Clarification on Interest Income received by a Non Resident

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The provisions of section 5 of the Act provide for scope of total income for the purposes of its chargeability to tax. In case of a non-resident person, the chargeability of income in India is on the basis of source rule under which certain categories of income are deemed to accrue or arise in India. The existing provisions of section 9 provide for the circumstances under which income is deemed to accrue or arise in India. Section 9(1) (v) relates specifically to the interest income. The said clause provides that the income by way of interest is deemed to accrue or arise in India if it is payable byβ€”

(a) the Government ; or

(b) a person who is a resident, except where the interest is payable in respect of any debt incurred, or moneys borrowed and used, for the purposes of a business or profession carried on by such person outside India or for the purposes of making or earning any income from any source outside India ; or

(c) a person who is a non-resident, where the interest is payable in respect of any debt incurred, or moneys borrowed and used, for the purposes of a business or profession carried on by such person in India.

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Section 90 of the Act provides that Central Government may enter into an agreement with the Government of any country or specified territory outside India among other things for providing relief from double taxation. India has entered into Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) with 92 countries. Further sub-section (2) of the said section provides that in respect of an assessee to whom such DTAA applies, the provisions of the Act shall apply to the extent they are more beneficial to him. Therefore, the taxpayer is entitled to relief from the provisions of the Act if such relief is available under the DTAA and to that extent the provisions of the Act are not applicable.

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Further, income of a non-resident from business activity is taxable in India if it has a business connection in India in accordance with the provisions contained in section 9(1)(i) and only such income is taxable as is attributable to the business connection. Similarly, under the DTAA income from business activity in the case of a non-resident shall be taxable only if such non-resident has a permanent establishment (PE) in India and only such income is taxable which is attributable to the PE. The concept of PE is almost on similar lines as business connection with variations as per different DTAAs. The DTAA further provides the manner of computation of income attributable to the PE. It is provided that for the purpose of computation of income the PE shall be deemed to be an independent enterprise with certain restrictions regarding allowability of expense paid to head office by the PE. Under DTAAs in case of a banking company the interest paid by a PE to its head office and other branches is allowed as deduction treating such a permanent establishment as an independent enterprise.

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The CBDT, in its Circular No. 740 dated 17/4/1996 had clarified that branch of a foreign company in India is a separate entity for the purpose of taxation under the Act and accordingly TDS provisions would apply along with separate taxation of interest paid to head office or other branches of the non-resident, which would be chargeable to tax in India.

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Some of the judicial rulings in this context have held that although under the provisions of the Income-tax law the payment of interest by the branch to head office is non-deductible under domestic law being payment to the self, however, such interest is deductible due to computation mechanism provided under the DTAA but it is not taxable in the hands of the Bank being income generated from self. The view expressed in the CBDT circular has not found favour in these judicial decisions. If the legal fiction created under the treaty is treated to be of limited effect, it would lead to base erosion. The interest paid by the permanent establishment to the head office or other branch etc. is an interest payment sourced in India and is liable to be taxed under the source rule in India. This position is also recognised in some of our DTAAs in particular the Indo-USA DTAA in Article 14 (3) reads as under:-

β€œIn the case of a banking company which is resident of the United States, the interest paid by the permanent establishment of such a company in India to the head office may be subject in India to tax in addition to the tax imposable under the other ”

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The Special Bench of the ITAT in the case of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation [136 ITD- 66 TBOM] had mentioned that there are instances of other countries providing for specific provisions in their domestic law which allows for the taxability of interest paid by a permanent establishment to its head office and other branches and had pointed out absence of such a specific provision in the Income-tax Act.

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Considering that there are several disputes on the issue which are pending and likely to arise in future, it is essential that necessary clarity and certainty is provided for in the Act. Accordingly, it is proposed to amend the Act to provide that, in the case of a non-resident, being a person engaged in the business of banking, any interest payable by the permanent establishment in India of such non-resident to the head office or any permanent establishment or any other part of such non-resident outside India shall be deemed to accrue or arise in India and shall be chargeable to tax in addition to any income attributable to the permanent establishment in India and the permanent establishment in India shall be deemed to be a person separate and independent of the non-resident person of which it is a permanent establishment and the provisions of the Act relating to computation of total income, determination of tax and collection and recovery would apply . Accordingly, the PE in India shall be obligated to deduct tax at source on any interest payable to either the head office or any other branch or PE, etc. of the non-resident outside India. Further, non-deduction would result in disallowance of interest claimed as expenditure by the PE and may also attract levy of interest and penalty in accordance with relevant provisions of the Act.

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