THE question before the Apex Court is - Whether after amendments vide FAs, 2000 & 2003 the colour of Section 10A changed from exemption to provision of deduction. YES is the verdict.
The broad questions before the Apex Court are:
(i) Whether Section 10A of the Act is beyond the purview of the computation mechanism of total income as defined under the Act. Consequently, is the income of a Section 10A unit required to be excluded before arriving at the gross total income of the assessee?(ii) Whether the phrase “total income” in Section 10A of the Act is akin and pari materia with the said expression as appearing in Section 2(45) of the Act?(iii) Whether even after the amendment made with effect from 1.04.2001, Section 10A of the Act continues to remain an exemption section and not a deduction section?(iv) Whether losses of other 10A Units or non 10A Units can be set off against the profits of 10A Units before deductions under Section 10A are effected?(v) Whether brought forward business losses and unabsorbed depreciation of 10A Units or non 10A Units can be set off against the profits of another 10A Units of the assessee.
++ the amendment of Section 10A of the Act, by the Finance Act, 2000 with effect from 1.4.2001, specifically uses the words ‘deduction of profits and gains derived by an eligible unit ...... from the total income of the assessee’. By virtue of this amendment, Section 10A had changed its colour from being an exemption section to a provision providing for deduction. Yet, Section 10A continued to remain in Chapter III of the Act which Chapter deals with incomes which do not form part of the total income;
++ Circular No. 7 dated 16.07.2013 and Circular No. 01/2013 dated 17.01.2013 appear to be conflicting and contradictory to each other; in the former Circular the provision, i.e., Section 10A is referred to as providing for deductions whereas the later Circular uses the expression “exemption” while referring to the provisions of Sections 10A and 10B of the Act. Even the Income Tax Return Forms i.e. Form No. 1 dated 17.08.2001 and Form No. 6 for the assessment year 2012-13 are equally contradictory;
++ the retention of Section 10A in Chapter III of the Act after the amendment made by the Finance Act, 2000 would be merely suggestive and not determinative of what is provided by the Section 18 as amended, in contrast to what was provided by the un-amended Section. The true and correct purport and effect of the amended Section will have to be construed from the language used and not merely from the fact that it has been retained in Chapter III. The introduction of the word ‘deduction’ in Section 10A by the amendment, in the absence of any contrary material, and in view of the scope of the deductions contemplated by Section 10A as already discussed, it has to be understood that the Section embodies a clear enunciation of the legislative decision to alter its nature from one providing for exemption to one providing for deductions;
++ the difference between the two expressions ‘exemption’ and ‘deduction’, though broadly may appear to be the same i.e. immunity from taxation, the practical effect of it in the light of the specific provisions contained in different parts of the Act would be wholly different;
++ Sub-section 4 of Section 10A which provides for pro rata exemption, necessarily involving deduction of the profits arising out of domestic sales, is one instance of deduction provided by the amendment. Profits of an eligible unit pertaining to domestic sales would have to enter into the computation under the head “profits and gains from business” in Chapter IV and denied the benefit of deduction. The provisions of Sub-section 6 of Section 10A, as amended by the Finance Act of 2003, granting the benefit of adjustment of losses and unabsorbed depreciation etc. commencing from the year 2001-02 on completion of the period of tax holiday also virtually works as a deduction which has to be worked out at a future point of time, namely, after the expiry of period of tax holiday. The absence of any reference to deduction under Section 10A in Chapter VI of the Act can be understood by acknowledging that any such reference or mention would have been a repetition of what has already been provided in Section 10A. The provisions of Sections 80HHC and 80HHE of the Act providing for somewhat similar deductions would be wholly irrelevant and redundant if deductions under Section 10A were to be made at the stage of operation of Chapter VI of the Act. The retention of the said provisions of the Act i.e. Section 80HHC and 80HHE, despite the amendment of Section 10A, in our view, indicates that some additional benefits to eligible Section 10A units, not contemplated by Sections 80HHC and 80HHE, was intended by the legislature. Such a benefit can only be understood by a legislative mandate to understand that the stages for working out the deductions under Section 10A and 80HHC and 80HHE are substantially different;
++ if the specific provisions of the Act provide [first proviso to Sections 10A(1); 10A (1A) and 10A (4)] that the unit that is contemplated for grant of benefit of deduction is the eligible undertaking and that is also how the contemporaneous Circular of 22 the department (No.794 dated 09.08.2000) understood the situation, it is only logical and natural that the stage of deduction of the profits and gains of the business of an eligible undertaking has to be made independently and, therefore, immediately after the stage of determination of its profits and gains. At that stage the aggregate of the incomes under other heads and the provisions for set off and carry forward contained in Sections 70, 72 and 74 of the Act would be premature for application. The deductions under Section 10A therefore would be prior to the commencement of the exercise to be undertaken under Chapter VI of the Act for arriving at the total income of the assessee from the gross total income. The somewhat discordant use of the expression “total income of the assessee” in Section 10A has already been dealt with earlier and in the overall scenario unfolded by the provisions of Section 10A the aforesaid discord can be reconciled by understanding the expression “total income of the assessee” in Section 10A as ‘total income of the undertaking’;
++ though Section 10A, as amended, is a provision for deduction, the stage of deduction would be while computing the gross total income of the eligible undertaking under Chapter IV of the Act and not at the stage of computation of the total income under Chapter VI.