Income Tax

Educational Institutes Carrying Activities for Profit Can’t Claim Sec. 10(23C) Exemption; SC Follows New Noble Ruling

calendar02 Jul, 2023
timeReading Time: 8 Minutes
Income Tax Act

Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act provides for the exemption of income earned by certain categories of entities. The purpose of this provision is to encourage the growth and development of organizations engaged in activities that are considered socially desirable, such as education, healthcare, scientific research, and charitable activities. This section provides exemptions from income tax for entities that meet certain eligibility criteria and are engaged in activities that are deemed to be of public importance. In this article, we will focus specifically on the eligibility criteria for educational institutions and the recent Supreme Court ruling related to educational institutions engaging in profit-making activities.

Eligibility criteria for claiming exemption under Section 10(23C)

To be eligible for exemption under Section 10(23C), an entity must meet certain conditions. The following are the eligibility criteria for claiming exemption under this section:

  • The entity must be a “not-for-profit” organization.
  • The activities of the entity must be aimed at promoting education, healthcare, scientific research, or other activities that are of public importance.
  • The income generated by the entity must be used solely for the purpose of promoting these activities.
  • The entity must be registered as a trust, society, or non-profit company under the relevant laws.
  • The entity must not engage in any activity that is commercial or profit-making in nature.

If an entity meets these criteria, it may be eligible for exemption under Section 10(23C) and can apply to the tax authorities for the same. However, recent rulings by the Supreme Court have clarified that entities engaged in profit-making activities are not eligible for this exemption.

Educational institutions carrying on activities for profit

As per the recent Supreme Court ruling, educational institutions engaged in profit-making activities are not eligible for exemption under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act. This ruling was based on the precedent set by the New Noble Educational Society case, where the Supreme Court had held that educational institutions that engage in commercial activities for profit cannot claim exemption under this section.

The court has clarified that the primary purpose of educational institutions should be to provide education and promote knowledge, and any activities that are undertaken for profit-making purposes are not in line with this objective. Therefore, entities engaged in such activities cannot be considered to be carrying out activities of public importance and cannot claim exemption under Section 10(23C).

It is important for educational institutions to carefully evaluate their activities and ensure that they are in line with the eligibility criteria for claiming exemption under Section 10(23C). Any profit-making activities may jeopardize their eligibility for exemption and result in significant tax implications.

New Noble case law

The New Noble Educational Society case law was a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of India that clarified the eligibility criteria for claiming exemption under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act. The case involved an educational society that was engaged in commercial activities for profit, and the question before the court was whether such an entity could claim exemption under Section 10(23C).

The Supreme Court held that the primary purpose of educational institutions should be to provide education and promote knowledge, and any activities that are undertaken for profit-making purposes are not in line with this objective. Therefore, entities engaged in such activities cannot be considered to be carrying out activities of public importance and cannot claim exemption under Section 10(23C).

This ruling has significant implications for educational institutions that engage in profit-making activities. Such entities may no longer be eligible for exemption under Section 10(23C) and may be subject to tax liability. It is important for educational institutions to carefully evaluate their activities and ensure that they are in line with the eligibility criteria for claiming exemption under this section.

Factors considered by the Supreme Court

In the New Noble case, the Supreme Court considered several factors in determining whether an educational institution engaged in commercial activities for profit could claim exemption under Section 10(23C). Some of these factors include:

  • Primary purpose of the institution:

The Court held that the primary purpose of educational institutions should be to provide education and promote knowledge. Any activities that are undertaken for profit-making purposes are not in line with this objective.

  • Degree of profit-making activities:

The Court also considered the extent to which the institution was engaged in commercial activities for profit. If the institution’s activities were predominantly profit-making in nature, it would not be considered to be carrying out activities of public importance.

  • Use of profits:

The Court also examined how the profits earned by the institution were being used. If the profits were being utilized solely for the benefit of the institution and its members, it would indicate that the institution was being run for private gain rather than public good.

  • Control and management:

The Court also considered the control and management of the institution. If the institution was being controlled and managed by individuals who had a commercial interest in the activities of the institution, it would suggest that the institution was being run for private gain rather than public good.

Overall, the Supreme Court’s decision in the New Noble case underscores the importance of ensuring that educational institutions are primarily focused on providing education and promoting knowledge, rather than engaging in profit-making activities.

Impact of the ruling: An overview of the impact of the ruling on educational institutions engaging in profit-making activities.

  • The New Noble case has significant implications for educational institutions that engage in profit-making activities. The Supreme Court’s ruling means that educational institutions cannot claim exemption under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act if they are primarily engaged in commercial activities for profit.
  • This ruling effectively bars many educational institutions from claiming exemption under Section 10(23C) if they are operating for profit-making purposes. It also creates a clear distinction between institutions that are operating for the public good and those that are operating for private gain.
  • The ruling may lead to increased scrutiny of educational institutions by tax authorities to ensure that they are not engaging in commercial activities for profit. Institutions that are found to be engaging in such activities may face significant tax liabilities and penalties.
  • Educational institutions that are currently engaged in profit-making activities will need to review their operations and ensure that they are primarily focused on providing education and promoting knowledge, rather than generating profits. They may also need to restructure their operations to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Overall, the New Noble case highlights the need for educational institutions to carefully consider their operations and ensure that they are aligned with their primary objective of promoting education and knowledge, rather than generating profits.

Alternatives to claiming exemption under Section 10(23C):

The New Noble case has made it clear that educational institutions cannot claim exemption under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act if they are primarily engaged in commercial activities for profit. However, there are alternative ways for educational institutions to reduce their tax liabilities and comply with the law:

  • Registering as a non-profit organization:

Educational institutions can register as a non-profit organization under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013. This will allow them to operate as a non-profit entity and claim tax exemption under Section 11 of the Income Tax Act.

  • Setting up a separate entity for profit-making activities:

Educational institutions can set up a separate entity for profit-making activities. This will ensure that the educational institution itself is primarily focused on providing education and promoting knowledge, while the separate entity can engage in commercial activities for profit.

  • Restructuring operations:

Educational institutions can restructure their operations to ensure that they are primarily focused on providing education and promoting knowledge, rather than generating profits. This may involve reducing or eliminating profit-making activities or separating them from the educational institution.

  • Compliance with other tax laws:

Educational institutions can ensure that they comply with other tax laws, such as Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Transfer Pricing regulations, to reduce their tax liabilities and avoid penalties.

Overall, educational institutions must carefully consider their operations and ensure that they are aligned with their primary objective of promoting education and knowledge. By complying with the law and adopting alternative strategies, they can reduce their tax liabilities and continue to operate in a financially sustainable manner.

There are several landmark case laws related to income tax in India:-

  • Azadi Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India (2003):

This case established the principle of ‘treaty shopping,’ where Indian companies can take advantage of tax treaties signed between India and other countries to avoid paying taxes in either country.

  • McDowell & Co. Ltd. vs. Commercial Tax Officer (1985):

This case established the principle of ‘substance over form,’ which means that tax authorities should look beyond the legal form of a transaction to determine its true substance and intent for the purpose of taxation.

  • Vodafone International Holdings BV vs. Union of India (2012):

This case dealt with the issue of taxation of cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and the applicability of Indian tax laws to transactions that take place outside India.

  • Commissioner of Income Tax vs. B.C. Srinivasa Setty (1981):

This case established the principle of ‘real income,’ which means that income tax should be levied on the real income earned by an individual or a business, and not on hypothetical or notional income.

  • New Delhi Television Ltd. vs. Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax (2003):

This case established the principle of ‘principled approach,’ which means that tax authorities should adopt a consistent and principled approach while interpreting tax laws, rather than resorting to arbitrary or ad-hoc interpretations.

These landmark cases have had a significant impact on the interpretation and enforcement of tax laws in India, and continue to influence tax policy and practice in the country.

In recent years, there has been increasing scrutiny on the activities of educational institutions in India, particularly those that engage in profit-making activities. This scrutiny has led to several court cases that have clarified the eligibility criteria for claiming tax exemptions under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act.

One of the most significant of these cases is the New Noble Public School case, which was decided by the Delhi High Court in 2001. In this case, the court held that educational institutions that engage in profit-making activities are not eligible for tax exemptions under Section 10(23C).

The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this ruling in the case of Aditanar Educational Institution v. Addl. CIT (2021). In this case, the court held that “if an educational institution carries on the activity of imparting education and at the same time carries on business activity for the furtherance of its object of education and earns profit from such activity, then such profit cannot be said to be incidental to the carrying on of its educational activity.”

The court further stated that the primary purpose of an educational institution must be the imparting of education, and any profit-making activities must be incidental to this purpose. If an educational institution’s primary purpose is found to be the pursuit of profit, it cannot claim tax exemptions under Section 10(23C).

The impact of this ruling is significant, as many educational institutions in India engage in profit-making activities such as running shops, canteens, and other businesses. Such institutions will no longer be able to claim tax exemptions under Section 10(23C) for income earned from these activities.

In light of this ruling, educational institutions that engage in profit-making activities will need to reassess their tax positions and explore alternative tax planning strategies. One option may be to restructure their activities to ensure that their primary purpose remains the imparting of education, with any profit-making activities being truly incidental to this purpose.

Overall, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Aditanar Educational Institution v. Addl. CIT serves as a reminder of the importance of careful tax planning and compliance for educational institutions in India. Institutions that engage in profit-making activities must be particularly vigilant in ensuring that their tax positions are in compliance with the law, or risk facing penalties and other legal consequences.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the recent Supreme Court ruling on Section 10(23C) exemption for educational institutions carrying activities for profit has significant implications for such institutions. Educational institutions engaged in profit-making activities may no longer be eligible for tax exemptions under Section 10(23C) of the Income Tax Act, unless they can demonstrate that the profits are being used for the advancement of education or for other charitable purposes.

However, there are alternative provisions under the Income Tax Act that may provide tax benefits to educational institutions. It is important for educational institutions to comply with tax regulations and seek professional advice to ensure that they are availing themselves of all available tax benefits while avoiding any potential tax liabilities.

The ruling also has broader implications for tax laws and the interpretation of tax provisions in India. The case highlights the importance of clear and unambiguous legislative drafting to avoid ambiguity and disputes. The impact of the ruling on educational institutions and tax laws will be closely watched in the future.

Read Our Article: Exemptions To Trusts: Everything You Need To Know About Section 11 Of Income Tax Act

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