Service Tax on Hotel Industry wef 01.07.2012

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1. Whether a contract for supply of food in a hotel is a contract for sale of food or is a composite contract for sale and services? Whether the same can be taxed under the Sales Tax laws in the country and if yes on what value?

Before we try and analyse the taxation of services in a hotel, it is pertinent to try and understand the history of contract for supply of food in a hotel from the perspective of the Sales tax (VAT) laws in India.

It may be noted that the levy on the composite charges of food and services has been a matter of litigation under the Sales Tax regime for years. The Supreme Court case in Northern India Caterers (India) Ltd. Vs. Lt. Governor of Delhi is a landmark on this subject. States have been proceeding on the basis that Associated Hotels of India case was applicable only to supply of food or drink by an hotelier to a person lodged in the hotel and that tax was leviable on the sale of foodstuffs by a restaurant. But over-ruling the decision of the Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court has held in the above case that service of meals whether in a hotel or restaurant does not constitute a sale of food for the purpose of levy of sales tax but must be regarded as the rendering of a service in the satisfaction of a human need or ministering to the bodily want of human beings. It would not make any difference whether the visitor to the restaurant is charged for the meal as a whole or according to each dish separately. This lead to the amendment in article 366(29A) of the Constitution, whereby the 46th amendment included within its scope
"the supply, by way of or as part of any service, of food or any drink for cash, deferred payment or other valuable consideration" 
as a deemed sale. Post this amendment VAT is being paid on the sale of food in hotel. 

The question that now arose was on what value of the consideration should VAT be paid. The five member bench of the Supreme Court in the case of K. Damodarasamy Naidu & Sons Ltd. Vs. State of TN interestingly held that the entire value should be deemed to be the consideration towards  the sale. While delivering its judgement, the Hon. Supreme Court observed as under: 

“In our view, therefore the price that the customer pays for the supply of goods in a restaurant cannot be split up as suggested by learned counsel. The supply of food by the restaurant owner to the customer though it may be a part of service that he renders by providing good furniture, furnishing and fixtures, linen, crockery and cutlery , music, a dance floor, and a floor show, is what is the subject of levy. The patron of fancy restaurant who orders a plate of cheese sandwiches whose price is shown to be R50/- on the bill of fare knows very well that the innate cost of the bread, butter, mustard and  cheese in the plate is very much less, but he orders it all the same. He pays R50/- for its supply and it is on R50/- that the restaurant owner must be  taxed.” 
2. If the contract for supply of food in a restaurant is a sale contract; can it also be deemed to be a “service” and accordingly service tax can be levied on it? 

Taxation of services in relation to sale of food provided by a restaurant which are air conditioned and also serve liquor has been introduced from 1-5-2011.

Even prior to that the services of a hotel in relation to letting of any mandap (defined to mean any immovable property) for any “official, social or business function” with or without catering was covered under service tax.

The clarification by the TRU in its letter dated 28-2-2011 while trying to impose tax on restaurants, interestingly tries to clarify that the tax is supposed to be on the services element and should not be confused with the sale of food. The levy is intended to be confined to the value of services contained in the composite contract and shall not cover either the meal portion in the composite contract or mere sale of food by way of pick-up or home delivery, as also goods sold at MRP.


A 70% abatement on this service, which is, inter-alia, meant to separate such portion of the bill as relates to the deemed sale of meals and beverages was provided for from 1-5-2011. 

The view of the TRU as above, can be supported from the Supreme Court judgement in the case of BSNL vs. UOI wherein the Hon. Supreme Court has held that

“Of the three types of composite contracts i.e. a works contract, hire purchase contract and catering contract, splitting of the service and supply has been constitutionally permitted in case of works contract and catering contract and no other composite contract has been permitted to split.” 

Even the educational guide issued by the CBEC recently, which elucidates the provisions effective from 1-7-2012, tries to elaborate on this aspect considering the fact that the service portion in food has been deemed to be a service and has been a “declared service” by deeming fiction. 

However it may be noted that all the issues that have arisen till date are with respect to the composite services of “catering” and not in relation to supply of goods in a hotel. In fact the Supreme Court in the landmark judgement of Tamil Nadu Kalyan Mandapam Assn. Vs. UOI has observed that

“In case of Catering contracts service element is more weighty, visible and predominant and it cannot be considered as a case of sale of food and drink as in restaurant”. 

Although this judgement didn’t comment on whether sale of food in a restaurant is a service or otherwise since this was not the matter before the Hon. Supreme court; the view that no service tax can be levied on sale of food in a restaurant carries good weightage in terms of the fact that when the entire consideration is towards “sale of food”, there is no scope to vivisect and make part of it taxable under service tax. 

3. Presuming, that Service Tax is leviable on the element of service component in food, is it possible to take deduction of the food component separately and tax the element of service under Service Tax? 

While various cases under the category of “Outdoor catering” have laid down that it is possible to take deduction of material component as per notification 12/2003, the Delhi CESTAT in the case of Sayaji Hotels  has held that in case of a composite contract of a “Mandap keeper” the hotel cannot artificially divide the contract and levy service tax merely on the value of services so identified.

In essence, the Delhi CESTAT rejected the theory of splitting between the value of services and goods and held that the only option the appellant had was to pay tax on the abated value as provided for in notification 1/2006 dated 1-3-2006. 

Whether this position would be open to challenge or not before 1-7-2012 is a different question, but surely after the rescinding of notification 12/2003; post 1-7-2012, the service tax in relation to food contracts would have to be paid on the abated value as provided for or on the entire value of the contract. It may be noted that the new scheme of law doesn’t provide for an option for claiming deduction of goods as it provides for “Works Contract” under Rule 2A of the Valuation Rules. 

4. Can service tax be levied in case of “Accommodation Services provided by a Hotel” and is it not an overlapping with another State subject, viz.”Luxury Tax”? 

Short term accommodation provided for less than three continuous months (this condition has been removed from 1-7-2012) had been made taxable from 1-5-2011 if declared tariff is more than R1,000/- per day. An abatement of 50% has been provided under this category. 

Here again, it may be noted that there is a levy of "Luxury Tax" on hotel accommodation in most of the states. The issue of double taxation would arise here as well albeit the case would be a little different than that above. The luxury tax is being levied by the states under the taxation entry 62 of List II of Constitution providing for taxes on 'luxuries' which contemplates, and takes within its sweep, a tax on goods and articles in their aspect and character as luxuries and does not include 'services' or 'activities'. The luxury tax for accommodation hence has been held as constitutional in Express Hotels' case. Hence what is contemplated under service tax is the aspect of the services in providing hotel accommodation and hence is on a different footing as compared to Luxury tax. 

5. What would be the major impact on service tax in relation to the Hotel Industry especially after               1-7- 2012? 

The major impact and changes in the provisions relating to the Hotel industry can be tabulated as under:
Sr No
Provision
Prior to 1-7-2012
Post 1-7-2012
1
Taxability of Food supplied in Restaurants serving liquor and being Air conditioned
Taxable
Taxable

Accommodation in a Hotel for declared tariff of more than R1,000/- per day
Taxable for period for less than continuous three months
Taxable without any exclusion of period

Mandap Keepers' Service, Outdoor catering Service
Taxable
Taxable

Laundry Services (i.e. ‘Dry cleaning’ as well as ‘wet cleaning’) , Telephone services, No Show charges, cancellation charges, etc.
Not taxable unless specifically defined
Taxable in view of the expanded definition of services

Sale of space/time for advertisement other than by radio/television broadcast
Taxable
Exempt
2
Valuation

Food supplied in Restaurants serving liquor and being Air conditioned
Taxable value : 30%
Taxable value : 40%

Accommodation in a Hotel for declared tariff of more than R1,000/- per day
Taxable value : 50%
Taxable value : 60%

Supply of food as a part of function for renting
Taxable value: 60%
Taxable value: 70%

Any other Service (excluding Banking and Financial Services)
Taxable value: 100%
Taxable value: 100%

CENVAT credit
3
CENVAT credit
Not eligible in case abatement option was availed
Generally - Input services and Capital Goods credit eligible and credit in relation to inputs eligible other than those specified in chapter 1 to 22 of CETA.


6. Classification in case of Bundled Services 
  • In case of an event, which is a mix of various overlapping services, the service which gives the most pre-dominant colour would be the category under which the same should be taxed as per the new Section 66F of the Finance Act, 1994 as made applicable from 1-7-2012. 
For e.g. 

a) In case of 2N/3D package for accommodation with meals; the pre-dominant category would be accommodation even if the customer has food in the same restaurant like other walk- in customers. Hence, the hotel needs to charge service tax on 60% value of the total consideration.

b) In case of a Residential conference or a marriage; where a package has been designed for say three days including conference facilities, food, accommodation; since the pre-dominant intention is arranging of a function, the correct classification would be “Mandap keeper” and hence the hotel needs to charge service tax on  70% value of the total consideration. 

Conclusion 

The new definition of service; coupled with issues in interpreting the exclusions and exemptions is going to be a challenge for every service provider. Additionally, the responsibility to pay tax in case of new categories for reverse charge mechanism and even the joint mechanism - casting responsibility to pay tax on payment to contractors as well - would pose immense challenge before the industry in complying with the law. The only positive take away of all the amendments post 1-7-2012, is the eligibility to avail CENVAT credit to a great extent which was hitherto not available.

By: CA. Sagar Shah(The author can be reached at sagarshah@mzsk.in)



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