CLR Editorial Notes: The assessee, an investment company, had bought some electric meters from the Gujarat State Electricity Board (GSEB) which were then leased back to GSEB in a simultaneous transaction. The assessee then claimed 100% depreciation on the purchase cost of the meters. This was ruled by the Assessing Officer and CIT(A) as “sham” and they rejected the claim on the ground that the circumstances depicted, such as – no physical possession of the meters given etc, showed that the transaction of ˜sale and lease-back™ was a was one merely of providing finance and that the assets were held as a security for the finance provided. The assessee appealed to the Tribunal which held in its ruling (extracted from the full document attached):
“A distinction between an ˜operating lease™ and a ˜finance lease™ has been made by the Special Bench in IndusInd Bank 135 ITD 165 (Mum) (SB) on the basis of which it can be said that a ˜finance lease™ is a ˜sale™ which is given the colour of a ˜lease™ by the parties for their mutual benefit and to avoid tax. In such transactions, it has to be seen whether the sale transaction is a real transaction or a sham transaction with the object of enabling the alleged purchaser to claim himself as the owner of the goods, which are further claimed to be leased back to the original owner of the goods.
In a sham transaction of sale and lease back the ownership of the goods is not transferred to the alleged lessor, but is shown to be done, so as to enable the purchaser to claim ownership for the goods for the purpose of tax relief. On facts, the ˜sale and lease back™ transaction is a sham transaction done with the object to facilitate the benefits of depreciation to a person who otherwise is not eligible to claim the same. The intention of the parties was not that of sale or lease but was a loan transaction. The rates of interest/ rental have been fixed taking into consideration that the equipments are eligible for 100% depreciation and it is provided that if the claim of depreciation is changed, the rental in the shape of interest will accordingly change.
Such clauses cannot be a part of any lease agreement but finance agreement only because in a normal lease agreement, the lessee is not concerned as to what benefits are available to the owner/ lessor under the Income-tax Act.
The contention that as the transaction is with a State Government undertaking, it would be highly improper to impute any collusiveness or colourable nature of the transaction is misconceived. The argument that there is no bar for the assessee for making tax planning so as to reduce its taxes, provided it is within the framework of the law, is also not acceptable as u/s 23 of the Indian Contract Act, even if the consideration or object of an agreement may not be expressly forbidden by law, but if it is of such a nature that, if permitted, it would defeat the provisions of law, the same will not be lawful.
Engaging in sham transactions with the object of reducing tax liability cannot be said to be a case of tax avoidance but is one of tax evasion (ICDS 350 ITR 527 (SC), IndusInd Bank 135 ITD 165 (Mum)(SB) & Development Credit Bank referred)”
Main Case File: Hathway Investments Pvt. Ltd vs. ACIT (ITAT Mumbai)
Reference Case Files: