S.C : This appeal by special leave is against the judgment dt. 7th Jan., 1981, in Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977 of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court.

Supreme Court Of India

Life Insurance Corporation Of India & Ors. vs. Gangadhar Vishwanath Ranade

Sections 226(3)(iii), 226(3)(vi), 226(3)(vii), 244, 281

N.D. Ojha & J.S. Verma, JJ.

Civil Appeal No. 1979 of 1981

8th September, 1989

Counsel Appeared

P.P. Rao, Kailash Vasudev & S. Murlidhar, for the Appellants : A.K. Sanghi, for the Respondent

J.S. VERMA, J.:

This appeal by special leave is against the judgment dt. 7th Jan., 1981, in Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977 of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. The special leave has been confined only to the question of liability of the appellant, the LIC, to pay interest for the period after date of maturity of insurance policy, in case of delay in payment. Accordingly, this is the only question arising for decision in this appeal.

The writ petition in the High Court was filed by Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade, the wife of Gangadhar Vishwanath Ranade of Nagpur. The said G. V. Ranade took four policies on his own life from the LIC of India during the period 1958 to 1960. These policies were paid-up and the particulars thereof including their paid-up values payable on the date of maturity are as under : In April, 1969, G. V. Ranade assigned absolutely all these four insurance policies in favour of his wife, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade, and the assignment so made was duly registered by the LIC as under : “In registering this assignment, the Corporation makes no admission as to its validity. Nagpur. Sd/-Dt. : 8th April, 1969 P. Divisional Manager.”

4. It appears that there were some income-tax dues against the said G. V. Ranade for recovery of which the ITO had commenced recovery proceedings. Prior to the date of maturity of these policies, the ITO, on 27th Jan., 1971, issued a notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, to the manager of the LIC at Nagpur directing the LIC to pay to the ITO forthwith any amount due from the to or held by the for or on account of the said G. V. Ranade to meet the amount due from the LIC to or held by the LIC for or on account of the said G.V. Ranade to meet the amount due from G.V. Ranade as arrears of income-tax. This notice further mentioned the consequences envisaged by s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961. The Divisional Manager of the LIC at Nagpur intimated the fact of the receipt of the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, to the assignee of these policies, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade, suggesting that she (took-sic) to get the notice vacated in order to safeguard the interest in the policies. The further correspondence in this behalf between the ITO, the LIC and the assignee shows that the ITO required the LIC to deposit the amount of Rs. 3,415.70 payable against the first policy which was to mature on 14th Sept., 1972, and the LIC kept the assignee informed of this demand by the ITO, adding in its letter dt. 27th July, 1972, to the assignee that the moneys due under the policies will be paid to her “only after your getting the notice served on us by the ITO vacated”. This was reiterated by the LIC in its letter dt. 11th Aug., 1972, to the assignee.

5. The assignee sent a notice dt. 21st Aug., 1972, to the LIC reiterating that the policies had been absolutely assigned to her as admitted by the LIC as a result of which the amount payable against the same had to be paid only to her since the amount was not held by the LIC for or on account of G. V. Ranade. The LIC was also required by the notice to take the necessary steps for revocation of the ITO’s notice and to make the payment due in respect of all these policies to the assignee. The assignee sent a similar notice to the ITO asserting her claim as the assignee to get the moneys payable under the policies. The ITO, in a letter dt. 28th July, 1972, addressed to the LIC, had added that the alleged transfer of policies by G. V. Ranade to his wife are void with an intention to defraud the Revenue and the case falls within the mischief of s. 281 of the IT Act, 1961, and the LIC was requested to withhold any payment to Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade till further communication from the ITO.

6. On 5th Sept., 1972, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade filed a writ petition (S.C.A. No. 861 of 1972) in the High Court of Bombay impleading the LIC and the ITO as respondents therein claiming several reliefs which are mentioned at pp. 33 to 35 of the paper-book. The reliefs included a direction to the LIC for payment of Rs. 3,415.70 due on 14th Sept., 1972, on maturity of the first policy to Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade and also to make a statement on oath as contemplated by s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, that no part of the said amount is due to G. V. Ranade nor does the LIC hold any part of the sum for or on account of G. V. Ranade. This writ petition was dismissed in limine by the High Court on 14th Sept., 1972. The amount of Rs. 3,415.70 payable against the first policy which matured on 14th Sept., 1972, was paid by the LIC to the ITO. Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade filed an appeal (C.A. No. 373 of 1973) by special leave in this Court against the dismissal of her writ petition by the Bombay High Court. That appeal was disposed of by this Court on 6th Oct., 1975, as under : “On behalf of the LIC of India, Mr. Ranade stated that he would file the necessary statement on oath in accordance with cl. (vi) of sub-s. (3) of s. 226 of the IT Act, 1961, and file it in Court within two months from today stating that no sum of money is due to the assessee, insured person, before the ITO. It will thereafter be open to the ITO to take such other proceedings as he might consider necessary in order to realise the amounts due from the assessee. It is, however, stated that in respect of one policy, the LIC has already paid the money to the ITO. In respect of it no statement need be made a not consequently no order can be made under s. 226(3)(vi). The appeal is disposed of accordingly. There will be no order as to costs.”

7. In pursuance of the above order of this Court, the LIC filed on 5th Dec., 1975, the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, in respect of the remaining three policies.

8. It appears that the ITO did not revoke the order of attachment in spite of the LIC making the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, on 5th Dec., 1975. This led to another writ petition (S.C.A. No. 302 of 1977) filed in the Bombay High Court by Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade praying for a direction to the ITO to revoke all notices issue under s. 226 (3) to the LIC and to the LIC to pay to her the amount due against the policies which had matured. On 4th April, 1977, counsel for the ITO produced before the High Court a copy of the order dt. 1st April, 1977, passed by the ITO withdrawing the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, and the writ petition was dismissed as withdrawn.

9. Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade then promptly sent a notice to the LIC demanding payment of the total amount due against these four policies together with interest at 15 per cent since the delay in payment had been occasioned by the default of the LIC. Admittedly, the LIC has made the payment of these amounts to Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade in these circumstances. The LIC has not disputed at any stage its liability to pay to Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade the amounts due under these policies. However, it has disputed its liability to pay interest thereon for any period after the date of maturity on the ground that the delay was occasioned by the ITO’s notice under s. 226(3). On the other hand, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade claimed that the LIC had wrongfully refused to make the statement as contemplated under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, resulting in delay in payment of the moneys after the maturity of the policies. This dispute regarding the LIC’s liability to pay interest led to the filing of Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977 decided on 7th Jan., 1981, which gives rise to this appeal. The impugned judgment of the Bombay Court in Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977 holds that the last two policies having matured on 9th Nov., 1975, and 21st Dec., 1975, i.e., a few days before or after 5th Dec., 1975, when the statement on oath under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, was made by the LIC did not qualify for award of such interest which was payable in respect of the first two which had matured much earlier on 14th Sept., 1972, and 28th Dec., 1973. For the period commencing from the date of maturity of the policy ending with the performance of the LIC’s obligation to make the statement under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, on 5th Dec., 1975, the LIC has been held liable to pay interest on the basis of its failure to perform its statutory obligation. This view of the High Court on which the award of interest is based is assailed on behalf of the appellant.

The surviving dispute in this appeal is now only about the LIC’s liability for payment of interest on the principal amount from the date of maturity of the first policies to 31st Dec., 1975, at the rate of 15 per cent per annum which is alleged to be excessive.

Broadly stated, the contention of the appellant is that the appellant was not liable to pay any interest for the period during which it was restrained from making the payment on account of the ITO’s notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, and the ITO also adding that the matter fell within the ambit of s. 281 of the Act. On this basis, it was urged on behalf of the appellant that the award of interest on the first two policies from the date of their maturity till 31st Dec., 1975 (statement on oath by the LIC being made only on 5th Dec., 1975), is contrary to law. To support the main contention of the appellant, that it is not liable for payment of any interest for any period after maturity of the policies, Shri P. P. Rao, learned counsel for the appellant, advanced several arguments. His first argument is that the ITO was a necessary party in the writ petition giving rise to this appeal and in his absence no effective adjudication of this dispute can be made. The second argument is that the High Court has misconstrued s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, and thereby, wrongly fastened the liability for payment of interest up to 31st Dec., 1975, on the appellant. The third argument is that the principle of res judicata or at least constructive res judicata, as a result of the earlier writ petitions bars the claim for payment of interest in this writ petition. The fourth argument is that the writ petition (S.C.A. No. 302 of 1977) being withdrawn unconditionally without liberty to file a fresh petition, this writ petition (W.P. No. 1248 of 1977) is not maintainable. The fifth argument is that the rate of 15 per cent per annum at which interest has been awarded is excessive. The sixth and the last argument is that the appellant has been required to make double payment of Rs. 3415.70 due against the policy which matured on 14th Sept., 1972, inasmuch as the LIC had already deposited that amount earlier in September, 1972, with the ITO in pursuance of the ITO’s demand.

In reply, Shri A. K. Sanghi, learned counsel for the respondent, contended that the liability for payment of interest has been correctly fastened on the appellant because of its failure to discharge the statutory obligation of making the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, till 5th Dec., 1975. He argued that the LIC having accepted and registered the absolute assignment made by the insured, G. V. Ranade, in favour of his wife, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade, it was the duty of the LIC to promptly make the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, which it made much later on 5th Dec., 1975, in pursuance of the Court’s order to enable the ITO to revoke the notice issued by him under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961. Shri Sanghi stated that even though the special leave granted by this Court is confined only to the question of interest and, therefore, does not extend to the question of alleged double payment of Rs. 3,415.70 by the LIC, yet the respondent concedes that the amount of Rs. 3,415.70 deposited by the LIC with the ITO may be refunded by the ITO to the LIC together with interest, if any, payable on refund of that amount; and that the respondent does not lay any claim to that amount from the ITO, having obtained that amount from the LIC.

We shall first dispose of the last point relating to double payment by the LIC of the amount of Rs. 3,415.70 in view of the express concession made by Shri Sanghi, learned counsel for the respondent, that the respondent does not lay any claim to it and that the LIC may obtain its refund from the ITO. In view of this statement of learned counsel for the respondent, Shri Sanghi, it is sufficient to observe that it would be open to the LIC to obtain refund of the amount of Rs. 3,415.70 deposited by it with the ITO together with interest, if any, payable on that refund by the IT Department, since it has been conceded that the respondent does not claim that amount from the ITO. We shall now deal with the remaining arguments of Shri Rao, learned counsel for the appellant.

The first argument of learned counsel for the appellant is that the ITO was a necessary party in the writ petition giving rise to this appeal. We are unable to accept this contention. The only claim made in Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977 decided on 7th Jan., 1981 giving rise to this appeal is for payment of interest by the appellant, and no relief has been sought against the ITO. This being so, for effective adjudication of the LIC’s liability towards the respondent, the presence of the ITO is not necessary. The respondent’s claim is only against the LIC without any claim being made, in the alternative or otherwise, against the ITO. The respondent’s claim has, therefore, to succeed or fail only on the basis of the LIC’s liability vis-a-vis the respondent without involving the ITO or anyone else in this process. Merely because the defence of the LIC was based on an act of the ITO, it was not incumbent on the respondent to implead the ITO in this proceeding when neither was any relief claimed against the ITO nor was any suggestion of the ITO’s liability for payment of interest made in the writ petition. This argument is, therefore, rejected.

The second argument relating to construction of s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, is, in fact, the main argument of Shri Rao and, therefore, we shall consider the same after disposing of the remaining arguments which are shorter points. The third argument is based on the principle of res judicata and constructive res judicata on the basis of two earlier writ petitions filed by Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade. The first writ petition was S.C.A. No. 861 of 1972 filed in the Bombay High Court on 5th Sept., 1972, prior to the date of maturity of the first policy the claim against which was required to be paid by the LIC to the assignee, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade. This was after issuance of the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, by the ITO to the LIC. One of the reliefs claimed therein was a direction to the LIC to make a statement on oath as required by s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, that no part of the amount due against the policy maturing on 14th Sept., 1972, was due to the insured, G. V.Ranade, nor did the LIC hold any part of that sum for or on account of the alleged defaulter. No doubt, some other reliefs including revocation of the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, were also claimed including payment of the amount together with the accretions thereof. This writ petition being dismissed, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade came to this Court by special leave and Civil Appeal No. 373 of 1973 was disposed of by this Court’s order dt. 6th Oct., 1975, requiring the LIC to make the necessary statement on oath in accordance with s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, within two months. It is obvious that with this direction requiring the LIC to make the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, no further question survived in that writ petition and the consequent civil appeal in this Court since the further questions including payment of interest on the principal amount were to arise only at a subsequent stage. Asking for any other relief was obviously premature at that stage. It is apparently for this reason that this Court did not at that stage go into the other questions relating to the further reliefs specified in that writ petition. That decision cannot, therefore, preclude agitation of the question of interest subsequently.

The next writ petition filed by Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade was S.C.A. No. 302 of 1977, in the Bombay High Court. The prayer made therein was for a direction to the LIC to pay the principal amount together with interest thereon. In this writ petition also, the ITO was impleaded as a party. This writ petition had to be filed because, in spite of the LIC having made the requisite statement under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, on 5th Dec., 1975, the ITO had not withdrawn the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, issued to the LIC and, therefore, the LIC was not making the payment to the respondent. On 4th April, 1977, that writ petition was dismissed as withdrawn as a result of the ITO’s counsel filing a copy of the order dt. 1st April, 1977, withdrawing the ITO’s notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, enabling the LIC to make the payment due against the policies to the respondent. The operation of the notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, by the ITO being the only reason given by the LIC to support its action of non-payment to the respondent, it was unnecessary to pursue that writ petition when the ITO had made the order withdrawing the notice under s. 226(3) of the Act. Admittedly, it was in consequence of the withdrawal of the ITO’s notice by order dt. 1st April, 1977, that payment was actually made by the LIC to the respondent. It is, therefore, difficult to appreciate how the withdrawal of that writ petition can, in any manner, preclude the respondent from raising the question of the LIC’s liability to pay interest when the principal amount alone was paid later.

The LIC having refused to pay interest on the principal amount in spite of the inordinate delay in payment, Writ Petition No. 1248 of 1977, had to be filed giving rise to this appeal raising only the question of the LIC’s liability to pay interest on the principal amount due against the policies. The same is, therefore, clearly maintainable and the earlier writ petitions cannot, in any manner, bar the adjudication of this point herein for the reasons already given. This contention of learned counsel for the appellant is also, therefore, rejected.

The fourth contention based on withdrawal of Writ Petition (S.C.A. No. 302 of 1977) being covered by the discussion relating to the third contention, the same is rejected.

The fifth argument relates to the rate of interest. Shri Rao contended that the award of interest at 15 per cent per annum is excessive even if the LIC is held liable for payment of interest. Reference was made by Shri Rao to s. 244 of the IT Act, 1961, providing for payment of interest on refund which prescribed the rate of 12 per cent per annum from 1st July, 1972, to 1st Oct., 1984, the increase to 15 per cent per annum being made therein only from 1st Oct., 1984, by amendment of that section. It was urged that the period in question in the present case being prior to 1st Oct., 1984, the rate of 15 per cent per annum in excess of the statutory provision of 12 per cent per annum in s. 244 of the IT Act, 1961, is unjustified. Admittedly, the award of interest, in the present case, for payment by the LIC is not governed by s. 244 of the IT Act, 1961. Apparently for this reason, learned counsel for the appellant relied on s. 244 of the IT Act, 1961, as of persuasive value. We are not impressed by this argument. The High Court has relied on the fact that interest at 15 per cent per annum is reasonable, in the present case, particularly in view of the fact that the LIC itself charges interest at that rate. It is sufficient for us to state that there is not material produced, in the present case, to suggest that award of interest at 15 per cent per annum is excessive to permit interference with the rate in this appeal particularly when the High Court has come to the conclusion that this is the reasonable rate. This argument also is, therefore, rejected.

The only point remaining for consideration now is the construction of s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, the relevant portion of which, reads as under : “226. Other modes of recovery.—(1) Notwithstanding the issue of a certificate to the TRO under s. 222, the ITO may recover the tax by any one or more of the modes provided in this section… (3)(i) The ITO may, at any time or from time to time, by notice in writing require any person from whom money is due or may become due to the assessee or any person who holds or may subsequently hold money for or on account of the assessee, to pay to the ITO either forthwith upon the money becoming due or being held or at or within the time specified in the notice (not being before the money becomes due or is held) so much of the money as is sufficient to pay the amount due by the assessee in respect of arrears or the whole of the money when it is equal to or less than that amount. (ii) A notice under this sub-section may be issued to any person who holds or may subsequently hold any money for or on account of the assessee jointly with any other person and for the purposes of this sub-section, the shares of the joint holders in such account shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved, to be equal. (iii) A copy of the notice shall be forwarded to the assessee at his last address known to the ITO, and in the case of a joint account to all the joint holders at their last addresses known to the ITO. (iv) Save as otherwise provided in this sub-section, every person to whom a notice is issued under this sub-section, shall be bound to comply with such notice, and, in particular, where any such notice is issued to a post office, banking company or an insurer, it shall not be necessary for any pass-book, deposit receipt, policy or any other document to be produced for the purpose of any entry, endorsement or the like being made before payment is made, notwithstanding any rule, practice or requirement to the contrary. (v) Any claim respecting any property in relation to which a notice under this sub-section has been issued arising after the date of the notice shall be void as against any demand contained in the notice. (vi) Where a person to whom a notice under this sub-section is sent objects to it by a statement on oath that the sum demanded or any part thereof is not due to the assessee or that he does not hold any money for or on account of the assessee, then, nothing contained in this sub-section shall be deemed to require such person to pay any such sum or part thereof, as the case may be, but if it is discovered that such statement was false in any material particular, such person shall be personally liable to the ITO to the extent of his own liability to the assessee on the date of the notice or to the extent of the assessee’s liability for any sum due under this Act, whichever is less. (vii) The ITO may, at any time or from time to time, amend or revoke any notice issued under this sub-section or extend the time for making any payment in pursuance of such notice. (viii) The ITO shall grant a receipt for any amount paid in compliance with a notice issued under this sub-section, and the person so paying shall be fully discharged from the liability to the assessee to the extent of the amount so paid. (ix) Any person discharging any liability to the assessee after receipt of a notice under this subsection shall be personally liable to the ITO to the extent of his own liability to the assessee so discharged or to the extent of the assessee’s liability for any sum due under this Act, whichever is less. (x) If the person to whom a notice under this sub-section is sent fails to make payment in pursuance thereof to the ITO, he shall be deemed to be an assessee in default in respect of the amount specified in the notice and further proceedings may be taken against him for the realisation of the amounts as if it were an arrear of tax due from him, in the manner provided in ss. 222 to 225 and the notice shall have the same effect as an attachment of a debt by the TRO in exercise of his powers under s. 222….”

25. The argument of learned counsel for the appellant is that on receipt of the ITO’s notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act, 1961, the LIC was not left with the option to make the payment to assignee of the policies since the LIC or its officer making the statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) would thereby have been exposed to personal liability as the defaulter of the income-tax dues. It was argued that, in these circumstances, the LIC could make the payment only after revocation of the notice by the ITO’s order dt. 1st April, 1977, and, therefore, the LIC cannot be held liable for payment of interest for any period prior to revocation of the notice. The period for which the LIC has been held liable to pay interest being prior to revocation of the notice by the ITO, it was argued that the same was unjustified.

Having given our anxious consideration to the argument, we cannot persuade ourselves to accept the same. On a close scrutiny of the provision, we find that the benefit claimed by the LIC is not available to it, in the facts of the present case. Admittedly, assignment of the policies was made by the insured, G. V. Ranade, and the same was duly accepted and registered by the LIC in April, 1969. It is, therefore, obvious that the LIC was bound to act on that assignment in favour of Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade unless the assignment was held to be invalid by a competent authority in a proper proceeding taken for this purpose. It is significant that the LIC never disputed the validity of the assignment and was throughout prepared to act on it. It is undisputed that the assignment was not declared invalid by any competent authority. Mere issuance of notice under s. 226(3) of the IT Act 1961, did not have the effect of invalidating the assignment nor did the casual mention of s. 281 of the IT Act, 1961, by the ITO in his letter dt. 28th Aug., 1972, result in this consequence. Any further step towards formation of the final opinion by the ITO could be taken only after the LIC had made the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, on the basis of the registered assignment of policies. this act was performed by the LIC only on 5th Dec., 1975, which led to revocation of the notice under s. 226(3) of the Act, by the ITO. The question is of the liability of the LIC in these circumstances. Sec. 226 consists of several sub-sections of which sub-ss. (1) and (3) alone are relevant for our purpose. Sub-s. (1) enables the ITO to recover the tax by any one or more of the further modes provided in this section. Sub-s. (3) deals with one such mode where the defaulter’s money is held by another person. Clause (i) of sub-s. (3) enables the ITO by notice in writing to require any person from whom money is due or may become due to the assessee or any person who holds or may subsequently hold money for or on account of the assessee to pay to the ITO that money or so much of it as is sufficient to pay the dues of the assessee in respect of the arrears of tax. It is in exercise of this power that the ITO had issued the notice to the LIC in the present case. Obviously, the ITO has assumed that the money payable on maturity of these policies belonged to the insured/assessee/defaulter, G. V. Ranade, overlooking the duly registered assignment made much earlier in favour of the assessee’s wife in April, 1969. The further cls. (ii) to (v) of sub-s. (3) deal with ancillary matters and also provide that any claim in respect of property covered by the notice shall be void after the date of the notice as against the demand contained in the notice. Clause (vi) is relevant for the present purpose and speaks of the obligation of a person to whom such a notice has been sent. Clause (vi) relieves the person receiving such a notice from the liability to pay any sum to the ITO in obedience to the notice if he “objects to it by a statement on oath that sum demanded or any part thereof is not due to the assessee or that he does not hold any money for or on account of the assessee”. This clause further provides that “if it is discovered that such statement was false in any material particular”, such person shall be personally liable to the ITO to the extent of the assessee’s liability on the date of notice. Clause (vii) then provides, inter alia, for amendment or revocation of the notice issued under this sub-section by the ITO. This stage of amendment or revocation of the notice under cl. (vii) is reached only after the stage provided in cl. (vi), in a case where the noticee objects that he does not hold the money for or on behalf of the defaulter of tax dues.

It is, therefore, obvious that the question of revocation of the notice under cl. (vii) of sub-s. (3) of s. 226 of the IT Act, 1961, arose in the present case only after the LIC made the requisite statement on oath under s. 226(3)(vi) of the Act in view of its consistent stand throughout that the moneys due under the policies were held by it for and on behalf of the assignee and not the defaulter. Mere information of the assignment to the ITO and keeping the assignee informed of the ITO’s action did not amount to discharge of the statutory obligation under s. 226(3) (vi) of the Act, by the LIC. The statute having expressly provided the mode of raising such an objection in the form of a statement on oath specified in cl. (vi), performance of that obligation by the notice had to be made only in that manner. This statutory obligation was performed by the LIC only on 5th Dec., 1975, as stated earlier. The personal liability arising after making the requisite statement on oath as envisaged by cl. (vi) is only “if it is discovered that such statement was false in any material particular” and not otherwise.

31. Learned counsel for the appellant argued that the requisite statement under s. 226(3)(vi) of the IT Act, 1961, could not be made by the since it involved the risk of exposing the LIC or its officer making the statement on oath to personal liability for the income-tax dues of the assessee/defaulter, G. V. Ranade. In the first place, such a statement was, in fact, made without hesitation by the LIC on 5th Dec., 1975, after the assignee was compelled to obtain such a direction in a writ petition filed by her. That apart, the risk visualised on behalf of the LIC, in the ultimate analysis, is entirely imaginary and not real. The risk of personal liability envisaged in cl. (vi) arises only “if it is discovered that such statement was false in any material particular”. Thus, there is no risk of personal liability of the person making the statement on oath unless any material particular mentioned in the statement is false. The statement on oath required to be made by cl. (vi) is only that the sum demanded or any part thereof is not due to the assessee or that he does not hold any money for or on account of the assessee”. The LIC itself has taken the stand throughout that the sum demanded by the notice issued under s. 226 (3) of the IT Act, 1961, by the ITO did not belong to the assessee inasmuch as it was payable only to the assignee, Smt. Kamalabai G. Ranade by virtue of the assignment made, accepted and registered in April, 1969, much earlier to the date of the notice. This being so, the making of this statement on oath of the LIC’s own stand which, in fact, was so made on 5th Dec., 1975, did not involve even remotely the possibility of any risk of personal liability.

32. On the contrary, the real risk of the LIC being treated deemed defaulter/assessee under cl. (x) of sub-s. (3) of s. 226 of the Act lay in its failure to pay to the ITO after receipt of notice under s. 226(3), the amounts of the matured policies within the time given by the ITO or a reasonable time, without objecting to the demand by denying its liability to be assessed in the manner prescribed in cl. (vi) thereof, instead of

[Citation : 180 ITR 1]

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