice of the double assessment of a person who was assessed under the Act of 1918 when he ceased to be chargeable under the Act of 1922, Section 25 was inserted in the new Act. Sub-section (3) of Section 25 deals with the case where a business, profession or vocation is discontinued and sub-section (4) the case where a person has succeeded to a business, profession or vocation. In the present case we are concerned only with the question of succession. Sub-section (4) read as follows :-
'Where the person who was at the commencement of the Indian Income-tax (Amendment) Act, 1939, carrying on any business profession or vocation on which tax was at any time charged under the provisions of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1918, is succeeded in such capacity by another person, the change not being merely a change in the constitution of a partnership, no tax shall be payable by the first mentioned person in respect of the income, profits and gains of the period between the end of the previous year and the date of such succession, and such person may further claim that the income, profits and gains of the previous year shall be deemed to have been the income, profits and gains of the said period. Where any such claim is made, an assessment shall be made on the basis of the income, profits and gains of the said period, and, if an amount of tax has already been paid in respect of the income, profits and gains of the previous year exceeding the amount payable on the basis of such assessment, a refund shall be given of the difference.'
Therefore if the partnership with which this case is concerned can be regarded as having 'succeeded' to the business of the joint family, the members of the family are entitled to the benefit of Section 25 (4). A joint family was a taxable entity under the Income-tax Act of 1918 and continues to be so under the later Act. Section 3 of the Act of 1922 says that the tax shall be charged in respect of the total income of the previous year of every individual, Hindu undivided family, company and local authority, and of every firm and other association of persons, or the partners of the firm of members of the association individually. The joint family of which the assessee was the head was a taxable entity under the Act of 1918 and continued to be such under the Act of 1922 until the partition in 1940. Section 2 (9) of the Act of 1922 states that the word 'person' includes a Hindu undivided family and a local authority.
The earlier case on which Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, is based is Jupudy Kesava Rao v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras. There an undivided Hindu family consisted of the assessee, his wife and his father. They carried on a family business and after the fathers death the assessee continued it. The question was whether it could be said that the assessee had succeeded to the business within the meaning of Section 26(2). It was held that he was not within the section. In delivering the judgment of the Court Madhavan Nair, J., who was officiating as the Chief Justice, observed :
'The term the person carrying on any business, profession or vocation has been succeeded in such capacity by another person may well suggest that what is contemplated is merely succession in the management of business by another person, but obviously that cannot have been the intention of the legislature. It appears to us that the word succession as used in the section connotes a transfer of ownership and the person who succeeds another must have by such succession because the owner of the business which his predecessor was carrying on and which he after the succession carries on in such capacity, that is, the capacity as owner. If this view is correct, as we think it is, then it seems fairly clear that the undivided Hindu family which was carrying on business has not been 'succeeded' in such capacity by the petitioner, as the petitioner was himself in part the owner of the property already, and as such there has been no transfer of ownership in the business as he has become entitled to it by survivorship.'
As the Full Bench which decided Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras v. Karuppiah Pillai pointed out, the decision in Jupudy Kesava Rao v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras was that it was not a matter of succession by another person at all. It was a matter of survivorship. The family remained joint notwithstanding the death of the member. In no sense of the word could it be said that there was succession or change in the identity of the assessee. If the decision in Jupudy Kesava Rao v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras that Section 26 (2) did not apply had been based on this ground without reference to transfer or change of ownership, the judgment would not be open to question so far as the application of Section 26 (2) was concerned. The entity for assessment during the lifetime of the father was the joint family and after his death the entity still remained the joint family, then represented by the assessee as the only male member. As the entity remained the joint family, there could be no question of succession and therefore Section 26 (2) could not apply.
In Tontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras the facts were similar to the facts of the present case. The members of a Hindu undivided family separated and thereafter the members continued the family business in partnership. The question was whether the assessment of the total income of the family up to the date of separation should be made on the firm as successors of the undivided family within the meaning of Section 26 (2) or on the members as if no separation or partition had taken place according to Section 25A (2) of the Income-tax Act. After quoting the passage which we have quoted from the judgment of Madhavan Nair, Officiating Chief Justice, in Jupudy Kesava Raos case, Beasley, C.J., with whom the other members of the Court agreed, said :
'Applying the test laid down there to the present case, there seems to me to have been no change of ownership at all. All the members of the new firm were members of the undivided family and they now have the same share in the business of the firm as they had in the family business at the date of the partition. Applying that case to this, the answer to the question propounded must be that the assessment must be in accordance with Section 25A (2) of the Income-tax Act.'
There is here an obvious fallacy. When a Hindu joint family separates and its members carry on the family business in partnership, there is change in ownership. The business is no longer owned by the joint family but by the firm, an entirely different entity, and the fact that as before the profits continue to be divided equally between the same persons makes no difference. When such a change takes place, there is succession within the meaning of Section 26 (2). That being case, the assessee here is entitled to the benefit of Section 25 (4).
On behalf of the Commissioner of Income-tax it has been suggested that Section 25 (4) cannot apply to a joint Hindu family which has ceased to exist as the result of partition, but it is obvious that this contention is unsustainable. Under Section 25A the assessees family had, notwithstanding the partition, to be regarded as joint for the purpose of assessment which must include the grant of reliefs under Section 25 (4).
On behalf of the Commissioner of Income-tax it has been suggested that Section 25 (4) cannot apply to a joint Hindu family which has ceased to exist as the result of partition, but it is obvious that this contention is unsustainable. Under Section 25A the assessees family had, notwithstanding the partition, to be regarded as joint for the purpose of assessment which must include the grant of relief under Section 25(4).
The High Courts whose judgments conflict with Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras are Allahabad and Lahore. In 1927 in The Matter of the Firm Nihal Chand Kishori Lal, the Allahabad High Court held where the members of a Hindu joint family who have carried on business as a family convert themselves into a registered firm the partnership must be deemed to be the successor of the joint family within the meaning of Section 26. There are three decisions of the Lahore High Court to the same effect : Beli Ram and Brothers v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Punjab, North West Frontier and Delhi Provinces; Mitter Chand Lakshmi Das v. Commissioner of Income-tax and Ram Rakha Mal and Sons Limited v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Punjab. It is not necessary to examine these judgment in detail as we have given our own reasons for dissenting from what was said in Jupudy Kesava Rao v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras and Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras.
The same question was raised in the Bombay High Court in Commissioner of Income-tax, Bombay v. Jesingbhai Ugarchand. On the ground that it was not desirable that conflicting decisions under the Income-tax Act, which applies to the whole of British India, should be given by different High Courts on exactly similar facts the Bombay High Court followed the decision of this Court in Thontepu Chinna Pullayya v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras without expressing any opinion of its own. The attention of the Bombay High Court was apparently not drawn to the conflict which already existed. We agree, of course, that it is very desirable that conflict should be avoided as far as possible. Otherwise it will mean that the tax will not be levied on the same basis on all persons who are subject to the provisions of the Act. Conflict cannot, however, always be avoided and it is just as desirable that an erroneous decision should be corrected when the opportunity occurs.
For the reasons given our answer to the question referred is that in the circumstances of the case the assessees are entitled to the relief contemplated by Section 25 (4) of the Act.
The assessees have succeeded and will have their costs. We fix the advocates fee at Rs. 250.
Reference answered accordingly.