The recent Supreme Court decision holding that the waiver of loan is not income in the hands of the borrower could not have come at a more opportune time, given the large number of cases under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) where such waivers are being sought and granted. The Supreme Court in its decision in the case of Mahindra & Mahindra Limited has dismissed the income-tax department’s appeal in a batch of 23 cases, and has held that the waiver of a loan cannot be subject to income tax in the hands of the borrower. A bench comprising of Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre have confirmed the decision of the Bombay High Court in the case of Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, deciding the matter in favour of the company.
Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, in the present case, had borrowed funds from the supplier for the purpose of acquiring certain capital assets. The loan agreement was approved by Reserve Bank of India and the concerned ministry of the government. The company had regularly paid interest on the loan. Subsequently, for various commercial reasons, the lender agreed to waive off the principal amount of the loan granted to the company. The loan amount, even though written back, was not offered to tax as income by the company, with the company treating it as capital receipt.
The tax authorities had also claimed that the remission of loan liability was even taxable as per provisions of section 41(1) of the IT Act. Section 41(1) brings to tax any benefit received in respect of loss or expenditure, or by way of remission or cessation of trading liability, where an allowance or deduction in respect of such loss, or expenditure, or trading liability, has been made. The Supreme Court noted that the term loan generally refers to borrowing something, especially cash, that is to be paid back along with the interest as mutually decided. Any waiver by the lender results in the borrower having extra cash in his hand. The first issue that the Supreme Court examined was the taxability of such a waiver as income under section 28(iv).
The court held that in order to consider the waiver of a loan as business income under section 28(iv), it should arise from ‘business or profession’ and that the benefit should be in some form, other than the form of money. As the loan waiver constituted benefit in the form of money, the Supreme Court held that it cannot be taxed as income under section 28(iv). The next issue examined by the Supreme Court was whether the waiver was taxable as income under section 41(1). It held that for section 41(1) to apply, the remission should be of a trading liability and that the waiver of a loan amounts to cessation of a liability, other than that of a trading liability.
Further, it also highlighted that as no deduction was claimed in respect of interest (a specific fact of the given case), therefore the claim of the income-tax department to tax the same under section 41(1) was incorrect. The facts in respect of the other 22 cases have not been specifically discussed in the judgement. One of the connected appeals was against the decision of the Delhi High Court, which had held that a waiver of working capital facilities was taxable under section 41(1). The decision of the Delhi high Court is accordingly reversed and thereby a waiver of working capital facilities will implicitly not be taxable.
This is an important ruling bringing to rest the long-standing debate over the taxability of write-backs of loan. The ruling will also have a positive impact on the cases under the IBC. Debt waiver is an integral part of the resolution process under the IBC. The debt waiver sought and granted under the IBC may cover waivers or haircuts in respect of term loans, working capital facilities, and also current liabilities for goods and services. The tax implications on such waivers / haircuts are a matter of concern for prospective bidders and / or the entities against whom the IBC proceedings have been initiated and are suitably factored in at the time of making bids.
The decision does not deal with the issue of taxability of loan write backs under the Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) provisions. The implications of such waivers / haircuts under MAT provisions in the cases of companies adopting Ind AS is quite complicated and may require a separate discussion altogether. The government must consider clarifying this aspect as it would facilitate the smoother and faster revival of insolvent companies, and would contribute at large to the success of the IBC
via SC decision gives IBC process a fillip – The Financial Express