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5 May 2015

Larger Bench of Bangalore CESTAT decides five key issues in relation to Turnkey Projects

The Larger Bench of in the case of M/s Lanco Infratech Ltd. 2015 TIOL-768-CESTAT-BANG-LB has decided five key issues relating to Service tax on various infrastructure projects undertaken for Government. The same has been discussed below:

Sno. Issue Larger Bench held that

Whether laying of pipelines for lift irrigation systems, transmission and distribution of drinking water or sewerage, undertaken for Government/ Government undertakings should be classified under ECIS as erection, commission or installation of plant, machinery, equipment or structures, whether pre-fabricated or otherwise; or installation of plumbing, drain laying or other installations for transport of fluids, enumerated in Section 65(105)(zzd) as defined under Section 65(39a), during 16.06.2005 to 31.05.2007; or must be classified under CICS, as amounting to construction of pipeline or conduit; and if classifiable under the later provision, whether the activity is not taxable since it is not used or to be used, engaged or to be engaged primarily for industry or commerce;

Laying of pipelines/ conduits for lift irrigation systems for transmission of water or for sewerage disposal, undertaken for Government/ Government undertakings and involving associated activities like trenching, soil preparation and filling, supporting masonry work, jointing of pipes, electro-mechanical works or pumping stations and like activity, is classifiable only under Commercial or Industrial Construction Service (CICS) for the period up to 01.06.2007 and not under Erection, Commissioning or Installation Service (ECIS);

2. Whether construction of canals for irrigation purposes and laying of pipelines including as part of lift irrigation systems, undertaken for the Government/ Government undertakings is liable to service tax under WCS as turnkey projects, including engineering, procurement and construction or commissioning projects under clause (e) of Explanation (ii) in the definition of WCS or is excluded from the ambit of WCS since it is in respect of a "Dam" and thus stands excluded from WCS, as defined; (i) Construction of canals for irrigation or water supply; construction or laying of pipelines/ conduits for lift irrigation conceived and integrated into a dam project, must be classified as works contract "in respect of dam" and is thus excluded from the scope of "Works Contract Service" defined in Section 65(105)(zzzza) of the Act, in view of the exclusionary clause in the provision; (ii) Turnkey/ EPC project contracts, enumerated in clause (e), Explanation (ii) in Section 65(105) (zzzza) of the Act is a descriptive and ex abundant cautela drafting methodology. In the light of the decision in Alstom Projects India Ltd., fortified by the Special Bench decision (dated 19.03.2015) in Larsen & Toubro Ltd. reference, a turnkey/ EPC contract is taxable prior to 01.06.2007 as well. On and since 01.06.2007, turnkey/ EPC contracts must be classified on the basis of the essential character of the service provided thereby, with the aid of classification guidelines set out in Section 65A(2) of the Act. Consequently, a turnkey/ EPC contract must be classified under any of the clauses (a) to (d), Explanation (ii), Section 65(105)(zzzza). The bundled bouquet of services provided as turnkey/ EPC contract, classifiable as Commercial or Industrial Construction Service (CICS) prior to 01.06.2007, would be classifiable under clause (b), Explanation (ii), Section 65(105)(zzzza) on and from 01.06.2007 and would not be exigible to service tax if the rendition of service thereby is primarily for non-commercial, non-industrial purpose, in view of the exclusionary clause in clause (b) of the definition of WCS. This is the only possible and harmonious interpretation possible of the several clauses under Explanation (ii) of Section 65 (105)(zzzza), a distinct taxable service defined with constituent elements thereof substantially drawn from elements of pre-existing taxable services like ECIS, CICS or COCS; and other services when bundled to amount to turnkey/ EPC; (iii) Construction of canals/ pipelines/ conduits to support irrigation, water supply or for sewerage disposal, when provided to Government/ Government undertakings would be for non-commercial, non-industrial purposes, even when executed under turnkey/ EPC contractual mode and would fall within the ambit of clause (b), Explanation (ii) of Section 65(105)(zzzza); and would consequently not be exigible to service tax, in view of the exclusion enacted in clause (b);
3. Whether, turnkey projects, including engineering, procurement and construction or commissioning (EPC) projects specified in clause (e) is merely an enumeration of the mode of execution of taxable services specified in clauses (a) to (d) or is a wholly distinct taxable service and is exigible to service tax as an independent species of works contract service;
4. Whether, even if clause (e) in Explanation (ii) of WCS is considered a distinct and independent service, where construction of canals for irrigation purposes and laying of pipelines either as part of lift irrigation systems or for transport and distribution of water is undertaken for Government/ Government undertakings, the same is more appropriately covered under clause (b) of WCS i.e. construction of a new building or a civil structure or a part thereof, or of a pipeline or conduit, by applying principles of classification set out in Section 65A(2)(a) & (b) and thus fall outside the ambit of levy, since the activity is not primarily for the purpose of commerce or industry; or whether a contrary view that clause (e) being an independent entry, activities falling thereunder would be taxable even if the rendition of service thereby or thereunder, was not primarily for non-commercial or non-industrial purposes;
5. Where execution of the whole or a part of the work is sub-contracted on back to back basis by the main contractor (which is a joint venture) to sub-contractors, in the absence of any transfer of property in goods involved in the execution of such works, from the main contractor to the Government/ Government undertakings, whether levy of service tax in the hands of appellant (main contractor) is valid under WCS, in the light of the judgment in State of A.P. vs. L & T Ltd. Where under an agreement, whether termed as works contract, turnkey or EPC, the principal contractor, in terms of the agreement with the employer/ contractee, assigns the works to a sub-contractor and the transfer of property in goods involved in the execution of such works passes on accretion to or incorporation into the works on the property belonging to the employer/ contractee, the principal contractor cannot be considered to have provided the taxable (works contract) service enumerated and defined in Section 65(105)(zzzza) of the Act.
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