Expression “fees for technical services” in s. 9(1)(vii) explained with reference to “consultancy” services – SC

GVK Industries Ltd vs. ITO (Supreme Court)

The assessee paid fees to a non-resident (NRC). The obligation of the NRC was to: (i) Develop comprehensive financial model to tie-up the rupee and foreign currency loan requirements of the project.(ii) Assist expert credit agencies world-wide and obtain commercial bank support on the most competitive terms. (iii) Assist the appellant company in loan negotiations and documentation with the lenders. The assessee claimed that as the fees were paid for services rendered outside India, the same were not chargeable to tax in India and that the assessee was under no obligation to deduct TDS u/s 195. However, the AO and CIT rejected the claim of the assessee. The High Court (228 ITR 564) held that the said payment was not assessable u/s 9(1)(i) but that it was assessable u/s 9(1)(vii). The assessee claimed that s. 9(1)(vii) was constitutionally invalid as it taxed extra-territorial transactions. However, this claim was rejected by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in 332 ITR 130. On merits, the matter was remanded to the Division Bench of the Supreme Court. HELD by the Division Bench dismissing the appeal: 

(i) Re S. 9(1)(i): The NRC is a Non-Resident Company and it does not have a place of business in India. The revenue has not advanced a case that the income had actually arisen or received by the NRC in India. The High Court has recorded the payment or receipt paid by the appellant to the NRC as success fee would not be taxable under Section 9(1)(i) of the Act as the transaction/activity did not have any business connection. The conclusion of the High Court in this regard is absolutely defensible in view of the principles stated in C.I.T. V. Aggarwal and Company 56 ITR 20, C.I.T. V. TRC 166 ITR 1993 and Birendra Prasad Rai V. ITC 129 ITR 295;

(ii) Re S. 9(1)(vii): The principal provision is Clause (b) of Section 9(1)(vii) of the Act. The said provision carves out an exception. The exception carved out in the latter part of clause (b) applies to a situation when fee is payable in respect of services utilized for business or profession carried out by an Indian payer outside India or for the purpose of making or earning of income by the Indian assessee i.e. the payer, for the purpose of making or earning any income from a source outside India.

(iii) Re “Source Rule” in s. 9(1)(vii): On a studied scrutiny of the said Clause (b) of Section 9(1)(vii), it becomes clear that it lays down the principle what is basically known as the “source rule”, that is, income of the recipient to be charged or chargeable in the country where the source of payment is located, to clarify, where the payer is located. The Clause further mandates and requires that the services should be utilized in India.

(iv) Re “Source Rule” vs. “Residence Rule”: The two principles, namely, “Situs of residence” and “Situs of source of income” have witnessed divergence and difference in the field of international taxation. The principle “Residence State Taxation” gives primacy to the country of the residency of the assessee. This principle postulates taxation of world-wide income and world-wide capital in the country of residence of the natural or juridical person. The “Source State Taxation” rule confers primacy to right to tax to a particular income or transaction to the State/nation where the source of the said income is located. The second rule, as is understood, is transaction specific. To elaborate, the source State seeks to tax the transaction or capital within its territory even when the income benefits belongs to a non-residence person, that is, a person resident in another country. The aforesaid principle sometimes is given a different name, that is, the territorial principle. It is apt to state here that the residence based taxation is perceived as benefiting the developed or capital exporting countries whereas the source based taxation protects and is regarded as more beneficial to capital importing countries, that is, developing nations. Here comes the principle of nexus, for the nexus of the right to tax is in the source rule. It is founded on the right of a country to tax the income earned from a source located in the said State, irrespective of the country of the residence of the recipient. It is well settled that the source based taxation is accepted and applied in international taxation law.

(v) Re meaning of the expression, managerial, technical or consultancy service in s. 9(1)(vii): The expression “managerial, technical or consultancy service” have not been defined in the Act, and, therefore, it is obligatory on our part to examine how the said expressions are used and understood by the persons engaged in business. The general and common usage of the said words has to be understood at common parlance. By technical services, we mean in this context services requiring expertise in technology. By consultancy services, we mean in this context advisory services. The category of technical and consultancy services are to some extent overlapping because a consultancy service could also be technical service. However, the category of consultancy services also includes an advisory service, whether or not expertise in technology is required to perform it. The word “consultancy” has been defined in the Dictionary as “the work or position of a consultant; a department of consultants.” “Consultant” itself has been defined, inter alia, as “a person who gives professional advice or services in a specialized field.” It is obvious that the word “consultant” is a derivative of the word “consult” which entails deliberations, consideration, conferring with someone, conferring about or upon a matter.

(vi) Re Facts: On facts, the NRC had acted as a consultant. It had the skill, acumen and knowledge in the specialized field i.e. preparation of a scheme for required finances and to tie-up required loans. The nature of activities undertaken by the NRC has earlier been referred to by us. The nature of service referred by the NRC, can be said with certainty would come within the ambit and sweep of the term ‘consultancy service’ and, therefore, it has been rightly held that the tax at source should have been deducted as the amount paid as fee could be taxable under the head ‘fee for technical service’. Once the tax is payable paid the grant of ‘No Objection Certificate’ was not legally permissible. Ergo, the judgment and order passed by the High Court are absolutely impregnable.

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