Madras H.C : Whether ignorance of law can be a ground to condone delay in filing application for registration

High Court Of Madras

CIT, Salem Vs. Indian Gospel Fellowship Trust

Section : 12A

F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla And M.M. Sundresh, Jj.

Tax Case (Appeal) No. 477 Of 2010

August 17, 2010

JUDGMENT

M.M. Sundresh, J. – The revenue has filed this appeal challenging the order of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal dated 27-11-2009 passed in ITA.No. 1417/Mad./2009, whereby the order of the Commissioner of Income-tax, dated 20-8-2009 passed under section 12AA of the Income-tax Act, 1961, was set aside. Challenging the said order, by raising the following substantial questions of law, the present appeal has been filed :

“1.Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal was right in quashing the order of the Commis- sioner of Income-tax refusing registration under section 12AA of the Income-tax Act, rejecting the petition for condoning the delay of 6 years and 2 months, accepting the plea of ignorance of law on the part of the Managing Trustee?

2. Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal was right in accepting the reason given that the delay was attributable to the fact that there was no activities of the Trust till 31-3-2005, overlooking the statutory provisions prescribing a time limit for filing the application for registration from the date of formation of the trust? and

3 .Whether on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal was right in holding that the same Managing Trustee pleaded ignorance of law in filing the application of another trust of which he was the trustee seeking condonation of delay for 10 months on 10-3-1999 could again raise the same plea in the year 2007?”

2.1 The facts in brief :

The assessee is a Charitable Trust. In pursuance of the trust deed executed on 14-2-2000, the assessee has filed an application on 19-4-2007 in Form No. 10A seeking registration under section 12AA of the Income-tax Act. It is seen from the records that the application in Form No. 10A was actually signed by the assessee on 29-3-2007. The assessee has also filed its return on 29-3-2007.

2.2 The assessee has stated in its application seeking condonation of delay that the assessee has started receiving donation and its activities only with effect from 1-4-2005 onwards. Therefore, as per the advice given by the Chartered Accountant of the assessee-trust, the application was made belatedly. It was also stated that the assessee was in the habit of travelling abroad for the purpose of collecting donations and therefore, for those reasons, the application could not be made within the time prescribed. Hence, the assessee has sought for the condonation of delay of six years and two months in making the application seeking for registration under section 12AA of the Act.

2.3 The Commissioner of Income-tax, Salem has rejected the assessee’s request for registration from the date of the inception of the trust, but granted the same with effect from 1-4-2007 in accordance with the proviso to section 12A(a)(i ) of the Act, thereby restricting the registration with effect from the financial year in which the application was made.

2.4 Challenging the said order, the assessee has preferred an appeal to the Tribunal and the Tribunal in and by its order dated 12-5-2009 in ITA. No. 2428/Mad./2007 has remanded the matter to the Commissioner of Income-tax, Salem to decide the matter afresh after considering the materials to be produced by the assessee.

2.5 Thereafter, the assessee produced documents including the letter given by the Auditor, who advised the assessee to file the application belatedly in view of the fact that there was no activities in the trust till 31-3-2005. It was further stated in the said letter dated 21-7-2009 issued by the Chartered Accountant that he has advised the assessee to seek registration under section 12AA of the Act, only when the return of income for the assessment year 2006-07 was finalised on 29-3-2007. The assessee also produced the documents showing the returns filed from the year 2001 onwards indicating that from 31-3-2001 to 31-3-2005, no donation was received.

2.6 Apart from the above said materials, the assessee also filed affidavits before the appellant stating that the donations have been received only after 1-4-2005 and as per the advice of the Chartered Accountant, steps have been taken for the registration of the trust by signing the Form under rule 10A on 29-3-2007 and thereafter, by compiling all the annexures, it was filed on 19-4-2007. However, the appellant has rejected the said contention on the ground that ignorance of law cannot be a ground for the condonation of delay and the assessee has registered a trust earlier, in which he was a trustee by name New Life World Mission Trust on 30-5-1997. It was also held that the very same Chartered Accountant was representing the assessee for the above mentioned trust.

2.7 The contention of the assessee that he was travelling frequently was also rejected by holding that it cannot be said that the assessee was always living in aboard and inasmuch as the assessee has filed the returns for the earlier years, the assessee cannot plead his frequent trips to foreign countries as a ground for non-filing the application within the prescribed time.

2.8 Being aggrieved against the order passed by the appellant, the assessee filed a further appeal to the Tribunal. The Tribunal, in turn, after accepting the contentions of the assessee, has allowed the appeal. The Tribunal has also taken into consideration of the letter given by the Chartered Accountant. However, the Tribunal has further observed that ignorance of law can also be a ground for condonation of delay. Therefore, the Tribunal on a consideration of the materials placed before it, has allowed the appeal. Challenging the said order, the revenue has come forward with this appeal.

3. Heard K. Subramaniam, learned senior standing counsel appearing for the appellant and Mrs. Pushya Sitaraman, learned senior counsel appearing for the respondent-assessee.

4. Mr. K. Subramaniam, learned senior standing counsel appearing for the revenue submitted that the appellant being the competent authority to consider the application for condonation of delay has considered the entire materials available on record and rejected the same. The Tribunal has committed an error in holding that ignorance of law can be a ground for condonation of delay. It is further submitted by the learned counsel that inasmuch as the assessee has registered a trust similar to the present trust already with the same Chartered Accountant, he cannot plead ignorance. Learned counsel also submitted that the taxing statute will have to be interpreted strictly.

5. In support of his contention, the learned counsel has also relied upon the following decisions :

1.State of Haryana v. Chandra Mani AIR 1996 SC 1623;

2.Binod Bihari Singh v. Union of India AIR 1993 SC 1245;

3.Mewa Ram v. State of Haryana AIR 1987 SC 45; and

4.Madhu Dadha v. Asstt. CIT [2009] 317 ITR 4581 (Mad.).

Therefore, the learned counsel submitted that the order passed by the Tribunal will have to be set aside by answering the questions of law raised in favour of the revenue.

6. Per contra, Mrs. Pushya Sitaraman, learned senior counsel appearing for the assessee submitted that the object of the provision contained in section 12AA of the Act is to benefit the charitable trust. Considering the object, the provision contained in section 12A of the Act will have to be considered in favour of the assessee when sufficient reasons have been given with documentary evidence to show that the assessee was prevented from making the application before the expiry of the period prescribed. Learned senior counsel further submitted that in the present case on hand the appellant has satisfied with the genuineness of the object of the trust and therefore, granted the registration under section 12AA of the Act. Therefore, when such an order is passed and when the assessee has given proper explanation for the delay in making the application, the same cannot be rejected. Learned senior counsel further submitted that when the Tribunal being the final fact finding authority has given a decision based upon facts, the same cannot be interfered with by exercising the power conferred under section 260A of the Act by this Hon’ble Court.

7. In support of her contention, the learned senior counsel relied upon the following decisions :

1.Shri Vasu Pujiya Jain Derasar Pedhi v. ITO [1991] 39 TTJ (Jp.) 337;

2.All India Primary Teachers Federation v. DIT [2004] 140 Taxman 50 (Delhi) (Mag.);

3.Edith Wilkins Hope Foundation v. DIT (Exemption) [2008] 111 ITD 97 (Kol.);

4.People Education & Economic Development Society (PEEDS) v. ITO [2008] 296 ITR (AT) 362 (Chennai) (TM);

5.Church of Our Lady of Grace v. CIT [2009] 34 SOT 315 (Mum.);

6.National Law School of India University v. DIT (Exemptions) [IT Appeal No. 246 (Bang.) of 2008, dated 26-9-2008];

7.CIT v. Sanmac Motor Finance Ltd. [2010] 322 ITR 309 (Mad.).

8. Learned senior counsel also relied upon the recent decision of a Division Bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court in CIT v. Village Life Improvement Foundation [2010] 320 ITR 188 wherein after finding that there was reasonable cause for the delay, the Hon’ble High Court has dismissed the appeal filed by the revenue. Hence, the learned senior counsel submitted that the appeal will have to be dismissed.

9. In order to appreciate the submissions made by the learned senior counsel for both sides, it is useful to refer to the provision contained in section 12A of the Act.

“Provided that where an application for registration of the trust or institution is made after the expiry of the period aforesaid, the provisions of sections 11 and 12 shall apply in relation to the income of such trust or institution;

(i )from the date of the creation of the trust or the establishment of the institution if the Commissioner is, for reasons to be recorded in writing, satisfied that the person in receipt of the income was prevented from making the application before the expiry of the period aforesaid for sufficient reasons;

(ii )from the 1st day of the financial year in which the application is made, if the Commissioner is not so satisfied.”

10. A reading of the above said provision would show that if the Commissioner for the reason to be recorded in writing is satisfied that an assessee was prevented from making the application before the expiry of the period, he shall condone the delay for sufficient reasons.

11. Similarly, section 264 of the Act deals with the revisions of the other orders and the proviso to section 264(3) of the Act provides that the Commissioner may, if he is satisfied that the assessee was prevented by sufficient cause from making the application within that period, admit an application made after the expiry of that period.

12. A combined reading of the abovesaid sections would clearly show that a difference is sought to be made between showing ‘sufficient reason’ as provided in proviso to section 12A of the Act and ‘sufficient cause’ in proviso to section 264(3) of the Act. The word ‘cause’ has been defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as follows :

“Cause : 1. Something that produces an effect or result, the cause of the accident, but-for-cause. The cause without which the event could not have occurred.”

Similarly the word ‘reasonable’ has been defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as follows :

“reasonable : 1. fair, proper or moderate under the circumstances, reasonable pay.

2. According to reason, your argument is reasonable but not convincing.”

Therefore, what is ‘sufficient reason’ in proviso to section 12A is ‘sufficient reason’, which cannot be ‘sufficient cause’.

13. Admittedly, in the present case on hand, the assessee has started receiving donation only after 1-4-2005. As seen from the recitals filed by the assessee as well as the letter of the Chartered Accountant, it is clear that there was no donation received prior to 1-4-2005 and the return was filed showing ‘nil’ income. The assessee has offered explanation that is the reason why it was advised by the Chartered Accountant to file the application belatedly. It is also seen from the records that the assessee has filed the return on 29-3-2007. It also signed the application in Form 10A on 29-3-2007. However, due to the mistake of the Chartered Accountant, the same was presented only on 19-4-2007. Had it been filed the application on or before 31-3-2007, the assessee would have got the relief in the year 2005-06.

14. Be that as it may, it is not in dispute that the letter of the Chartered Accountant is genuine. The said letter has not been disputed. It is also not in dispute that the very same Chartered Accountant was representing the other firm, in which the Director of the present trust was also a Director. Therefore, in view of the fact that the very Chartered Accountant has been the auditor for several years, the assessee naturally went by his advise. Explaining the said fact, the assessee has also filed affidavits in support of the same. It is also the specific case of the assessee that it only seeks registration from 1-4-2005 onwards. The delay has been considered from the date of the inception of the trust in view of the provisions contained in section 12A of the Act. In other words, what the assessee wants is only from 1-4-2005 onwards, but by the operation of law, if the delay is condoned, the assessee would automatically get the registration from the date of the inception of the trust.

15. The Tribunal has taken into consideration all the materials placed before it while coming to the conclusion. The said finding of the Tribunal based upon facts cannot be interfered with by exercising the power conferred under section 260A of the Act. It is well established that in normal practice, every assessee would be guided by the advise of the Chartered Accountant. Therefore, the said fact that the assessee went by the advise of the Chartered Accountant, which resulted in the delay in making the application would be sufficient enough to condone the same, as the assessee was prevented by the said ‘sufficient reason’.

16. It is also to be seen that the power under section 12A has to be exercised by the appellant keeping in view the object of section 12AA of the Act. Admittedly, the assessee is a charitable trust. The genuineness of the trust has also been verified to the satisfaction of the appellant. Therefore, in view of the said admitted factual position, the appellant ought to have exercised the discretion based upon the materials placed before him by condoning the delay.

17. However, we find considerable force in the contention made by the learned senior counsel appearing for the revenue inasmuch as the Tribu-nal has wrongly observed that ignorance of law can be a ground to condone the delay. It is rather a well settled principle of law that ignorance of law cannot be a ground. Every assessee is duty bound to know the provisions of law. The Act presupposes an assessee to know its provisions. However, considering the facts of the case, we are of the opinion that the assessee was prevented from sufficient reason from making the application within the time prescribed.

18. The judgments relied upon by the learned counsel for the revenue, in our considered opinion, are not applicable to the present case on hand. It is well settled principle of law that an application for condonation of delay will have to be considered on the facts of each case. We are satisfied that the order passed by the Tribunal is based upon the materials available on record, which cannot be interfered with. As contended by the learned senior counsel appearing for the assessee, the revenue has not chosen to file appeals in cases where the Tribunal has condoned the delay of nearly forty years. Therefore, considering the abovesaid facts, we do not find any reason to interfere with the orders passed by the Tribunal.

19. For the reasons stated above, the order passed by the Tribunal cannot be set aside and the appeal is dismissed. The substantial questions of law raised are answered against the revenue and in favour of the assessee. No costs.

[Citation : 331 ITR 283]

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