Decided on September 10,1954



- (1.)THE question that arises on this reference is the liability of an agent to be assessed to tax on behalf of the principal. It appears that the assessee who was a non-resident in the assessment year 1943-44 was carrying on his own individual business in Bombay. He acted as Commission agent of Messrs. A. N. Guna Shenoy and Bros. who are the non-resident principals, and as such commission agent in the assessment year he sent to Mattancherry in the Cochin State, where Messrs. A. N. Guna Shenoy and Bros. were carrying on business, goods of the value of Rs. 3,56,990. These goods were supplied from time to time in the course of the assessment year. The Income tax Department treated the assessee as the agent of Messrs. A. N. Guna Shenoy and Bros. and assessed him to tax in respect of the income of Messrs. A. N. Guna Shenoy and Bros. and this reference raises the question of the liability of the agent to be assessed in respect of income of this firm of Messrs. A. N. Guna Shenoy and Bros.
(2.)THE first contention raised by Mr. Palkivala is that inasmuch as the assessee is a non-resident he cannot be appointed the agent of another non-resident. According to Mr. Palkhivala, the scheme of Sections 42 and 43 is that where income accrues to a non-resident and that income is liable to tax, inasmuch as the Income tax Department cannot get at the non-resident the Act provides for a machinery where by a resident cant be appointed agent and the tax can be recovered from him on the income belonging to the principal. Turning to these two sections, Section 42 refers to certain income which is deemed to be income accruing or arising within the taxable territories, and one kind of income which is referred to in Section 42 is income accruing or arising, whether directly or indirectly, through or from any business connection in the taxable territories. With regard to this income where the person entitled to the income is not resident in the taxable territories, the income may be chargeable to income tax either in his name or in the name of his agent, and in the later case such agent shall be deemed to be, for all purposes of this Act, the assessee in respect of such income tax. Therefore Section 42 deals with the liability of a person to pay tax in respect of certain kinds of income which notionally arises or accrues in the taxable territories. That section also imposes a vicarious liability upon his agent and it further provides that the tax may be recovered either from the person whose income it is or from the agent. Turning to Section 43 it lays down which persons can be treated as agents for the purpose of recovering tax under Section 42, and this section provides :
Any person employed by or on behalf of a person residing out of the taxable territories, or having any business connection with such person, or through whom such person is in receipt of any income, profits or gains upon whom the Income-tax officer has caused a notice to be served of his intention of treating him as the agent of the non-resident person shall, for all the purposes of his Act, be deemed to be such agent.

(3.)NOW, the first signature of this section is that the Legislature has not placed any limitation qualification upon the person who can be treated as an agent under section if he satisfies the conditions laid down in that section. The Legislature could well have provided that only a person resident within the taxable territories can be treated as an agent. The Legislature has not chosen to do so, and there is no cannon of construction, even a canon of construction applying to taxing statutes, which can persuade us to hold that although the Legislature has used clear language in Section 43 we must put a certain limitation upon that language. If there is any doubt or ambiguity as to liability to pay tax, then certainly the Court will construe a taxing statute in favour of the subject. But there is no question here of any doubt as to liability to tax. That liability is determined by Section 42. What Mr. Palkhivala wants us to do is to take the view that the Legislature wanted it impose this liability only upon a certain section of persons and not upon another section of persons. In other words, Mr. Palkhivala says that ordinarily the Taxing Department would only try to recover tax through an agent who is resident. Very likely he is right. But the possibility of a non-resident as an agent, because if Mr. Palkhivala is right his argument must go to the length of suggesting that there is a prohibition in Section 43 against the appointment of a non-resident by the Department as an agent. Mr. Palkhivala says that the Legislature must have contemplate that only residents would be employed as agents. We see no such indication in Section 43 at all. The only indication that we see and the only indication we are prepared to act upon is that the Legislature was anxious that the revenue to be realised by the tax imposed under Section 42 should be realised by some means or other and the Legislature was entirely indifferent if the Taxing Department could realise that revenue by appointing a non-resident as agent in preference to a resident. It is entirely for the Department to decide which person they would treat as an agent. Therefore, in our opinion, there is nothing in Section 43 itself to justify the contention put forward by Mr. Palkhivala that only a resident can be treated an agent for the purpose of Section 43.

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