Can Pizza Hut Get a ‘Lower Tax’ Treat?

Swarnim Shrivastava

The leading Pizza chain will avail the benefit of a lower tax rate under India-US DTAA or not will be decided by the Delhi High Court1. The Pizza Hut International Case2has been decided by the income tax appellate tribunal (ITAT) last year, where the primary issue was whether the royalty is taxable on ‘gross amount’ or net amount under the tax treaty.

The Tribunal in this ruling explained the meaning of the word ‘gross amount’ and held that the term gross amount includes within its ambit the actual payment and tax deducted at source. Therefore, the taxpayer had option to be taxed at the rate of 15 percent of the gross amount or tax rate applicable under the Act i.e. 20 percent after claiming exemption under Section 10(6A) of the Act.

Factual Background

  • The taxpayer is a tax-resident of the USA and was earning royalty from Yum Restaurant India Ltd (YUM) under a technical license agreement.
  •  In the return of income filed, the taxpayer claimed that its income was taxable at the rate of 15 percent under the tax treaty. The Assessing Officer (AO) noted that the taxpayer had claimed exemption under Section 10(6A) of the Act3in respect of tax on royalty borne by YUM.
  • The AO was of the opinion that the assessment has to be made either in accordance with the provisions contained in the Act or in the tax treaty.
  •  The taxpayer cannot avail the exemption under Section 10(6A) of the Act and at the same time claim that tax should be levied at the rate of 15 percent under the tax treaty.
  •  Since the taxpayer claimed the exemption, the income should be taxed at the rate of 20 percent as provided in the Act.

Findings of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal

  • The term ‘gross amount’ has not been defined in the treaty. In common parlance, these words mean the amount received along with tax deducted at source. If the intention was to tax only that amount which is actually paid to the taxpayer, then the word ‘amount’ only would have been used. Therefore, it was clear that the intention was to tax the ‘gross amount’ and not the net amount of the royalty.
  • Reiterating Section 198 of the Act, the Tribunal held that it embodies in itself the principle that tax deducted at source, for which credit is available to the payee, was nothing but payment of income, utilized for payment of tax on behalf of the payee.
  • Therefore, this section also embodies the principle of ascertaining the gross amount paid by the payer to the payee.
  • ·In terms of this provision also, the gross amount would mean the actual payment by way of royalty and tax deducted at source, paid to the Central Government on behalf of the payee.
  • The amount of tax deducted at source would not be excluded from the total income under Section 10(6A) of the Act as no computation is required for finding the ‘gross amount’ of royalties paid to the taxpayer.
  • ITAT concluded that “both under the Act and the treaty, the tax paid by the licensee (Yum) on behalf of the assessee (Pizza Hut) will have to be included in the “gross amounts”, chargeable to tax. Therefore, the assessee has an option to be taxed at the rate of 15% of the gross amount or tax rate applicable under the Act on the net amount after claiming exemption u/s 10(6A), which is 20%”.

Current Position

The major issue which lies before the High Court is that of whether the Pizza Hut could simultaneously avail of the benefit of a lower tax rate under the Indo-US Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and exemptions on payments of royalty under the Income Tax (I-T) Act. On a perusal of Article 12 of India-USA tax treaty, though the income become taxable at the point when it arises but the same would be taxed only when it is paid to resident of the other state.

Conclusion

Whatever be the decision of the High Court, Pizza Hut would not worry because it will be having the final recourse option i.e. the Apex Court. However, the High Court decision will be crucial considering the legal question at issue, as it will set a precedent for the future.

  1. Available at http://www.financialexpress.com/news/delhi-hc-to-take-call-on-pizza-hut-tax-exemption/1187926/0 []
  2. Pizza Hut International LLC v. DDIT (ITA No. 1656/Del/11) – Taxsutra.com []
  3. Section 10(6A) of the Act exempts the royalty income if the agreement was made after 31 March 1976 but before 1 June 2002 []

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