Two question have been referred to us by the Commissioner of Income-tax, viz.,
'(1) Whether the sum of Rs. 30,450 paid by the assessee to the Government under the instrument of lease dated July 2, 1930, is inadmissible as a revenue expenditure; and (2) whether after dissolution of the partnership the Income-tax Officer had jurisdiction to assess the firm as a unit and whether Section 44 of the Act gives jurisdiction to the officer both to make a joint and single assessment or whether the individual partners alone are liable to be assessed in respect of their proportionate share'.
With regard to question No. 1, the facts are quite sufficiently stated by the Commissioner of Income-tax in his letter of reference, but quite briefly they are that the assessee by a deed dated the July 2, 1930, got the exclusive right to excavate shells lying under Government property for three years for a payment of Rs. 30,450 payable by certain instalments and described in the instrument as regards Rs. 10,150 (being on third of the amount stated) as 'the annual lease amount'. This sum of Rs. 30,450 was originally allowed to be deducted by the Income-tax Officer as being a payment out of revenue and not a capital expenditure. Subsequently, having regard to this High Courts decision in U. Chengalvoraya Mudaliar v. The Commissioner of Income-tax, Madras, that allowance was cancelled and the sum was treated as a capital expenditure in the hands of the assessee. Hence this reference. In our view, the facts of this case are not distinguishable from the facts in Chengalvoraya Mudaliars case. There it was held that having regard to the instrument, the expenditure was an initial expenditure without which the assessee could not even have begun winning the shells and it was, therefore, a capital expenditure. We have had addressed to us a strenuous argument by Mr. Subbaroya Ayyar that there is a very material distinction between the words in the instrument in this case to those in Chengalvoraya Mudaliars case. He contends that as the words 'annual lease amount' appear in the instrument in question here and do not appear in the instrument Chengalvoraya Mudaliars case it renders the agreement in question a rental agreement and that full significance must be given to the words 'annual lease amount' and they must be taken as showing that the payment to be made under the instrument was a payment by way of rent therefore a revenue expenditure and not a capital expenditure as in Chengalvoraya Mudaliars case. We are unable to see that those words make any material difference. The transaction in question is exactly the same as that in Chengalvaroya Mudaliars case and the use of the words 'annual lease amount' does not, in our opinion, alter its nature. The answer to the first question must be in the affirmative.
With regard to the second question the assessment here was made by the Income Tax authorities under Section 44 of the Act which reads as follow :-
'Where any business, profession or vocation carried on by a firm has been discontinued, every person who was at the time of such discontinuance a member of such firm shall be jointly and severally liable for the amount of tax payable in respect of the income, profits and gains of the firm.'
The object of that section is perfectly clear. It is to enable the tax on the profits of a firm which has been discontinued to be got by the Income-tax authorities and to prevent the avoidance of taxation by the discontinuance of the firm. The words are, in our opinion, perfectly clear but Mr. Subbaroya Ayyar contends that unless an assessment upon the firm has already been made before its discontinuance, which is not the case here the partners of it cannot be assessed jointly after its discontinuance, because according to him the words 'tax payable' in the section mean 'payable as the result of an assessment already made upon the firm'. If this contention is correct it leads to a strange result. The object of the section being perfectly clear, viz., to get at the tax on the profits of the firm made before its discontinuance, and bearing in mind that that is its object, the result of the contention, if correct, would be that the tax recoverable would be less than that recoverable if the business had not been discontinued. In such a case the tax would have been upon the profits of the business but if a separate assessment is made upon the partners separately and not jointly after the discontinuance of the business it is conceded that the tax recoverable would be less. We are unable to see why the fact that an assessment has not been made upon the firm previous to its discontinuance should bring about such a result. It seems to us that 'tax payable' means 'tax that is due to be paid', 'tax which the firm or partnership would be liable to pay if it had not been discontinued'; 'tax either found to be due already or that will be found to be due in the future'. The being so, we are clearly of the opinion that the Income Tax authorities were correct in assessing the partners of the discontinued firm jointly and severally in respect of the profits earned by the firm before it was discontinued. Question No. 2 is answered accordingly. The Income-tax Commissioner will get Rs. 250 costs.