In today’s time, leasing has become an indispensable element of businesses – Any and every asset movable or immovable, equipment or software can be taken on lease. Colloquially, lease refers to an arrangement where a property owned by one is given for use by another, against regular rentals. In India, there are two types of lease transactions-financial lease and operating lease. Typically, a financial lease is a disguised financial transaction whereas operating lease is akin to rental contracts.
While leasing has gained much importance and relevance over the years, its feasibility and viability depends a major deal on its tax implications – they could easily make or break the deal. The technical aspects with respect to taxation on implementation makes it all the more significant. Issues like depreciation, lease rentals, tax deduction at source and exposure to GST are key concerns. Further, though leases are classified as finance or operating, it is important to note that such distinction is essentially from an accounting perspective – the Income Tax Act, 1961, however, does not distinguish between the two.
A rather significant but overlooked aspect of leasing is the ‘tax deduction at source’ (‘TDS’). As is known TDS is a key element of the Indian taxation framework which aims to collect tax at the source of generation of income. In case of a lease transaction, the lessee is required to deduct tax under 194-I of the Income Tax Act at the time of payment of lease rentals to the lessor.
While there are several judicial precedents dealing with TDS vis-à-vis lease transactions, the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka in a recent order, in the case of Commissioner of Income Tax vs. Texas Instruments India Pvt Ltd (2021), concluded that in case of a financial lease, the lease financing company did not provide any particular service as a driver or otherwise for the purpose of usage of the car. The only transaction entered between the assessee and the lease financing company was to make payments of the amount due to the company. To say there was a mere financing arrangement and therefore section 194-I of the IT Act shall not be applicable in case of a financial lease transaction.
In this article we shall discuss the above stated ruling in detail.
The case of Texas Instruments India Pvt Ltd
The Assessee, Texas Instruments India Pvt Ltd being in the business of manufacture and export of computer software had taken motor vehicle on finance lease for its employees. It considered the lease rentals as business expenditure and claimed deduction of the same under the head income from business and profession. TDS was not deducted on the finance lease rentals as the assessee contested that the same did not fall under the provision of section 194-I or 194-C of the IT Act.
However, the Assessing Officer disallowed the claimed expenditure on the grounds that the lease rentals were being paid to the vendor under the contract and therefore the payment/ expenses would be attracting the provisions of section 194-C.
Aggrieved by the order of the A.O., the Assessee preferred an appeal before to the CIT(A). Upon such appeal, the CIT(A) overturned the A.O’s order and held that the payments made by assessee were not in the nature of service rendered by the leasing company for the carriage of goods or passengers. The CIT(A) also held that the assets were in the disposition of the Assessee.
Following such order, the matter was appealed before the Income tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) where it was held that provisions of Section 194-C will not be applicable on lease rentals.
Once again, the matter was taken for appeal before the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court where it was held that the leasing financing company did not provide any particular service as a driver or otherwise for the purpose of usage of car. The maintenance was carried by the employees of the assessee. The only transaction entered between the assessee and the leasing company was to make payments of the amount due to the company. Since no services were being provided by the leasing company and is a mere financing agreement, provisions of section 194-C and 194-I shall not be applicable.
Understanding the Provisions of Law
Section 194-I of the Income Tax Act, 1961: TDS on Rent
Section 194-I of the IT Act 1961 governs tax deduction at source in case of lease rentals. As already mentioned, Income Tax Act does not draw any line of distinction between financial lease and operating lease, let us understand whether TDS needs to deducted on lease rentals in case of both financial lease and operating lease.
Section 194-I of the IT Act explains rent as follows:
“rent” means any payment, by whatever name called, under any lease, sub-lease, tenancy or any other agreement or arrangement for the use of (either separately or together) any
(a) land; or
(b) building (including factory building); or
(c) land appurtenant to a building (including factory building); or
(d) machinery; or
(e) plant; or
(f) equipment; or
(g) furniture; or
whether or not any or all of the above are owned by the payee;
Rent has been broadly defined under section 194-I and shall be applicable when asset is given for use for any payment under lease, sub lease, tenancy, or any other arrangement or agreement.
Section 194-C of the Income Tax Act, 1961: Payment to contractors
(1) Any person responsible for paying any sum to any resident (hereafter in this section referred to as the contractor) for carrying out any work (including supply of labour for carrying out any work) in pursuance of a contract between the contractor and a specified person shall, at the time of credit of such sum to the account of the contractor or at the time of payment thereof in cash or by issue of a cheque or draft or by any other mode, whichever is earlier, deduct an amount equal to—
(i) one per cent where the payment is being made or credit is being given to an individual or a Hindu undivided family;
(ii) two per cent where the payment is being made or credit is being given to a person other than an individual or a Hindu undivided family,
of such sum as income-tax on income comprised therein.
The judgement highlights that by virtue of the fact that no services were provided by the leasing company and that it was a mere financing agreement, section 194-C and 194-I would not be applicable in the given case.
Therefore, it seeks attention on the fact whether TDS has to be deducted on financial lease rentals.
Also, one must contemplate whether TDS should have been deducted under section 194-A of the IT Act as the lease transaction was considered as a mere finance agreement. This remains unanswered.