Timely charter services rendered by vessel cannot be treated as royalty
IN THE INCOME TAX APPELLATE TRIBUNAL
The Relevant Text of the Order as follows :
Accordingly, we are of the considered view, that unlike the facts involved in the aforesaid case before the Hon‘ble High Court, in the case before us the control of the ship had throughout remained with the assessee, and the charterer viz. Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd. was only concerned with the services and had no control over the vessel or its crew members. As such, we find that the reliance placed by the lower authorities on the judgment of the Hon‘ble High Court of Madras in the case of Poompuhar Shipping Corporation Vs. ITO (I.T)-II Chennai (2014) 360 ITR 257 (Mad), being distinguishable on facts, would thus not assist the case of the revenue. In fact, our aforesaid view stands fortified by order of a coordinate bench of the Tribunal i.e ITAT, Chennai in the case of Sical Logistics Ltd. Vs. ADIT (I.T) Chennai [ITA No. 1074-1079/Mad/2015, dated 14.12.2016]. In the said case, the tribunal had distinguished the facts involved in the case before its jurisdictional High Court in the case of Poompuhar Shipping Corporation (supra). It was observed by the tribunal that in case of time charter of vessel the control of the vessel remains with the foreign shipping companies. In the backdrop of the aforesaid factual matrix the Tribunal relying on the judgment of the Hon‘ble High Court of Delhi in the case of Asia Satellite Tele communication company ltd. Vs. DIT (2011) 332 ITR 340 (Del), had observed, that there is a distinction between letting the asset and use of the asset by the owner for providing services. By drawing support from the aforesaid judgment of the High Court, it was observed by the Tribunal that the payment made for use of the asset by owner cannot tantamount to royalty. The Tribunal while concluding as hereinabove had observed as under:
“We are also not in agreement in Department‘s contention that the payment made in time charter of vessels in this case constitutes ‘‘royalty”. This perception seems to be misconceived. The Hon‘ble Delhi High Court in the case of Asia Satellite Telecommunication Co. Ltd. vs. DCIT (supra) has held that two things are necessary to christen a payment as a “royalty” under Explanation 2 appended to clause (vi), which speaks about possession and control of the vessel in the given case, the assessee neither has control nor possession over the vessels. The Captain/Master and the crew is instructed, directed and controlled by the ship owner only and not by the assessee. The assessee simply informs the description of the cargo to be carried on and from which port to which port the cargo has to be transported. Thus, it becomes clear that the assessee neither has control/nor the possession over the vessel in question.”
Apart from that, we find that a similar view had also been arrived at by the ITAT Ahmedabad bench “I” in the case of DCIT, International Taxation, Baroda Vs. Bombardier Transportation India Pvt. ltd. (2017) 162 ITD 586 (Ahd). In the said case, it was observed by the Tribunal that the rendition of I.T support services to the assessee by a Canadian company, even if certain equipment were to be used, that by itself would not vest any right in the assessee to use the equipment, and thus, payments made by the assessee could not be viewed as payments for “use” or “right to use” any industrial, commercial, or scientific equipment. Further, we find that a similar view had also been taken by the ITAT Hyderabad Bench “A” in the case of DDIT (IT)-1, Hyderabad Vs. Dharti Dredging & Infrastructure Ltd. (2012) 146 TTJ 283 (Hyd). In the said case, it was observed by the Tribunal that as the assessee before them had only hired the dredger simpliciter from the foreign company viz. EMPL, and had neither used the same or any part thereof on its own nor was it given any right to use the same by the foreign company, the payment therein made could thus not be treated as royalty. On the basis of our aforesaid observations, we are of the considered view that as can be gathered from a perusal of the relevant extracts of the “agreement” (as reproduced by the DRP in its order), it can safely be concluded that as the assessee had received charges on account of time charter services rendered by its vessel “Smit Borneo” along with the crew to Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd., and not for allowing the latter the “use” or “right to use” of industrial, commercial, or scientific equipment, the same therein cannot be treated as “royalty” within the meaning of Article 12(3)(b) of the India-Singapore tax treaty. As such, we herein not being able to subscribe to the view taken by the lower authorities, to the extent they had concluded that the amounts received by the assessee for time charter of its vessel viz. “Smit Borneo” was to be treated as royalty under Article 12(3)(b) of the India-Singapore tax treaty, therein vacate the same. As we have vacated the view taken by the A.O/DRP that the consideration received by the assessee from time charter of its vessel viz. “Smit Borneo” was to be treated as “royalty” as per Article 12 of the India-Singapore Tax Treaty, therefore, we refrain from adverting to the other contentions advanced by the ld. A.R to support its claim, which thus are left open. The Grounds of appeal No. 2 to 4 are allowed in terms of our aforesaid observations.
19. We shall now advert to the claim of the ld. A.R that the mobilisation fees of Rs.17,80,500/- received by the assessee from Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd. had wrongly been treated as royalty, both under Sec.9(1)(iv) of the Act, and Article 12(3)(b) India-Singapore tax treaty. As noticed by us hereinabove, it was inter alia observed by the A.O/DRP that as the mobilisation of the vessel viz. “Smit Borneo” formed an inextricable part of the time charter services rendered by the assessee, thus the fees therein received were also to be assessed as royalty. As we have concludd that the consideration received by the assessee from time charter of the vessel viz. “Smit Borneo” would not fall within the realm of the definition of the term “royalty” as contemplated in Article 12 of the India-Singapore tax treaty, therefore, the mobilisation fees, which as observed by the A.O/DRP formed an inextricable part of such time charter services has to be similarly construed. As such, we vacate the treatment of the mobilisation fees received by the assessee as royalty by the lower authorities. The Grounds of appeal No. 5-7 are allowed in terms of our aforesaid observations.
20. We shall now take up the claim of the ld. A.R that the A.O/DRP had erred in concluding that the amount of Rs.1,31,80,903/- received by the assessee towards reimbursement of expenses which were incurred by it for and on behalf of Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd. was to be assessed as royalty within the meaning of Sec. 9(1)(vi) of the Act, and Article 12(3)(b) of the India-Singapore tax treaty. As observed by us hereinabove, the amounts received by the assessee, insofar the same were towards time charter of the vessel viz. “Smit Borneo” alongwith the crew to Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd. are concerned, cannot be treated as royalty within the meaning of Article 12(3)(b) of the India- Singapore tax treaty. However, as neither the details of the expenses, which as claimed by the assessee were incurred for and on behalf Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd., nor the basis of allocation of the common expenses to the share of the assessee are discernible from the records, therefore, it would be premature to adjudicate the said issue in the absence of the relevant facts. Accordingly, in all fairness we restore the issue to the file of the A.O, who is herein directed to verify the nature of the amounts which as claimed by the assessee were received by way of reimbursements from Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd., and also, the basis of allocation of the common expenses to the share of the said charterer. Needless to say, the A.O in the course of the “set aside” proceedings shall afford a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the assessee who shall remain at a liberty to place on record the requisite documents in support of its claim that the aforesaid amounts received from Leighton India Contractor Pvt. Ltd. were purely towards reimbursement of expenses which were incurred by the assessee for and on the latter‘s behalf.
21. The assessee has further claimed that the A.O while framing the assessment had allowed a short credit of the tax deducted at source (TDS). It is the claim of the assessee, that as against the credit for TDS of Rs.1,20,29,183/- that was raised in its return of income, the A.O had allowed credit of only Rs.95,64,832/-, which had thus resulted to a short grant of credit of TDS of Rs.24,64,351/-(principal amount). As the aforesaid issue would require verification of the facts borne from the records, we therefore restore the same to the file of the A.O who is directed to look into the said grievance of the assessee. In case, the assessee is able to substantiate the fact as regards short allowing of credit of TDS in the course of the “set aside” proceedings, the A.O is directed to issue the balance refund to the assessee, as per law. The Ground of appeal No. 11 is allowed for statistical purposes.
22. The assessee has assailed before us the levy of interest u/ss. 234A and 234B amounting to Rs.40,29,825/- and Rs.96,26,797/-, respectively. The ld. A.R had not placed any contention as to how the charging of the aforesaid respective interests suffered from any infirmity. Be that as it may, as the charging of the respective interests would be consequential to the giving effect of our aforesaid observations on the merits of the case, the A.O shall consider the claim of the assessee in the course of the “set aside” proceedings. The Grounds of appeal Nos. 12 & 13 are allowed for statistical purposes.
23. The assessee had further assailed before us the initiation of the penalty proceedings u/s 271(1)(c) by the A.O in the assessment order. As the said ground raised by the assessee is premature, therefore, the same is dismissed. The Ground o appeal No. 14 is dismissed.
24. The appeal of the assessee is allowed in terms of our aforesaid observations.
Order pronounced in the open court on 09/11/2020.
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