Recently the Delhi high Court in Bostom Scientific India (p) Ltd.v.Asst.CIT 2017 Tax Pub (DT) 3985 (Del –HC) has give it’s verdict regarding allowability of expenditure incurred by pharma companies on sponsoring medical conference in and outside India. The learned author analyses the impugned issue in the light of this recent verdict.
It is general practice of pharma companies to sponsor and conduct medical conferences in & outside India and for this purpose these companies also make arrangements for travel and accommodation of doctors attending the conferences. In a recent past, a serious controversy arose as regards allowability of expenditure incurred b pharma companies for organising such conferences. These expenditure incurred by pharma companies for organising such conference.these expenditure are claimed to be allowable as business expenditure for being incurred for business purpose, however, the department tends to disallow the same by invoking Explanation 1 to section 37 (1).
The Finance (No. 2) Act, 1998 has inserted an Explanation to section 37(1), with retrospective effect from 1-4-1962, so as to clarify that any expenditure incurred by an assessee for any purpose which is an offence or which is prohibited by law shall not be deemed to have been incurred for the purpose of business or profession and no deduction or allowance shall be made in respect of such expenditure.
The pharma companies incr expenditure to sponso and conduct doctors’ conferences , to distribute its product amongst doctors as free samples, to give gift articles to doctors , etc. These expenditure are classified as advertisement and sales promotion expenditure and claimed to be allowable on the ground of being incurred wholly and exclusively for the business purposes.
The Medical council of India in excersise of its statutory powers amended the Indian medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Reguations, 2002 (the Regulations ) on 10-12-2009 imposing a prohibition on the medical practitioner & their professional associations from taking any gift travel facility , hospitality, cash of monetary grant from the pharmaceutical and allied health sector industries.
Section 37(1) of the Income Tax Act provides for deduction of any revenue expenditure (other than those failing under sections 30 to 36) from the business Income if such expenses is laid out/expended wholly or exclusively for the purpose of business income if such expense is laid out/expended wholly or exclusively for the purpose of business or profession. However,the explanation appended to this sub-section denies claim of any such expense, if the same has been incurred for a purpose which is either an offence or prohibited by law.
Thus the of any expense incurred in providing above mentioned or similar freebies in violation of the provisions of Indian medical Council (Professional Conduct Etiquette and Ethics ) Regulations, 2002 shall be inadmissible under section 37(1) of the Income Tax Act beingan expense prohibtited by the law. This disallowance shall be made in the hands of such pharmaceutical or allied health sector industries or other assessee which has provided aforesaid freebies and claimed it as a deductable expense in it’s accounts against income.
It is also clarified that the sum equivalent to value of freebies enjoyed by the aforesaid medical practitioner or professional associatiosns is also taxable as business income or income from the other sources, as teh case may be,depending on the facts of each case.The assessing officers of such medical practitioner or professional associations should examine the same and take an appropriate action.
However,the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations,2002 which has been amended on 10-12-2009 prohibits medical practitioners and their professional associations from taking any gift, travel facility, hospitality, cash or monetary grant from the pharmaceutical and allied health sector industries.
Thus, the expenditure incurred on freebies are disallowed on the ground of being incurred in violation of the provision of Indian medical Council ( Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.- circular No. 5/2012,dt.1-8-2012.
In live Healthcare Ltd. v. DCIT (2016) 161 ITD 63 (Mum),the Mumbai Bench of the Tribunal held that the expenditure on foreign travel and accomdation of doctors and their spouses was incurred with the intent and the objective of profiteering form the distribution and entertainment that had a direct nexus with promoting the sales and profitability which made such expenditure violative of the provisions of the said regulations of 2002.It held that the expenditure was incurred to seek favours from the doctors by way of recommendation of the company’s product which was an illegal gratification ,was against public policy,was unethical and was prohibited by law. Accordingly,the expenditure in question was liable for disallowance.
However in PHL Parma (p) Ltd. v. ACIT (2017) 163 ITD 10(Mum),the decision was given in favour of the assessee by observing that the code of conduct has meant to be followed and adhered to by the medical practironers and doctors alone and did not apply in any manner to pharmaceutical companies. The Indian Medical Council did not have any jurisdiction nor had any authority upon the pharmaceutical companies and could not have prohibited such companies in conduct of their business. The CBDT in issuing Circular No. 5, dt. 1-8-2012 had enlarged the scope of the said Regulations by applying it to the pharmaceutical companies without any enabling provisions to do so. Further the circular in any case could not be reckoned retrospectively i.e., it could not be applied before the date of its issue, i.e., on 1-8-2012.
Thus the expenditure incurred by the assessee company was in the nature of sales and business promotion and was to be allowed; the gift articles bore the logo of the assessee and could not be held to the freebies,the free samples proved the efficacy of the products of the products of the company and again were not in violation of the said Regulations framed by the Medical Council of India.
In Syncom Foundations (I) Ltd. ( IT PPEAL Nos. 6429 & 6428 (Mum) of 2012, it was observed that CBDT circular would not be applicable in the assessment years 2010-11 and 2011-12 as it was introduced w.e.f. 1-8-2012. Similarly it was held in UCB India (P) Ltd.v. ITO (IT Appeal No. 6681 (Mum) of 2013, dt 13-5-2016), that the CBDT circular colud not have a retrospective effect.
In Boston Scientific India (P) Ltd v. Asstt. CIT 2017 Tax Pub (DT) 3985 (Del-HC), the assessing officer on the specific heads of ‘advertisement and business promotion’ and travel related expenses ‘ made the following disallowances :
(i) Expenditure of Rs. 13,14,548 was stated to be constituting freebies provided to medical consultants and other doctors, disallowable in view of Explanation 1 to section 37(1) of the Act , read with CBDT Circular No. 5/2012, dt.1-8-2012.
(ii) Expenditure of Rs 19,06,000 incurred on conducting seminars conventions, meetings, etc., for the purpose of Appellant’s business.
This was disallowed on the ground that details were scanty, despite ample opportunity being given to the assessee .
(iii) Expenditure of Rs 8,00,000 incurred on sponsorship for organizing conference/seminor. This was disallowed on the ground that the payment was made after the event had place.
On appeal before ITAT , it was held that as the assessee had incurred expenses in the garb of marketing the cardiac machine, onus was upon the assessee to prove that the expenses incurred did not violate any law that may be applicable. The burden lies uopon the assessee which has not been discharged by evidences/materials. Merely by placing the bills of payments, the travel details, the hotel details , where the doctors were stationed , and the seminars / conferences that were actually attended by such doctors. Assessee had also not demonstrated that the doctors by participating in such conferences and accepting the hospitality extendedby it (the assessee ) have not contravened any MCI Regulations.
The High Court ,however, said that the ITAT placed an unfair burden on the assessee to prove that the above expenses was incurred bona fide for the business purpose of the assessee. The assessee had placed before the ITAT all the relevant details thereby discharging the initial onus. Thereafter,it was open to the Revenue to prove to the contrary . It was not possible for the assesee to show that doctors “actually delivered any lectures, attented any meetings for, providing training courses and seminars for assessee, etc.
As regards other disallowances, it was held that since the ITAT proceeded on and conjectures and failed to deal with the contentions of the assessee in that regard , it is only fair that the ITAT considers the entire appeal of the assessee on merits afresh.
Thus, the High Court rendered decision in favour of assessee and against the revenue and all the contentions of the assessee raised in the appeal before the ITAT would be considered afresh.
The decision of the Delhi High Court has provided some rays of hope in favour of Pharmaceutical Companies for doctors. If relief is provided, it wil be of great help in sharing and upgrading knowledge in the field of medical science and ultimately whole mankind would get benefitted therefrom.
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