Saturday, January 24, 2015

Delhi High Court reads down first proviso to sec. 2(15); rescues genuine charities from its clutches


Facts:

a)The instant writ petition was filed for quashing of the first Proviso to Section 2(15) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (‘Act').

b)The petitioner contended that the first proviso was arbitrary and unreasonable since the Finance Act, 2008 introduced it to deny the benefit of exemption to "purely" commercial entities, which wore the mask of a charity but it, hit even genuine charitable organizations.

c)The petitioner also contended that the first proviso clubs together two unequal entities, i.e., 'purely business and commercial entities' and 'charitable entities'; therefore, it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The High Court upheld the constitutional validity of first proviso and made following observations:

1)The Finance Act, 2008 introduced the first proviso to prevent the unholy practice of pure trade, commerce and business entities from masking their activities and portraying them in the garb of an activity with the object of a general public utility. It was not designed to hit those institutions, which had the advancement of the objects of general public utility at their heart and were charitable institutions.

2)First Proviso carves out an exception from the charitable purpose of advancement of any other object of general public utility and that exception is limited to activities in the nature of trade, commerce or business or any activity of rendering any service in relation to any trade, commerce or business for a cess or fee or any other consideration. In order to determine whether the institution would fall within the ambit of first proviso to section 2(15), the dominant and the prime objective has to be seen behind both the activities.

3)If the dominant and prime objective of the institution, which claims to have been established for charitable purposes, is profit making, whether its activities are directly in the nature of trade, commerce or business or indirectly in the rendering of any service in relation to any trade, commerce or business, then it would not be entitled to claim its object to be a 'charitable purpose'.

4)On the flip side, where an institution is not driven primarily by a desire or motive to earn profits, but to do charity through the advancement of an object of general public utility, it would be regarded as an institution established for charitable purposes- INDIA TRADE PROMOTION ORGANIZATION V. DGIT (EXEMPTIONS) [2015] 53 taxmann.com 404 (Delhi)
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