Important principles relating to valuation of property subject to the Land Ceiling Act explained in the context of the Wealth-tax Act
The Supreme Court had to consider whether for the purposes of Wealth Tax Act, the market value of the vacant land belonging to the assessee should be taken at the price which is the maximum compensation payable to the assessee under the Urban Land Ceiling Act, 1962?
The factual position is as follows:
(i) The Assessment Years in respect of which question was to be determined were 1977-1978 to 1986-1987.
(ii) Ceiling Act had come into force w.e.f. 17.02.1976 and was in operation during the aforesaid Assessment Years.
(iii) The Competent Authority under the Ceiling Act had passed orders to the effect that as per Section 11(6) of the Ceiling Act, the maximum compensation that could be received by the assessee was Rs.2 lakhs. In accordance with Section 30 of the Ceiling Act, the declaration dates back to 17.02.1976 on which date the Ceiling Act was promulgated in Karnataka.
(iv) The order of the Competent Authority was challenged by the assessee by filing appeal before the Karnataka Appellate Tribunal. This appeal was, however, dismissed on 15.07.1998.
Against that order, writ petition was filed wherein provisions of the Ceiling Act were also challenged. Because of the pendency of these proceedings or due to some other reason, notification under Section 10(1) of the Ceiling Act was not passed.
(v) In the year 1999, Ceiling Act was repealed. At that stage, the writ petition filed by the assessee was still pending. The effect of this Repealing Act was that the Property in question remained with the assessee and was not taken over by the Government.
HELD by the Supreme Court:
(i) It is clear that the valuation of the asset in question has to be in the manner provided under Section 7 of the Act. Such a valuation has to be on the valuation date which has reference to the last day of the previous year as defined under Section 3 of the Income Tax Act if an assessment was to be made under that Act for that year. In other words, it is 31st March immediately preceding the assessment year. The valuation arrived at as on that date of the asset is the valuation on which wealth tax is assessable. It is clear from the reading of Section 7 of the Act that the Assessing Officer has to keep hypothetical situation in mind, namely, if the asset in question is to be sold in the open market, what price it would fetch. Assessing Officer has to form an opinion about the estimation of such a price that is likely to be received if the property were to be sold. There is no actual sale and only a hypothetical situation of a sale is to be contemplated by the Assessing Officer.
(ii) Thus, the Tax Officer has to form an opinion about the estimated price if the asset were to be sold in the assumed market and the estimated price would be the one which an assumed willing purchaser would pay for it. On these reckoning, the asset has to be valued in the ordinary way.
(iii) The High Court has accepted, and rightly so, that since the Property in question came within the mischief of the Ceiling Act it would have depressing effect insofar as the price which the assumed willing purchaser would pay for such property. However, the question is as to what price the willing purchaser would offer in such a scenario?
(iv) The combined effect of the aforesaid provisions, in the context of instant appeals, is that the vacant land in excess of ceiling limit was not acquired by the State Government as notification under Section 10(1) of the Ceiling Act had not been issued. However, the process had started as the assessee had filed statement in the prescribed form as per the provisions of Section 6(1) of the Ceiling Act and the Competent Authority had also prepared a draft statement under Section 8 which was duly served upon the assessee. Fact remains that so long as the Act was operative, by virtue of Section 3 the assessee was not entitled to hold any vacant land in excess of the ceiling limit. Order was also passed to the effect that the maximum compensation payable was Rs.2 lakhs. Let us keep these factors in mind and on that basis apply the provisions of Section 7 of the Wealth Tax Act.
(v) One has to assume that the property in question is saleable in the open market and estimate the price which the assumed willing purchaser would pay for such a property. When the asset is under the clutches of the Ceiling Act and in respect of the said asset/vacant land, the Competent Authority under the Ceiling Act had already determined the maximum compensation of Rs.2 lakhs, how much price such a property would fetch if sold in the open market? We have to keep in mind what a reasonably assumed buyer would pay for such a property if he were to buy the same. Such a property which is going to be taken over by the Government and is awaiting notification under Section 10 of the Act for this purpose, would not fetch more than Rs.2 lakhs as the assumed buyer knows that the moment this property is taken over by the Government, he will receive the compensation of Rs.2 lakhs only. We are not oblivious of those categories of buyers who may buy “disputed properties” by taking risks with the hope that legal proceedings may ultimately be decided in favour of the assessee and in such a eventuality they are going to get much higher value. However, as stated above, hypothetical presumptions of such sales are to be discarded as we have to keep in mind the conduct of a reasonable person and “ordinary way” of the presumptuous sale. When such a presumed buyer is not going to offer more than Rs.2 lakhs, obvious answer is that the estimated price which such asset would fetch if sold in the open market on the valuation date(s) would not be more than Rs.2 lakhs. Having said so, one aspect needs to be pointed out, which was missed by the Commissioner (Appeals) and the Tribunal as well while deciding the case in favour of the assessee. The compensation of Rs.2 lakhs is in respect of only the “excess land” which is covered by Sections 3 and 4 of the Ceiling Act. The total vacant land for the purpose of Wealth Tax Act is not only excess land but other part of the land which would have remained with the assessee in any case. Therefore, the valuation of the excess land, which is the subject matter of Ceiling Act, would be Rs.2 lakhs. To that market value of the remaining land will have to be added for the purpose of arriving at the valuation for payment of Wealth Tax. Ahmed G.H. Ariff v. Commissioner of Wealth Tax 76 ITR 471 and Commissioner of Wealth Tax v. Prince Muffkham Jah Bahadur Chamlijan 247 ITR 351 referred)