‘Tax’ means ‘the money that is to be paid to the State; charged as a proportion of personal income and business profits or added to cost of some goods and services’ ‘ Income’ means ‘a money received during a certain period for work or from investment.’ “Agriculture’, on the other hand, means ‘a science or practice of farming.’ ‘Tax on income’ is thus money to be paid on the profits earned by any person or organization for works or investment, while; ‘Tax on agricultural income’ is ‘the money that is to be paid on profit earned on the practice of farming.’
‘Tax on income’ is a subject, administered by the Government of India (Central Govt.) through the machineries at its disposal. Article 246(1) of the Constitution of India (Constitution) empowered Parliament to make enactment of laws on the subjects, specified in the Seventh Schedule- List I (Union List). ‘Tax on income other than agricultural income’, as occurred in entry 82 of the said Schedule is thus a tax to be levied by the Central Government for the purpose of augmentation of the Central revenue. In fact, the measure of tax on income in India was introduced in British Parliament long back in 1860 to bear the economic burden on account of armed revolution of the First War of Independence against the British regime. The reasonableness of such measure of income tax adopted, were assigned as : it is a (i) canon of ability for paying such tax; (ii) canon of certainty; (iii) canon of convenience and (iv)canon of economy. There was, however, no such tax from 1865-67 due to cropping up acute public murmuring. The Income Tax Act, 1886 was brought out to build- up licence tax. The Income Tax Act, adopted in 1922 ( IT Act)continued to be operative in post independent period too. After the Constitution took birth on January, 26th, 1950, the said law continued to be operative with the safe guard provided in Article 277 (Savings clause) of the Constitution. The Income Tax Act was remodeled and it was passed in the House of Parliament in September, 1961 and the Indian Income Tax Act, 1961 (Income Act) thus came into effect in continuation of the previous one. It is, in fact, a tax only on income, profits or gains and not on the capital, whether original, substituted or increased. The salient features are, therefore, - (i) income tax is only a charge on income and not the capital; (ii) the method of charging tax on income and capital gains is different; (iii) in computing the taxable income of a business, profession or vocation, only the revenue expenditure and not the capital expenditure is deducted from the trading profits.
‘Tax on agricultural income’, is a subject, administered by the State Governments through the tax machineries of the State. In 1925 the Indian Taxation Enquiry Commission opined the justification of creating a measure of tax on agricultural income, but the same was not readily materialized due some obvious difficulties. The Government of India Act, 1935 as well incorporated an entry No. 41 in the Seventh Schedule of Provincial Legislative List to facilitate introduction of tax measure on ‘agricultural income’. The measure of tax on agricultural income was thus introduced, which had the consequential effect that “The Assam Agricultural Income Tax Act, 1939” (Agricultural Act) was enacted by the then provincial Legislatures of Assam and the said Act became operative from the 1st April, 1939. After India attained the dignity of a Democratic, Republic Nation on the 26th January, 1950, the entry No. 46 incorporated in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution provided power to the Legislatures of the State to enact law on the ‘Taxes on agricultural income tax’. As a matter of fact, the 1939 Act was already operative and it continued to be operative by virtue of the said provision read with Article 277 of the Constitution. It is worthy to mention that within this long spell of 70 years, a number of amendments of the Act took place in consideration of the administrative needs in the interest of public service..
‘Tax on income’, as defined in clause (29) of Article 366 of the Constitution ‘includes a tax on the nature of an excess profits tax’, ‘ Agricultural income’ as defined in clause (1) of the said Article means ‘agricultural income, as defined for the purpose of the enactments relating to Indian income tax.’ The Constitution thus maintained silence so as to provide independent and categorical definition on the term ‘agricultural income’, implying thereby that, it is dependent on the Income Tax Act. The definition in the Income Tax Act, inter-alia, laid down that ‘the income that is derived from the land of agriculture’. The tax on income and the tax on agricultural income are levied on the income derived in the previous year, subject to deduction of the amount, admissible under the relevant Acts out of the total quantum of income derived.
Though the main purpose of the agricultural Act is that, it is a tax on agricultural income, but a unique deviation has been made in the matter of determination of the quantum of the agricultural income of tea. The Income derived from tea is to be bifurcated into two. That is on income of agricultural activities and that of on trade activities. The ratio thereof was specified as 60 : 40- that is, 60 percent on agricultural income and 40 percent on trade income. This principle is exclusively maintained in case of the income of the agricultural product ‘tea’ only and not on other products like paddy, pulses, wheat, sugar- cane etc. where also simultaneously the question of both agricultural and trading activities are involved. There are good numbers of tea gardens in Assam exceeding 45, 000 in numbers with 700 to 800 numbers of industrial establishments. The former produces green tea laves, while the latter finished products, the black tea. In fact, the green tea tea leaves are sold to the industrial establishments, while the black tea in the State or out of the State in the course of inter-State trade or commerce.
The sales of green tea leaves are exempted from tax under the Assam Value Added Tax Act, 2003 (VAT Act) vide entry No. 41 in the First Schedule. The quantitative production of green tea, on the other hand, is taken into account for the purpose of levy of tax on tea garden lands, with the measuring scale of production of green tea leaves in smaller tea gardens, It is note worthy to state in the connection that the Legislatures of Assam incorporated the following provisions in the Assam Taxation On Specified Lands Act, 1990 (SPL Act)with effect from the 12th day of February, 2009
“Section 6A- Every person engaged in manufacture of tea and responsible for making any payment or discharging any liability on account of any amount purported to be the full or any part payment of sale price or consideration of purchase of green tea leaf, shall, at the time of credit to the account of or payment to the seller of such amount in cash, by cheque, by adjustment or in any manner, whatsoever, deduct tax calculated at the rate of 20 paise per kilogram and deposit the same in the State Exchequer in the same manner, as may be prescribed.” [The rate of tax was enhanced at 25 paise per Kilogram with effect from the 29th April, 2010”]
This apparently reflect that a tax is to be payable in a direct or indirect way on the sale or purchase of green tea leaves not on advelorem basis, but on weight basis, though, in fact, the VAT Act clearly restricted it.
The measure of tax, adopted in this behalf seems to be out side the scope of the VAT law in as much as the sales and purchase of green tea leaves are exempted from sales tax in Assam. The restriction to levy of 100% tax on the income of tea, therefore, obviously created an acute set-back in the revenue generation exercise of the State in as much as 40% of tax on such income is poured to the Central Coffer in the name of income on trade activities. In fact, tea industry is one of the few limited industries of Assam. Hence, a rethinking is necessary to maintain disparity in respect of other agricultural products to restore the fiscal equilibrium. The State Government may initiate dialogue with the Central Government on this issue, if considered necessary.
The Agricultural Act continued to be operative for long 72 years provided ample power to the said tax authorities to administer the Act including the levy of tax and other allied matters. Over the head of such vested quasi-judicial power, the exclusive power of determination of the quantum of total income and bifurcation thereof for agricultural income by the income tax authorities, is obviously a double standard vision in the power exercise scenario of the Agricultural Act. It is, no doubt, an irrational and a pre-judicious projection in the matter of levy of tax on agricultural income. Rule 5 framed under the said Act provided some discretionary power to the State taxing authority for scrutiny and examination on such determination and bifurcation in such cases, when circumstances warranted so. The Supreme Court of India, however, quashed the validity of the said State rule. The State tax authorities are thus to remain cipher and to act like rubber stamps on the unitary decision of the central authorities. The quasi-judicial aspect in the agricultural Act has been nullified thereby.
The Head Offices of limited numbers of industries, like tea industries, oil industries, coal industries, jute merchants etc.of Assam are mostly located at places out side the State of Assam. The taxes on income are generally deposited by such industrial entrepreneurs in the income tax territorial jurisdiction of such Head Offices. The concerned States in which such tax income tax revenue deposits use to get share of income tax, as envisaged in Article 270(2) of the Constitution. Assam is thus deprived of such benefit even though the base of production, manufacturing and trade activities fall within the territorial jurisdiction of Assam.
The sensitive sons of the soil of Assam, therefore, urge upon the Government of Assam to consider all this vital aspects and play a pivotal role for its suitable solution at this stage keeping in mind that a spark neglected may burn the house.