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Landmark Ruling: Leasing Businesses Entitled to Depreciation Benefits

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Deciphering Legal Judgments: A Comprehensive Analysis of Case Law

Reported as:

2013 (1) TMI 344 - Supreme Court


The judgement under consideration pertains to a series of appeals made by the Revenue against the assessee’s claim for depreciation under Section 32 of the Income Tax Act, 1961The primary issue revolves around the entitlement of depreciation and the higher rate of depreciation for vehicles leased by the assessee. The Supreme Court's decision  provides critical interpretations of legal provisions regarding asset ownership and usage for business purposes.

Arguments Presented

Assessee’s Position

The assessee, a non-banking finance company engaged in hire purchase, leasing, and real estate, claimed depreciation on vehicles leased out to customers. Despite the vehicles being registered in the name of the lessees, the assessee asserted ownership and entitlement to depreciation, arguing that the vehicles were used in their business of leasing, thus fulfilling the requirements of Section 32.The assessee also claimed depreciation at a higher rate on the ground that the vehicles were used in the business of running on hire.

Revenue’s Position

The Revenue contended that since the vehicles were not registered in the assessee’s name, the assessee was not the owner and thus not entitled to depreciation. They argued that the actual use of the vehicles by lessees disqualified the assessee from claiming depreciation. Moreover, the Revenue posited that higher depreciation rates were inapplicable as the vehicles were not used by the assessee itself for running on hire.

Court’s Analysis

Ownership and Usage for Business

The Court emphasized the twin requirements under Section 32 of the Act: “ownership” and “usage for business” as conditions for claim of depreciation.


As long as the assessee-lessor has a right to retain the legal title against the rest of the world, he would be the owner of the asset in the eyes of law. In this regard, the following provisions of the lease agreement are noteworthy -

  • The assessee is the exclusive owner of the vehicle at all paints of time;

  • The assessee is empowered to repossess the vehicle, in case the lessee committed a default;

  • At the end of the lease period, the lessee was obliged to return the vehicle to the assessee:

  • The assessee had a right of inspection of the vehicle at all times.

The proof of ownership lies in the lease agreement itself, which clearly points in favour of the assessee

Purpose/Usage of Business-

 As far as usage of the asset is concemed, the section requires that the asset must be used in the course of business. It does not mandate actual usage by the assessee itself. In this case, the assessee did use the vehicles in the course of its leasing business. Hence, this requirement of section 32 has been fulfilled, notwithstanding the fact that the assessee was not the actual user of the vehicles.

 The Court also referenced previous judgments, notably Commissioner of Income-Tax Versus First Leasing Co. of India Ltd. & Shaan Finance (P.) Ltd. - 1998 (3) TMI 8 - Supreme Court. and Commissioner Of Income-Tax, Kerala II Versus Castlerock Fisheries - 1980 (2) TMI 37 - KERALA High Court, which supported the view that leasing vehicles constitutes business use.

The assessee-lessor was, therefore, entitled to claim depreciation in respect of vehicles leased out since it has satisfied both the requirements of section 32, namely, ownership of the vehicles and its usage in the course of business.

Higher Rate of Depreciation

The Court granted a higher depreciation rate of 40% for vehicles used in leasing, equating it with the business of running vehicles on hire due to their intensive usage. It noted that leasing and hiring are similar, as both involve providing vehicles to customers for payment, with the lessor retaining ownership.

The Court referred to CBDT Circular No. 652 dated 14-6-1993, which clarified that higher depreciation rates for vehicles, such as lorries and trucks, do not apply if used in non-hiring businesses. However, it emphasized that vehicles leased by a leasing company qualify for the higher rate as their usage aligns with hiring activities.

The Court cited several precedents, including Commissioner Of Income-Tax Versus AM Constructions - 1998 (8) TMI 58 - ANDHRA PRADESH High Court, Commissioner of Income-Tax Versus Bansal Credits Ltd. - 2002 (11) TMI 76 - DELHI High Court, Commissioner of Income Tax Versus M.G.F. (India) Limited. - 2006 (7) TMI 125 - DELHI High Court, and Commissioner of Income-Tax Versus Annamalai Finance Ltd. - 2004 (10) TMI 51 - MADRAS High Court These cases recognized that lessors, as owners of leased assets, are entitled to claim depreciation at higher rates applicable to assets used in hiring businesses.

Concluding Remarks

The Supreme Court concluded that the High Court had erred in law by denying the assessee’s claim for depreciation and the higher rate of depreciation. It affirmed the assessee's ownership and business use of the vehicles, thereby entitling it to claim depreciation under Section 32 of the Act and also at a higher rate. Consequently, the appeals were allowed in favor of the assessee.

Summary of the Judgement

The Supreme Court upheld the assessee’s entitlement to claim depreciation on leased vehicles under Section 32 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, despite the vehicles being registered in the name of the lessees. The Court concluded that legal ownership and business use, as demonstrated through lease agreements, qualified the assessee for depreciation. Additionally, the Court affirmed that the assessee’s business activities warranted a higher rate of depreciation, aligning with legislative and regulatory guidelines. This judgement reinforces the interpretation of ownership and usage in the context of asset depreciation for leasing businesses.


Full Text:

2013 (1) TMI 344 - Supreme Court


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