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ITAT holds expenses for worshipping Shiva & Hanuman or organizing Ganesh festival is not for any religious purposes!

              “Expenses incurred for worshipping of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, and Goddess Durga and for celebration of festivals like Shivratri, Hanuman Jayanti, Ganesh Utsav and Makar Sankranti cannot be regarded to be for ‘religious purpose.’ Upholding this contention in a landmark decision, which is bound to shake up a lot of conventional thinking on the subject, the Nagpur Bench of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) has very recently held that, “Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life of a civilized society.” The ITAT, thus directed the Commissioner of Income-tax (CIT) to grant approval u/s. 80G of the Income-tax Act in respect of the donations received by the appellant trust ‘Shiv Mandir Devsthan Panch Committee Sansthan, Nagpur.’

                  A public trust was set up with various objects, which included worship of Lord Shiva, Hanumanji, Goddess Durga and maintaining of temple, to celebrate festivals like Shivratri, Hanuman Jayanti, Ganesh Uttasav, Makar Sankranti, renovation and maintenance of temple, to make available temple for general public and to provide facilities for the public visiting temple. The trust deed further provided that balance fund, if any, after utilizing for the above mentioned objects, may be utilized for education, social and the cultural activities, to conduct nursery school, library, sports club, hostels and other activities, to help poor children for education, to provide medical aid for poor and to help the people affected by natural calamity. It applied to the CIT for a certificate under Section 80G for allowing deduction to its donors in respect of contributions made to the trust.

            Section 80G(5) provides that a trust, seeking approval under the said section, should be established for a ‘charitable purpose.’ Explanation-3 to Section 80G provides that ‘charitable purpose’ does not include a purpose which is of a ‘religious nature.’ Section 80G(5)(iii) also stipulates that the trust should not be expressed to be for the benefit of any particular religious community or caste. The Commissioner rejected the application on the ground that the trust was set up for ‘religious purposes.’

            Observing that there was no allegation on the part of the revenue that the whole or substantially the whole of the objects of the trust were to propagate or advance support to a particular sect and holding that the onus was on the revenue to prove that the trust was set up wholly or substantially for religious purposes, the ITAT has noted in its speaking order, “We may observe that Hinduism is a way of life of a civilized society. It as such is not a religion.”

            In this regard the ITAT relied on the case of T. T. Kuppuswamy Chettiar vs. State of Tamil Nadu (1987) 100 LW 1031, wherein it was held that “The word ‘Hindu’ has not been defined in any of the texts or in judgment made law. The word was given by British administrators to inhabitants of India, who were not Christians, Muslims, Parsis or Jews. The alleged Hindu religion consists of four castes Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras belonging ultimately to two schools of law, Mitakshara and Dayabhaga. There is, however, no religion by the name ‘Hindu’. It only shows that the so called Hindu religion has been so called, for convenience.”

            The Tribunal further noted that the CIT must be aware that ‘Hindu’ consists of a number of communities having different Gods who are being worshipped in a different manner, different rituals and different ethical codes. Even the worship of God is not essential for a person who has adopted Hinduism way of life. Thus, Hinduism holds within its fold, men of divergent views and traditions, who have very little in common except a vague faith in what may be called the fundamentals of the Hinduism. The word ‘community’ means a society of people living in the same place, under the same laws and regulations and who have common rights and privileges. This may apply to Christianity or Moslem but not to Hinduism.

            The Tribunal concluded that, it cannot be said that Hindu is a separate community or a separate religion. Technically Hindu is neither a religion nor a community. And, therefore, expenses incurred for worshipping of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Goddess Durga and for maintenance of temple cannot be regarded to be for religious purpose. 

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