Are the Assets or monies distributed to retiring partners taxable

Disputes involving whether capital gains taxes are leviable on sums/assets paid to retiring partners has been a subject matter of litigation for several decades now. In order to bring clarity, the legislature introduced a new provision (i.e. section 45(4)) into the Income tax Act, 1961 (IT Act), which provided that capital gains tax should be levied in the hands of the partnership firm at the time of distribution of assets. This seems, however, to have further complicated the situation.

Bangalore Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in the case of Savitri Kudur[1] and the Madras High Court (HC) in the case of National Company[2] have delivered noteworthy decisions recently. The Bangalore ITAT held that the cash consideration paid to the retiring partner on the basis of the amount lying in his/her capital account would not be subject to capital gains tax under the IT Act by relying on the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) in the case of Mohanbhai Pamabhai[3]. The Madras HC, on the other hand, held that even the allotment of immovable properties to the retiring partners would not be subject to capital gains tax by relying on the same SC decision in the case of the Mohanbhai Pamabhai (supra).
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Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs) are recognised globally as one of the most popular instruments of stock-based compensation. SARs are alternatives adopted for implementing equity-based compensation plans like an employee stock option or employee stock purchase. SARs can be structured as either ‘equity settled’ or ‘cash settled’. As a concept, SARs contemplate passing on of appreciation in the value of a certain number of equity shares to employees.

The Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act) did not have any specific provision to tax such income; specific provisions were introduced in 1999 to provide for taxation of benefits provided by an employer to its employees under share benefit rewards. From 1999 onwards, Section 17(2) of the IT Act specifies the payments that come within the ambit of ‘salary’ and ‘perquisites’, and covers benefits available to employees therefrom.

For the period prior to 1999, the issue of taxability of amounts received from various employee benefit programmes, including amounts received from the redemption of SARs, was always under dispute. The special bench of the Mumbai Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in the case of Sumit Bhattacharya[1] held that the amount received on redemption of SARs should be taxable as salary because it was an employment related benefit, in the nature of deferred wages, bonuses or incentives received as a fruit of employment. However, the issue remained inconclusive and litigious. The Supreme Court (SC) appears to have settled this issue in the case of Bharat V. Patel[2], wherein it has been held that the amount received on account of SARs redemption prior to amendment to section 17(2) would not be taxed as salaries.


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Putting to rest the speculation surrounding the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with Singapore, the Government of India has finally announced that it has been revised. This announcement was made on December 30, 2016, and the text of the new protocol amending the India-Singapore DTAA (Protocol) has since been made available. The Protocol is along expected lines on the taxation of capital gains front. But, surprisingly, it has not granted incentives on taxation of interest income and Singapore based investors would be at a significant disadvantage as compared to Mauritius based investors.

KEY REVISIONS TO THE DTAA

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