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    New Law Under Service Tax -The Age Of Old Canon And The Paradox

    Introduction:

     

    Section 66B provides for levy of service tax on services provided or agreed to be provided. On the other hand, we have Rule 5 of the Point of Taxation Rules, 2011(POT Rules) which can extend its arms to tax even those services which are provided prior to effective date of levy but the amount is received afterwards. Swacch Bharat Cess (SBC) and Krishi Kalyan Cess(KKC) are two levies that are newly introduced in recent past. A lot of confusion is prevailing in the trade whether Rule 5 can extend its arms to tax services already provided. Recently a notification is issued to exempt KKC for all services provided and invoices issued on or before 31st May, 2016.Is it required to really exempt these services by Notification? What is the rationale in extending this exemption only for KKC and not so when SBC is introduced? In this backdrop, an attempt is made to really under the nature of levy under section 66B and validity of Rule 5 in light the said section.

     

    Rule 5 of the POT Rules and its ramifications on literal interpretation:

     

    Rule 5 of the POT Rules is reproduced as under;

     

    “Where a service is taxed for the first time, then,-

     

    • no tax shall be payable to the extent the invoice has been issued and the payment received against such invoice before such service became taxable;

     

    • no tax shall be payable if the payment has been received before the service becomes taxable and invoice has been issued within fourteen days of the date when the service is taxed for the first time.

     

    Explanation 1.- This rule shall apply mutatis mutandis in case of new levy on services.

     

    Explanation 2.- New levy or tax shall be payable on all the cases other than specified above (inserted recently with effect from 01.03.2016)”

     

    In terms of the above rule read with newly inserted explanation 2, new levy is applicable except in the two circumstances stated therein i.e.

     

    1. invoice issued and payment received before the effective date of new levy and

     

    1. Payment is received before the effective date of new levy and invoice is issued within 15 days after the levy became effective.

     

     

    Let us consider the impact of this rule assuming a new levy is effective from 01st June, 2016 with the following examples;

     

    1. The service is completed by May 15th, 2016 and invoice is issued on June 01st 2016. Payment for the service is received on June 20th, 2016. In terms of Rule 5,new levy is applicable as payment and invoice are after the effective date of new levy.

     

    1. Advance received in the month of May 15th and invoice raised immediately on the same date. But service provision is started on 15th of June, 2016 and completed by 30th of June 2016. As first condition is satisfied, new levy is not applicable though the service is provided after the levy coming into force.

     

    • Service is provided in December 2015 and invoice is raised in the same month. Payment is received on 16th June 2016. The service is provided and invoice issued at the time when the levy of service tax is never contemplated. On plain reading of Rule 5, as payment is not yet received, it can be interpreted that new levy is applicable on all outstanding debtors as on 31st May, 2016 which gets realized on or after 01.06.2016.

     

    It is because of this reason, notification 35/2016-ST dated 23.06.2016 is issued to exempt from KKC all the services which are provided on or before 31.05.2016 and invoice is issued to that extent. But the whole issue raises the following questions;

     

    1. What would be the position for cases, where invoices are not yet issued but services are provided before 31.05.2016?

     

    1. Is it really required to exempt KKC by a notification on services provided upto 31.05.2016 i.e. services provided before the effective date of levy?

     

    1. How logical/prudent it is in not demanding anytax on services provided after the effective date of levy just because payment is received in advance before the effective date of levy?

     

    1. What would be the position in case of SBC which is introduced with effect from 15.11.2015?

     

    In order to find solutions to the above posers, it is pertinent to understand the moot question i.e. what is the taxable event under Finance Act, 1994 to attract service tax?

     

    Understanding Taxable Event under Finance Act, 1994:

     

    Every taxing statute contains a section which provides for event upon satisfaction of which the respective tax becomes payable by authority of law. This is popularly called charging section and the event is said to be taxable event. The taxable event for excise duty is manufacture of goods and for VAT, it is sale of goods.

     

    Thus in a case where taxable event is not satisfied or the charging section (Law) is not in force at the time when the taxable event occurred, then no tax is leviable as per the said taxing statute. In this regard, let us now examine the charging section under Finance Act, 1994. Under erstwhile positive based taxation, the charging section is section 65(105) of the Finance Act, 1994 and under the present negative list based taxation regime, it is section 66B. The same are reproduced as under;

     

     

     

     

    Section 66B effective from 01.07.2012

     

    Section 65(105) upto 30.06.2012

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    There shall be levied a tax (hereinafter referred to as the

     

    "taxable  service"  means  any  service

    service tax) at the rate of fourteen per cent on the value of

    provided or to be provided….

    all services, other than those services specified in the

     

     

     

     

    negative list, provided or agreed to be provided in the

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    taxable territory by one person to another and collected

     

     

     

     

    in such manner as may be prescribed

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    On plain reading of the above two charging sections under Finance Act, 1994, both the sections are using more or less similar phrase ‘provided or agreed to be provided’ and ‘provided or to be provided’. Even upon strict interpretation of provisions, there is no difference between the two. Thus the judicial precedents on new levy of service tax under erstwhile regime can also be considered for determining the chargeable event under the current regime.

     

    Coming to interpretation of charging section, there are two phrases in the charging section. One is ‘provided’ and the other one is ‘to be provided’ or ‘agreed to be provided’. The first phrase ‘service is provided’ which means that provision of service is completed. The second phrase ‘to be provided’ is added in levy section after the words ‘provided’ during the Finance Budget, 2005. It has been then clarified that the objective of the amendment is to collect service tax on the advances received for the services to be provided in future.

     

    Though the charging section is amended to tax the advances received immediately without waiting for the services to be completed, it is just a conditional collection of tax amount and in case where service provider failed to provide the service, the same is required to be returned. Without the service being provided, question of collection of service tax do not arise. This legislative intent is clearly evident from provisions of Rule 6(3) of the Service Tax Rules, 2004 as reproduced below;

     

    “Where an assessee has issued an invoice, or received any payment, against a service to be provided which is not so provided by him either wholly or partially for any reason, or where the amount of invoice is renegotiated due to deficient provision of service, or any terms contained in a contract, the assessee may take the credit of such excess service tax paid by him, if the assessee.-

     

    • has refunded the payment or part thereof, so received for the service provided to the person from whom it was received; or

     

    • has issued a credit note for the value of the service not so provided to the person to whom such an invoice had been issued”

     

    In view of the above rule, assesse is entitled to take credit of service tax amount paid on advances received if the service is not provided either wholly or partly. In case where it is not practicable for him to take credit of service tax and adjust against future liabilities, he can claim refund also. The principle that when no service is provided eventually, Government is not entitled to retain service tax paid on advance receipts has been upheld by Mumbai tribunal in the case of Datamatics Software P Ltd vs. CST, 2014-35-CESTAT-Mum.

     

     

    Thus upon plain reading of charging section and other provisions of Finance Act, 1994 and the rules made thereunder, it is very clear that the taxable event is the provision of service. Though service tax is collected by Government immediately upon receipt of advance, it is only a conditional collection. Only upon completion of service, the levy gets crystalised thereby Government gets the right to unconditionally retain such service tax. The question of taxable event and the issue relating to liability to pay service tax in case of new levy are considered in various judicial forums. Some of them are reproduced hereunder;

     

    1. In the case of Association of Leasing & Financial Service Companies vs. UOI, 2010(20)S.T.R417(SC) wherein it was held by Supreme Court that the taxable event for service tax is the rendition of service.

     

    1. In the case of CCE vs. Krishna Coaching Institute, 2009(014)STR0018(Tri-Del) wherein payments were received in advance for the services yet to be rendered. Service tax levy was in force at the time when service is rendered. it was held “The respondent has no vested right to collect in advance the fees for conducting the training programme to be conducted after 1-7-2003. The main obligation to pay tax arises out of Finance Act, 2003 and the service has been brought into tax nets by Notification No. 7/2003-S.T. dated 20-6-03 with effect from 1-7-03. This main obligation cannot be altered by subsidiary obligation like taking registration as an assessee, issuing invoices, filing returns etc. Even if the amount is collected in advance, it is not impracticable to raise an invoice indicating the service charges (noting that the amount already stands paid) and indicating service tax payable.”

     

    1. In the case of British Airways PLC vs. CST, 2013(29)STR177(Tri-Del) wherein the appellant contended that as levy was not in force at the time when tickets are sold, service tax payment do not arise though services are provided after the levy i.e. 01.05.2016. It was held that—“the levy of Service Tax has no connection with the receipt of payment and the service tax is required to be paid when the service is provided. Since all tickets though sold prior to 1-5-2006 journey was undertaken on and after 1-5-2006 and at the time of journey undertaken the levy of service tax on the amount of taxable service was in force and, therefore, the appellant is liable to pay the service tax on the air tickets sold by them prior to 1-5-2006 also.”

     

    In view of the above analysis, in the opinion of paper writer the taxable event under Section 66B or Section 65(105) is the rendition of service. At the time when service is provided, if the levy is in force, service tax gets attracted. It is not relevant whether or not money is received before or after the levy is in force. The said principle is in complete contrast to Rule 5 of POT Rules which provides that levy is applicable and tax is payable in all cases except in cases where amounts for the services are received prior to the effective date of levy. No importance is given to rendition of service.

     

    Is Rule 5 a case of excess utilisation of delegation power?

     

    Point of Taxation Rules, 2011 is introduced with effect from 01.04.2011 with two fold purpose i.e. to determine the time when service tax is required to be paid as provided under Rule 6(1) of the Service Tax Rules, 1994 and also to provide for the rate at which such service tax is to be paid as provided under sub-section 2 of section 67A of Finance Act, 1994.

     

     

    Thus the power extended to Central Government to frame the rules is to achieve the above stated objectives and not to make the levy applicable to services provided much before the charging section is introduced or to exempt services for which payment is made before levy but services are provided after the levy. Further no such express power is conferred in terms of section 94 of Finance Act, 1994 which provides the rule making power to Central Government. Thus in the opinion of paper writer Rule 5 of the POT Rules is clearly traversing the charging section and is excess utilisation of its delegated power under the guising prescribing the time when service tax is to be paid.

     

    Conclusion:

     

    Before parting, it is very clear from the fact of issuance of notification to exempt KKC that the rule is having a direct conflict with the charging section. Otherwise there is no reason to exempt them from KKC. Similar exemption is not provided with SBC is introduced. It seems that Government has identified the flaw but wanted to give just a temporary solution to the problem without thinking of amending or withdrawing the Rule 5. Further certain assesses who receives advances before the levy is introduced but services are provided subsequently would get unjust advantage as they need not have to pay service tax by virtue of Rule 5. Thus arbitrary and indifferent treatment prevails amongst the service providers and continues every time when a new levy is introduced. Let us hope that sooner or later the age-old canon(taxable event is rendition of service) is endured clearing the paradox on applicability of service tax in case of new levy.

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