COMMISSIONER OF INCOME TAX, TAMIL NADU V. S. BALASUBRAMANIAN (1998) INSC 175 (24 March 1998)

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Commissioner Of Income-Tax vs M. Balasubramaniam on 10 August, 1979

Equivalent citations: 1981 132 ITR 529 Mad

Author: Sethuraman

Bench: Sethuraman, Balasubrahmanyan

JUDGMENT Sethuraman, J.

1. These are two references at the instance of the Commissioner of Income-tax, Tamil Nadu, Madras, T.C. No. 170 of 1975 is made underSection 256(1)of the I.T. Act, 1961, referring the following questions:

"Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, it has been rightly held that the income of Rs. 63,430 belonged to the joint Hindu family and not to M. Balasubramaniam and not assessable in the hands of M. Balasubramaniam, in his individual capacity ?"

2. T.C. No. 171 of 1975 is a reference under Section 27(1) of the W.T. Act, 1957, The following question is referred in it :

"Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, it has been rightly held that the sum of Rs. 2,60,494 belonged to the HUF and, therefore, not assessable in the hands of the assessee in his individual capacity ? "

3. We shall first take up the income-tax reference and then deal with the one under the W.T. Act. Meiyappa Chettiar of M/s. A.V.M. Studios has four sons of whom the assessee is one. On 5th June, 1966, he issued a cheque for Rs. 10,000 in favour of the assessee and gave him also cash of Rs. 100 expressing his intention that the benefit of the said sums should go to the assessee's wife and children also as and when he got married and that he should enjoy it as a Hindu joint family. These sums as well as the accretions thereto were to be subject to the incidence of joint family property under the Hindu law. The assessee accepted the gift. He was a bachelor at the time. The assessee invested the sum of Rs. 10,000 in the firm of M/s. A.V.M. Sons, Madras, in which he had 3/20ths share. Under the partnership deed of A.V.M. Sons, he had to contribute Rs. 15,000 as capital, and he took a loan of Rs. 5,000 from the said firm itself and deposited it along with the sum of Rs. 10,000 mentioned above as his capital. Later on, from the accrued profits, he carried on a business in finance, and he became a partner in another firm known as M/s. Emkeyesbee. He transferred two sums of Rs, 10,000 and Rs. 5,000 on 15th December, 1966, and 6th April, 1967, respectively, to an account styled as " HUF account". He derived Rs. 63,430 as income from several sources as follows:

Rs.

Own business : Financing 19,644 Share income from A.V.M. Sons 29,941 Share income from M/s. Emkeyesbee provisionally taken 13,845 63,430

4. The assessee claimed before the ITO that this amount of Rs. 63,430 should be assessed in the hands of an HUF and not in his hands as an individual. The ITO rejected this claim.

5. The assessee appealed to the AAC, who noticed that the assessee got married in May, 1970, and that he got a daughter in February, 1971. The relevant previous year ended on 31st March, 1971 (assessment year 1971-72). The AAC considered the claim to the sum of Rs. 63,430 being assessable in the hands of an HUF. In the context of the above facts, he came to the conclusion that the assessment made on the assessee including the said sum of Rs. 63,430 was quite correct. The assessee, thereafter, appealed to the Tribunal. The Tribunal took the view that as the assessee had accepted the gift with the condition imposed by his father at the time of the gift, there was a legal obligation on the assessee's part to treat the property as joint family property, and that after the assessee got married and a child was born to him, a joint family came into existence. It was, therefore, held that the income was liable to be assessed in the hands of the HUF and not in the hands of the individual.

6. In the W.T. assessment, the identical question relates to the wealth represented by the accretions to the original gifted amount of Rs. 10,100. There also the WTO, and the AAC, on appeal, rejected the assessee's claim for being assessed with reference to the said wealth in the status of "HUF". The Tribunal considered the assessee's appeal under theI.T. Actalong with the appeal under the W.T. Act and applied the same conclusion to both the appeals. The Commissioner, feeling aggrieved by the order of the Tribunal, has come forward with these references under both the Acts.

7. In the present appeal, the learned counsel for the revenue contended that the income could be assessed only in the hands of the individual, as there was no family in existence and that the present case was governed by the decision of the Privy Council inKalyanji Vithaldas v. CIT[1973] 5 ITR 90. For the assessee, the contention was that in the present reference the only question was whether the individual, Balasubramaniam, could be assessed with reference to the assets that accrued out of the sum of Rs. 10,100 gifted, subject to the condition of their having a joint family character. It was pointed out that having regard to the terms of the gift, neither the income nor the assets could be assessed in the hands of the assessee as an individual.

8. The status in which the assessee has been assessed under theI.T. Actas well as under the W.T. Act is " individual". The real question is whether the individual or any HUF consisting of the assessee, his wife and his daughter, is liable to be assessed with reference to the assets and the income.

9. In the letter dated 5th June, 1966, written by the assessee's father, A.V. Meiyappan, it is stated as follows:

"I am enclosing herewith my cheque for Rs. 10,000 drawn in your favour and cash of Rs. 100. It is my intention that the benefit of these sums should go to your wife and children also as and when you get married and that you should all enjoy it as a Hindu joint family and these sums as well as the accretions thereto should be subject to the incidence of the joint family property under the Hindu law.

I shall be glad to have your acceptance of this gift on the duplicate copy hereof."

10. The assessee signed in the duplicate as requested under the following words:

"Gift accepted ".

11. There is no dispute about the fact that the gifted amount belonged to A.V. Meiyappan as his self-acquired property. There was a controversy on the question as to what kind of interest a son would take in the self-acquired property of the father, which he received by way of gift or testamentary bequest from his father vis-a-vis his own male issue. Does it remain self-acquired property in his hands also untrammelled by the rights of his sons and grandsons, or does it become ancestral property in his hands, though not obtained by descent, in which his male issues become co-owners with him ? This question was answered in different ways by the different High Courts. The 'Calcutta High Court in Muddun Gopal Thakoor v. Ram Buksh Pandey [1863] 6 WR 71 had taken the view that such property became ancestral property in the hands of his son, as if he had inherited it from his father. The Madras High Court inLal Ram Singh v. Deputy Commissioner of Partabgarh[1923] LR 50 IA 265. But the Judicial Committee left the question open, as it was not considered necessary to decide it in that case.

12. The Supreme Court went into this conflict of judicial opinion inC. N. Arunachala Mudaliar v. C.A. Muruganatha Mudaliar[1954] SCR 243. In that case, a testator had 3 sons. After giving certain properties to his wife and other relations, he set out the remaining properties in Schs. A, B and C of his will and directed that they should be taken by his three sons, respectively, and that the sons should enjoy the properties with absolute rights and with powers of alienation such as gift, exchange, sale, etc., from son to grandson hereditarily. The Supreme Court held in the judgment pronounced by Mukherjea J., as he then was, that there was no warrant for saying that according to the Mitakshara, an affectionate gift by the father to the son constituted ipso facto ancestral property in the hands of the donee. At p. 254, their Lordships observed as follows :

"As the law is accepted and well settled that a Mitakshara father has complete powers of disposition over his self-acquired property, it must follow as a necessary consequence that the father is quite competent to provide expressly, when he makes a gift, either that the donee would take it exclusively for himself or that the gift would be for the benefit of his branch of the family. If there are express provisions to that effect either in the deed or gift or a will, no difficulty is likely to arise and the interest which the son would take in such property would depend upon the terms of the grant. If, however, there are no clear words describing the kind of interest which the donee is to take, the question would be one of construction and the court would have to collect the intention of the donor from the language of the document taken along with the surrounding circumstances in accordance with the well-known canons of construction."

13. This principle has been applied by this court in CIT v. M.P.R. Periakaruppan Chettiar [1969] 71 ITR 601, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court inS. Parthasarathy v. CIT,

14. It is clear from these decisions that the donor or testator dealing with self-acquired property may, by evincing the appropriate intention, render the property gifted to assume the character of a joint family property, or, as the case may be, a separate property in the hands of the donee vis-a-vis his male issue. In the present case, therefore, no exception could be taken to the terms of the letter dated 5th June, 1966.

15.Lal Ram Singh v. Deputy Commissioner, Partabgarh[1923] LR 50 IA 265, in which the conflict in the decisions of the respective High Courts were noticed, but left there. But neither Kanji nor Sewdas had a son. Kanji's family consisted of himself, his wife and daughter while Sewdas's family consisted of himself and his wife. The Privy Council held that the son and the daughter might be entitled to be maintained out of the separate as well as the joint family property; but that the mere existence of a wife or daughter did not make an ancestral property joint. At pp. 95 and 96, the Privy Council observed as follows :

"In an extra legal sense, and even for some purposes of legal theory, ancestral property may perhaps be described, and usefully described, as family property; but it does not follow that in the eye of the Hindu law it belongs, save in certain circumstances, to the family as distinct from the individual. By reason of its origin a man's property may be liable to be divested wholly or in part on the happening of a particular event, or may be answerable for particular obligations, or may pass at his death in a particular way; but if, in spite of all such facts, his personal law regards him as the owner, the property as his property and the income therefrom as his income, it is chargeable to income-tax as his, i. e., as the income of an individual. In their Lordships' view it would not be in consonance with ordinary notions or with a correct interpretation of the law of the Mitakshara, to hold that property which a man has obtained from his father belongs to a Hindu undivided family by reason of having a wife and daughters."

16. The present case would be identical with that of Kanji dealt with above as in both eases there is only a male Hindu with a wife and daughter, and if this decision of the Privy Council were to hold the field, then no further discussion would be necessary, and the income would have to be assessed in the hands of the individual, Balasubramaniam, and the same position would have to hold good even with reference to the W.T. assessment.

17. There was, however, a criticism of this decision in two decisions of the Supreme Court. The first decision isCIT v. A. P. Swamy Gomedalli[1937] 5 ITR 416, followed its decision in Kalyanji Vithaldas case [1937] 5 ITR 90 in which it was held that the Bombay High Court had in Lakskminarayan's case [1935] 3 ITR 367 arrived too readily at the conclusion that the income was the income of the family after having held that the assessee, his wife and mother were an HUF.

18. The Supreme Court inCIT v. A. P. Swamy Gomedalli[1937] 5 ITR 416 (PC). The same criticism was also reiterated in Narendranath v. CWT .

19. The only distinction between Gowli Buddanna's case [1966] 60 ITR 293 and Narendranath's case is that in the case of Narendranath there was a partition in the HUF which consisted of Narendranath and his wife. After the partition, Narendranath, his wife and his minor daughters received the assets. The question was whether the family consisting of Narendranath, his wife and his minor daughters was to be assessed as an HUF for the purpose of wealth-tax or whether the assets were liable to be assessed in the hands of Narendranath as an individual. It was held that as far as the assets received on partition are concerned, the assets had an ancestral character and would have to be assessed in the hands of the joint family consisting of Narendranath, his wife and two daughters. At p. 198 it was observed as follows :

"Our conclusion is that when a coparcener having a wife and two minor daughters and no son receives his share of the joint family properties on partition, such property in the hands of the coparcener belongs to the Hindu undivided family of himself, his wife and minor daughters and cannot be assessed as his individual property."

20. The case was held to fall within the rule inGowli Buddanna v. CIT.

21. Apparently because of these criticisms, the learned editor of Mulla's Principles of Hindu Law, 14th; Edn., had jettisoned the case of Kalyanji Vithaldas [1937] 5 ITR 90 (PC) from the latest edition. That the case of Kalyanji Vithaldas was not dissented from by the Supreme Court notwithstanding the criticism as regards the way in which the decision of the Bombay High Court inSurjit Lal Chhabda v. CIT[1975] 101 ITR 776.

22. In that case the assessee had a wife and an unmarried daughter. He made a declaration that he had thrown the immovable property known as "Kathoke Lodge", which was his self-acquired property, into the joint family hotchpot in order to impress that property with the character of joint family property. He declared also that he would be holding the property as karta of the joint family consisting of himself, his wife and his unmarried daughter. The question was whether the income received from this property should be assessed to income-tax in the status of an HUF, After elaborately discussing the case of Kalyanji Vithaldas [1937] 5 ITR 90 (PC) and the other decisions of the Privy Council and of the Supreme Court, it was. pointed out that there were thus two classes of cases, each requiring a different approach. In cases falling within the rule in Gowli Buddanna's case , the question was whether the property which belonged (already) to a subsisting undivided family ceased to have that character merely because the family was represented by a sole surviving coparcener, who possessed rights which a sole owner of property might possess. Even where the family consisted of widows of deceased coparceners as inCIT v. Rm. Ar. Ar. Veerappa Chettiar, so long as the property, which was originally of the joint Hindu family, remained in the hands of the widows as the members of the family and was not divided amongst them, the property would be joint family property. With reference to the other class of cases, Kalyanji Vithaldas' case [1937] 5 ITR 90 (PC) can be taken as illustrative and in such a case the question is whether the property, which did not belong to a subsisting undivided family, has truly acquired the character of a joint family property in the hands of the assessee. With reference to this class of cases, it was pointed out that the composition of the family was a matter of great relevance for, though a joint Hindu family may consist of a man, his wife and daughter, the mere existence of a wife and daughter would not justify the assessment of income in the status of the joint family.

23. The sole surviving coparcener's cases are to be found inBom) and CIT v. RM. AR. AR. Veerappa Chettiar. The case of a family, after a division, has also been brought within this category in Narendranath v. CWT . The other type of cases is represented by Kalyanji Vithaldas' case [1937] 5 ITR 90 (PC) and Surjit Lal Chhabda's case . The latter category of cases are thus where the property not originally joint is received by the assessee. In these latter category of cases, the question to be asked is whether the property has acquired the joint family character in the hands of the assessee. It is in such class of cases that the composition of the donor's family is a matter of great relevance, and the mere existence of a wife and daughter would not justify the assessment of income in the status of an HUF.

24. In the present case at the time when the property was given, there was no joint family, as the assessee was not even married. Where on the partition of an HUF a bachelor got certain properties, the Supreme Court in C. Krishna Prasad v. C1T [1974] 97 ITR 493 held that "family" always signified a group, and that plurality of persons was an essential attribute of a family, that a single person, male or female, did not constitute a family, and that a family consisting of a single individual was a contradiction in terms. It was pointed out that the assessment in the status of an HUF could be made only when there were two or more members of the HUF. If in the present case the property had been obtained on partition, then as a result of the marriage and the subsequent birth of the daughter, it would have been possible to hold that the income belonged to the HUF or that the assets belonged to an HUF as in Narendranath's case . But that is not the position here. The property had been obtained only under a gift. The legal incidence of the property obtained may change on the birth of the son, but until that event happened, the assessee would have to be assessed only as an individual.

25. The result is that the question referred in T.C. No. 470 of 1975 is answered in the negative and in favour of the revenue. Similarly, the question referred in T.C. No. 171 of 1975 is also answered in the negative and in favour of the revenue. The revenue will be entitled to its costs. Counsel's fee Rs. 500 one set.

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