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MAT A Conundrum unsolved

   

MAT - A Conundrum unsolved

MAT – A Conundrum unsolved

1. Introduction

The era of MAT began as an ‘alternative mode’ of tax. With the efflux of time, the MAT regime has actually left us with no ‘alternative’ but to ‘tax’. Its objective is well known; although the text and\ content is vexed which often keeps the tax doyens perplexed. This complex provision has thrown out innumerable issues from its Pandora box. In this article, we have attempted to address one such issue through a case study.

2. Case Study

X Limited is an Indian company which acquired 1,00,000 equity shaires of Y Limited for a consideration of Rs. 60 crore. In Year 1, X Limited created a “Provision for investment loss” amounting to Rs. 16 crore [by debiting the profit and loss account]. Cost of investment in the balance sheet was reduced to the extent of the provision (ie, Rs. 16 crore). The net loss as per the profit and loss account was Rs. 17 crore.

While computing the book profit under the provisions of section 115JB of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (“the Act”), the Provision for investment loss (i.e. Rs 16 crore) was “added back” to net the loss as per the profit and loss account. The book loss (u/s. 115JB) for Year 1 was accordingly computed at Rs. 1 crore. The loss computed under the regular provisions of the Act was Rs. 50 lakh. The loss computed under regular provisions being lower than the book loss, the return of income for Year 1 was filed with the loss of Rs. 50 lakh.

Subsequently, in Year 2, X Limited sold the 100,000 equity shares in Y Limited for Rs. 68 crore. The sale resulted in a gain of Rs. 8 crore. X Limited recognised this gain as “Profit on sale of investment” in the Profit and loss account along with reversal of Provision for investment loss (pertaining to shares sold during the year) amounting to Rs. 16 crore. Cumulatively, profit on sale of investment recognised in financial statements added up to Rs. 24 crore [ie, 8 crore + 16 crore]. The company paid tax under the provisions of MAT (section 115JB) amounting to Rs. 2 crore [after reducing Rs. 16 crore from the net profit].

In this background, the write-up discusses the appropriateness of the MAT computation carried out by X Limited.

3. Case Analysis

MAT – General principles

Minimum Alternate Tax (“MAT”) computed u/s. 115JB is an alternative regime of taxation. The section provides for an alternate, nay an additional mechanism, of ‘computing the tax liability’ of an assessee apart from the normal computation. A comparison is made between tax payable under the normal provisions of the Act and the tax payable on “book profit”. The higher of the tax payable from out of the two computations would have to be discharged by the assessee company.

S/s. (1) to section 115JB requires a tax (at 18.5%) on book-profit to be compared with income-tax payable on the total income as computed under the Act. Section 115JB is an alternative tax mechanism. This is evident from the section heading which reads – “Special provision for payment of tax by certain companies”. It is thus a special provision for payment of tax. The intent of section 115JB is to maintain the minimum quantum of tax (at 18.5% on book profit) that an assessee-company should be liable to pay. If the tax u/s. 115JB is higher, the “book-profit” is deemed to constitute the total income of the Company.

‘Book Profit’ is defined in Explanation 1 to section 115JB. It is defined to mean the net profit as shown in the profit and loss account prepared as per s/s. (2) to section 115JB as reduced or increased by certain sums specified in the section. S/s. (2) requires the profit and loss account to be prepared in accordance with Parts II & III of Schedule VI of the Companies Act, 1956. In arriving at the net profit, therefore, the principles outlined in Parts II & III of schedule VI of the Companies Act, 1956, shall be followed [Apollo Tyres Ltd (2002) 255 ITR 273(SC) and CIT vs. HCL Comnet Systems & Services Ltd. (2008) 305 ITR 409 (SC)].

Explanation 1 outlines a process of additions and deletions of certain sums to the ‘net profit’ disclosed in the Profit and loss account. Judicial precedents indicate that these adjustments are exhaustive. No other adjustments apart from those outlined in the explanation can be made to the ‘net profit’ to arrive at the “book profit”.

Characteristics of book-profit

S/s. (1) to section 115JB envisages a comparison of taxes. If the tax on book profit is higher than the tax payable under the normal provisions of the Act, then, (i) such book-profit would be deemed to be the total income and (ii) the tax payable shall be the tax on book profit (at 18.5%). A two-fold deeming fiction is envisaged. The total income under the normal provisions is replaced with book profit and the tax payable under the normal provisions paves way for ‘tax on book-profit’. Thus, s/s. (1) visualises a 3 step-approach:

(i) The book profit should be an outcome of the computation envisaged in Explanation 1 wherein, net profit as per the profit and loss account is adjusted by the adjustments specified therein;

(ii) Tax on such book profit should exceed the tax on income under the normal provisions; and

(iii) On satisfaction of the twin characteristics above, the book profit is deemed as the total income and the tax on book profit shall be the tax payable by the assessee.

Step ‘(iii)’ is a natural consequence of steps ‘(i)’ & ‘(ii)’. S/s. (1) of section 115JB is operative only when steps (i) and (ii) result in step (iii). In other words, in the absence of book profit or if tax on income under the normal provisions exceeds or is equal to the tax on the book profit, the deeming fiction in step (iii) is not to be invoked. If step (i) and (ii) do not culminate in step (iii), the computation in step (i) [book profit computation] becomes relevant only for step (ii) [comparison] and not step (iii). This is because, the computation of total income under normal provisions is sustained and the occasion of its replacement by book profit does not occur/ arise.

In case the computation [of book profit] under step (i) results in a negative number (or book loss, step (ii) becomes inapplicable or irrelevant. The comparison envisaged in step (ii) is between ‘tax on total income’ and ‘18.5% on book profit’. A negative book profit will invariably result in tax on total income under the normal provisions not being lower than tax on book profits. This can be explained by looking at the twin possibilities below:

Case 1 – Positive total income and book loss

         Particulars Amount(Rs.)

Total income under the normal provisions

100

Tax on total income (@30%)-(A)

30

Book loss

(20)

18.5% on book loss-(B)

(3)

Tax payable by the assessee (Higher o A and B)

30

In the above case, tax on total income under the normal provisions (being a positive number) exceeds the “tax payable” on the negative book profit (or book loss) and consequently results in tax on total income under the normal provisions being higher than 18.5% of book profit. Accordingly, section 115JB(1) is not satisfied.

Case 2 – Nil total income and book loss

         Particulars

Amount (Rs.)

Total income under the normal provisions

    Nill

Tax on total income (@30%)-(A)

  0

Book loss

 (20)

18.5% on book loss-(B)

(3)

Tax payable by the assessee (Higher of A and B)

0

In the above case, tax on total income (being nil) exceeds the negative tax on the book profit (or book loss) and consequently results in tax on total income being higher than 18.5% of book profit. Accordingly, section 115JB(1) is not satisfied.

In both the situations, “tax” on total income under the normal provisions would exceed 18.5% on book loss (or negative book profit). It is a trite to state that ‘total income ’ could either be ‘positive’ or ‘nil’.There cannot be negative total income. Consequently, there cannot be a ‘tax in negative’. For section 115JB to operate, ‘18.5% of book profit’ should be higher than such tax. Even if ‘18.5% on book loss’ is taken to be ‘nil’ in both the aforesaid examples, tax on total income under the normal provisions would not be lower which is the primary condition for section 115JB to be invoked.

MAT A Conundrum unsolved

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