Leave Travel Allowance is not for foreign travel says Supreme Court
Fact and Issue of the Case
The appellant (State Bank of India) has challenged the judgment dated 13.01.2020 passed by a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court which has dismissed the appeal filed by the appellant and upheld the order passed by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) dated 09.07.2019, holding the appellant as an assessee in default for the Assessment Year (AY) 2013- 14, for not deducting TDS of its employees.
The question which has fallen for consideration is whether the appellant was in default for not deducting tax at source while releasing payments to its employees as Leave Travel Concession (LTC)
Observation of the court
It can be seen from the records that many of the employees of the appellants had undertaken travel to Port Blair via Malaysia, Singapore or Port Blair via Bangkok, Malaysia or Rameswaram via Mauritius or Madurai via Dubai, Thailand and Port Blair via Europe etc. It is very difficult to appreciate as to how the appellant who is the assessee-employer could have failed to take into account this aspect. This was the elephant in the room.
The contention of the Appellant that there is no specific bar under Section 10(5) for a foreign travel and therefore a foreign journey can be availed as long as the starting and destination points remain within India is also without merits. LTC is for travel within India, from one place in India to another place in India. There should be no ambiguity on this. The second argument urged by the appellant that payments made to these employees was of the shortest route of their actual travel cannot be accepted either. It has already been clarified above, that in view of the provisions of the Act, the moment employees undertake travel with a foreign leg, it is not a travel within India and hence not covered under the provisions of Section 10(5) of the Act.
A foreign travel also frustrates the basic purpose of LTC. The basic objective of the LTC scheme was to familiarise a civil servant or a Government employee to gain some perspective of Indian culture by traveling in this vast country. It is for this reason that the 6th Pay Commission rejected the demand of paying cash compensation in lieu of LTC and also rejected the demand of foreign travel.
The aforementioned order passed by the CIT(A) has rightly held that the obligation of deducting tax is distinct from payment of tax. The appellant cannot claim ignorance about the travel plans of its employees as during settlement of LTC Bills the complete facts are available before the assessee about the details of their employees’ travels. Therefore, it cannot be a case of bonafide mistake, as all the relevant facts were before the Assessee employer and he was therefore fully in a position to calculate the ‘estimated income’ of its employees. The contention of Shri K.V. Vishwanathan, learned senior advocate that there may be a bonafide mistake by the assessee-employer in calculating the ‘estimated income’ cannot be accepted since all the relevant documents and material were before the assessee- employer at the relevant time and the assessee employer therefore ought to have applied his mind and deducted tax at source as it was his statutory duty, under Section 192(1) of the Act.
The court dismissed the appeal and ruled against the appellant as it did not find any reason to interfere with the order passed by the Delhi High Court which holds the appellant as an assessee in default for the Assessment Year (AY) 2013- 14, for not deducting TDS of its employees13239_2020_8_1501_39468_Judgement_04-Nov-2022-2