The CBDT has clarified about the conflicting interpretations regarding the date of commencement of limitation for imposition of penalty under S.271D & 271E.
a) Departmental View of CBDT on Commencement of Limitation for Penalty Proceedings
The CBDT vide Circular No. 09/DV/2016 dt. 26 April, 2016 has clarified the Departmental View about the conflicting interpretations regarding the date of commencement of limitation for imposition of penalty under S.271D & 271E, as under:
1. It has been brought to the notice of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (hereinafter referred to as the Board) that there are conflicting interpretations of various High Courts on the issue whether the limitation for imposition of penalty under sections 271D and 271E of the Income tax Act, 1961 (hereafter referred to as the Act) commences at the level of the Assessing Officer (below the rank of Joint Commissioner of Income Tax.) or at level of the Range authority i.e. the Joint Commissioner of Income Tax./Addl. Commissioner of Income Tax. Some High Courts have held that the limitation commences at the level of the authority competent to impose the penalty i.e. Range Head while others have held that even though the Assessing Officer is not competent to impose the penalty, the limitation commences at the level of the Assessing Officer where the Assessing Officer has issued show cause notice or referred to the initiation of proceedings in assessment order.
2. On careful examination of the matter, the Board is of the view that for the sake of clarity and uniformity, the conflict needs to be resolved by way of a “Departmental View”.
3. The Hon’ble Kerala High Court in the case of Grihalaxmi Vision v. Addl. Commissioner of Income Tax, Range 1, Kozhikode (Available in NJRS 2015-LL-0807-4), vide its order dated 8.7.15 in ITA Nos. 83 & 86 of 2014, observed that, “Question to be considered is whether proceedings for levy of penalty, are initiated, with the passing of the order of assessment by the Assessing Officer or whether such proceedings have commenced with the issuance of the notice issued by the Joint Commissioner. From statutory provision, it is clear that the competent authority to levy penalty being the Joint Commissioner. Therefore, only the Joint Commissioner can initiate proceedings for levy of penalty. Such initiation of proceedings could not have been done by the Assessing Officer. The statement in the assessment order that the proceedings under Section 271D and E are initiated is inconsequential. On the other hand, if the assessment order is taken as the initiation of penalty proceedings, such initiation is by an authority who is incompetent and the proceedings thereafter would be proceedings without jurisdiction. If that be so, the initiation of the penalty proceedings is only with the issuance of the notice issued by the Joint Commissioner to the assessee to which he has filed his reply.”
4. The above judgment reflects the “Departmental View”. Accordingly, the Assessing Officers (below the rank of Joint Commissioner of Income Tax.) may be advised to make a reference to the Range Head, regarding any violation of the provisions of section 269SS and section 269T of the Act, as the case may be, in the course of the assessment proceedings (or any other proceedings under the Act). The Assessing Officer, (below the rank of Joint Commissioner of Income Tax) shall not issue the notice in this regard. The Range Head will issue the penalty notice and shall dispose/complete the proceedings within the limitation prescribed u/s 275(1)(c) of the Act.
5. Where any High Court decides this issue contrary to the “Departmental View”, the ”Departmental View” thereon shall not be operative in the area falling in the jurisdiction of the relevant High Court. However, the CCIT concerned should immediately bring the judgment to the notice of the Central Technical Committee. The CTC shall examine the said judgment on priority to decide as to whether filing of SLP to the Supreme Court will be adequate response for the time being or some legislative amendment is called for.
b) CBDT Clarification Circular on Commencement of Limitation for Penalty Proceedings
The CBDT vide Circular No. 10/2016 dt. 26th April, 2016 has clarified it’s position in the matter of ‘Limitation for penalty proceedings under sections 271D and 271E of the Income tax Act, 1961’, as under:
1. The issue whether the limitation for imposition of penalty under sections 271D and 271E of the Income tax Act, 1961, (hereinafter referred to as the Act) is determined under section 275(1)(a) or section 275(1)(c) of the Act, has given rise to considerable litigation.
2. The Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of Commissioner of Income Tax vs. Worldwide Township Projects Ltd, vide its order dated 21.5.14 in ITA No. 232/2014, considered the issue and observed that, “It is well settled that a penalty under this provision is independent of the assessment. The action inviting imposition of penalty is granting of loans above the prescribed limit otherwise than through banking channels and as such infringement of Section 269SS of the Act is not related to the income that may be assessed or finally adjudicated. In this view Section 275(1)(a) of the Act would not be applicable and the provisions of Section 275(1)(c) would be attracted. “The judgment has been accepted by the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
3. In view of the above, it is a settled position that the period of limitation of penalty proceedings under section 271D and 271E of the Act is governed by the provisions of section 275(1)(c) of the Act. Therefore, the limitation period for the imposition of penalty under these provisions would be the expiry of the financial year in which the proceedings, in the course of which action for the imposition of penalty has been initiated, are completed, or six months from the end of the month in which action for imposition of penalty is initiated, whichever period expires later. The limitation period is not dependent on the pendency of appeal against the assessment or other order referred to in section 275(1)(a) of the Act.
4. Accordingly, no appeals may henceforth be filed on this ground by the officers of the Department and appeals already filed, if any, on this issue before various Courts/Tribunals may not be pressed upon.