Can companies avail GST benefits on CSR spending?

– By Harsh Juneja | Executive (corplaw@vinodkothari.com)

Background

Section 135(5) of the Companies Act, 2013 (‘the Act’) requires every eligible company (as per section 135(1)) to spend at least 2% of the average of net profits of immediately preceding 3 financial years towards Corporate Social Responsibilities(‘CSR’) activities. The CSR spending may sometimes include contributions made to NGOs or other beneficiaries, or money paid to implementing agencies. However, quite often, the expense may relate to procurement of goods or services which are applied to one or more CSR activities. This procurement of goods or services comes with the tax cost, viz., GST. So the question is, does this GST paid, while acquiring goods or services, give rise to an input tax credit, such that the same may be claimed as a set off? A related, and more important question is, whether CSR expense for the purpose of sec. 135 (5) be the amount net of the ITC, if the ITC is claimable, or the gross amount paid?

Input Tax Credit

Eligibility

Section 16(1) of the Central Goods and Service Tax (‘CGST Act, 2017’) prescribes the eligibility criteria for taking Input Tax Credit. It states that “Every registered person shall, subject to such conditions and restrictions as may be prescribed and in the manner specified in section 49, be entitled to take credit of input tax charged on any supply of goods or services or both to him which are used or intended to be used in the course or furtherance of his business and the said amount shall be credited to the electronic credit ledger of such person.”

Hon’ble CESTAT Mumbai, in the case of M/s Essel Propack Ltd. vs Commissioner of CGST, Bhiwandi, gave a view that the CSR gives a company an economically, socially and environment sustainability in the society in the long run, as a company can not operate without providing benefits to its stakeholders. Therefore, it held that if companies are unable to claim input services in respect of activities relating to business, production and sustainability of the companies themselves would be at stake.

Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka, in its judgement, in the case of M/s Commissioner of Central Excise, Bangalore vs. Millipore India (P) Ltd., also was of view that CSR Expenses are mandatorily incurred by employers towards benefit of the society and “to maintain their factory premises in an eco-friendly manner”. Therefore, the tax paid on such services shall form part of the costs of the final products and thus, the company can claim these taxes paid as input services.

Uttar Pradesh Authority for Advance Ruling (‘AAR’) in the matter of M/s Dwarikesh Sugar Industries Ltd held that a company is mandatorily required to undertake CSR activities and thus, forms a core part of its business process. Hence, the CSR activities are to be treated as incurred in “the course of business”.

Section 135(7) is a penal provision under the Act which deals with penalty on non-compliance of section 135(5)  and (6). It was observed by the AAR that a Company fulfilling eligibility criteria under section 135(1) of the Act is required to mandatorily spend towards CSR and thus, must comply with these provisions to ensure smooth run of business.

Thus, Uttar Pradesh AAR held that the expenses incurred by the Company in order to comply with requirements of CSR under the Act qualify as being incurred in the course of business and are eligible for ITC in terms of the Section 16 of the CGST Act, 2017.

Contrary ruling: Free Supply of Goods

Section 17(5)(h) of the CGST Act excludes “goods lost, stolen, destroyed, written off or disposed of by way of gift or free samplesfor the purpose of availing ITC on payment of GST. The term ‘gift’ is not defined anywhere in the CGST Act. However, in layman’s language, gift means a thing given willingly to someone without payment.

In the matter of M/s. Polycab Wires Private Limited, Kerala AAR held that distribution of necessaries to calamity affected people under CSR expenses shall be treated as is if they are given on free basis and without collecting any money. Hence, for these transactions, it was held that ITC shall not be available as per section 17(5)(h).

However, a contrast has been drawn in the Uttar Pradesh AAR Ruling towards goods given as ‘gift’ and given as a part of CSR activities. Gifts are voluntary and occasional in nature whereas CSR expenses are obligatory and regular in nature. AAR held that since CSR expenses are not incurred voluntarily and have to be incurred regularly, they are not to be treated as ‘gift’ and thus, should not be restricted under section 17(5)(h) for claiming ITC.

Availing Benefit through Beneficiary

A company contributes a sum towards a beneficial organisation such as NGOs, Charitable Trusts and Section 8 Companies (‘implementing agencies’) towards fulfillment of CSR activities. However, these implementing agencies also need to hire services of vendors to complete these activities. These vendors charge GST on the services rendered by them. Since these implementing agencies often do not generate any output, the question raises can these organizations also claim ITC on the services rendered by them?

There is a concept of ‘pure agent’ in GST. Explanation to Rule 33 of CGST Rules, 2017 prescribes that a pure agent means a person who –

The implementing agencies fulfill this eligibility criteria of being a ‘pure agent’. Rule 33 also contains some conditions on the fulfilment of which, expenses incurred by the supplier as a pure agent of the recipient of the supplier of goods or services, are excluded from the value of supply-

In our case, if an implementing agency avails any goods or services from a vendor to fulfil the CSR activities for a company, then the payment of any such amount to the vendor shall be treated as a supply made as a pure agent by the implementing agency on behalf of recipient of supply, i.e., the company. Thus, these expenses incurred by the implementing agencies shall be excluded from the value of supply and therefore, are not liable for payment of GST.

CSR Contribution: Pre-GST or Post-GST?

The Act does not clarify that the amount to be contributed towards CSR activities should be inclusive or exclusive of taxes. However, it seems that since GST is charged on supply of goods and services, irrespective of the intention of social benefit, the amount contributed towards CSR can be both inclusive and exclusive of GST. Having said that, the question still pertains on the inclusivity of the amount of GST paid towards the amount of CSR expenditure for the purpose of section 135(5) of the Companies Act, 2013.

Conclusion

While it seems that rationally, expenses incurred on GST for fulfillment of CSR activities should be eligible for claiming ITC, however, there is still some ambiguity in terms of legal provisions. There is one view of Kerala AAR which restricts CSR contribution under section 17(5)(h) while the Uttar Pradesh AAR had a complete inverse view. A clarification from the relevant authorities is sought in this regard so that this perplexity created by different rulings may be solved. When all is said and done, a question still pertains on the amount of the expenditure which is to be considered for the purpose of calculation of CSR expenditure.

 

 

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