August 13, 2020
Delhi HC holds exchange of shares held as stock-in-trade to be taxable as business income
In a recent decision,1 the Delhi High Court held that an exchange of shares that are held as stock-in-trade in case of an amalgamation should be taxable under the head ‘profits and gains from business and profession’.FACTS
Nalwa Investment Limited (“Nalwa / Taxpayer”), promoter of the Jindal Group of Companies, held shares of Jindal Ferro Alloy Ltd. (“JFAL”). During the year under consideration, JFAL got amalgamated into Jindal Strips Ltd. (“JSL”) – (“Amalgamation”). As part of the Amalgamation, Nalwa transferred its shares in JFAL in lieu of receipt of shares of JSL and claimed that the Amalgamation was exempt from capital gains tax per the exemption under section 47(vii) of the Indian Income Tax Act, 1961 (“ITA”).
The assessing officer (“AO”) held that the difference between the market value of the shares of JSL and book value of the shares held in JFAL was taxable as business income. It noted that the since Nalwa was holding JFAL shares as stock-in-trade and not as capital assets, it was not entitled to the exemption under section 47(vii) of the ITA.
Upon appeal, the conclusion of the AO was upheld by the Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals) (“CIT (A)”).
Interestingly, upon further appeal, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (“Tribunal”), without getting into the question of stock-in-trade v. capital assets, held that no profit accrues when shares of the amalgamated company are received in lieu of shares of the amalgamating company. Specifically, it noted that “no profit accrues unless the shares held by an assessee are either sold or transferred otherwise for consideration irrespective of the nature of holding”.
When the matter reached the Delhi High Court, the fundamental question which had to be considered was whether receipt of shares in the amalgamated company in lieu of shares in the amalgamating company constitutes a ‘transfer’.ARGUMENTS
This is an interesting judgment where there appears to be a thin line separating arguments of both sides. However, it seems that the Delhi High Court may not have taken into account some basic aspects while rendering this ruling.
Simply speaking, the crux of the Taxpayer’s argument is that the exchange of shares, being stock-in-trade, could not be taxed as it did not result in the creation of any profits. Such profits arise only upon sale / transfer of shares, which was not the case in the present Amalgamation.
Importantly (and it is unclear from the text of the decision whether this argument was pressed by the Taxpayer), when it is being considered whether an event constitutes a ‘transfer’ for the purposes of determining taxability under the head ‘profits and gains from business and profession’, the normal meaning of ‘transfer’ and not the one under section 2(47) for the purposes of capital gains taxation should be taken into account. This follows from the text of section 2(47) that begins with the words ““transfer”, in relation to a capital asset …”. In assessing the meaning of ‘transfer’ under section 2(47), the Court seems to have brought the transaction within the ambit of provisions governing taxation of income under the head ‘capital gains’ (which in themselves constitute a distinct code), and then opted to tax it under the head ‘profits and gains from business and profession’.
Further, if a transaction is in fact considered a ‘transfer’ under section 2(47) and if it is not taxable under the head capital gains, the matter ends there, and tax authorities cannot then seek to tax it under another head. This follows from the general principle (confirmed by the Supreme Court in Nalinikant Ambalal Mody v. SAL Narayan Row, CIT6) that heads of income are mutually exclusive – i.e. if the receipts can be brought under a particular head of income and are not taxable by operation of the provisions for that head, it cannot be brought to tax under another head.
In addition, the judgment opens up certain consequential questions. For instance, what happens to the tax neutrality of the transfer of assets by the amalgamating company? Considering that many businesses would have a mix of capital assets and stock -in-trade, would the tax neutrality of an amalgamation be limited only to the extent of the shares constituting capital assets? Furthermore, what is the basis for valuation of shares for computing gains for the purposes of taxing under the head ‘profits and gains from business and profession’? In the absence of any prescribed valuation mechanism, is it justifiable to use the fair market value, especially if the sanctioned scheme for amalgamation itself provides for the assets to be transferred at cost? These questions remain unanswered, and may come up for consideration in different fact patterns in light of the Delhi High Court’s recent decision.
1 CIT v. Nalwa Investment Ltd., ITA 822, 853, 935, and 961 of 2005
2  177 ITR 198 (SC)
3  248 ITR 323 (SC)
4 (1997) 224 ITR 371 (SC)
5 (1959) 34 ITR 594
6  61 ITR 428 (SC)
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