India: Benami Transactions - Law In India

*Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate & Partner Vaish Associates Advocates
Email: vpdalmia@vaishlaw.com Mobile: 09810081079

&
Pavit Singh Katoch, Advocate & Principal Associate, Vaish Associates Advocates
Email: pavitsingh@vaishlaw.comMobile: 09999970810

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 was amended by the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, whereby substantial provisions were added to the existing Act to give more powers to the authorities to curb Benami Transactions and confiscate Benami Properties. The Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Amendment Act 2016, inter alia, expanding the definition of Benami Transaction, also provides for rigorous imprisonment of up to seven years, and a fine which may extend to 25 percent of the fair market value of the Benami Property. It has also renamed the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 as Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988. The Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Amendment Act 2016 came into force on 1st November 2016. To understand the implications of both old and new Benami Transactions Act, it is necessary to analyze both the earlier act (un-amended) as well as the amended act.

The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988

Under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, as it existed before 1st November 2016, the term "Benami Transaction" was defined in Section 2(a) as under:

"Benami Transaction" means any transaction in which PROPERTY is transferred to one person for a consideration paid or provided by another person.

From the above Section, it is clear that a Benami Transaction is one in which a property is held by or transferred to a person and the consideration for the said transaction has been provided for or paid by another person.

The term "PROPERTY" had been defined under the Section 2(c) of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 to mean property of any kind, whether movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, and includes any right or interest in such property.

Even before the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, the Supreme Court in the case of Thakur Bhim Singh (Dead) by Lrs and Anr. Vs. Thakur Kan Singh [(1980) 3 SCC 72], which has been reiterated by the Supreme Court in the case of Meenakshi Mills. Madurai v. The Commissioner of Income-Tax, Madras, had dealt with the concept of "Benami Transaction" as under:

"Two kinds of benami transactions are generally recognized in India.

Where a person buys a property with his own money but in the name of another person without any intention to benefit such other person, the transaction is called benami. In that case, the transferee holds the property for the benefit of the person who has contributed the purchase money, and he is the real owner.

The second case which is loosely termed as a benami transaction is a case where a person who is the owner of the property executes a conveyance in favor of another without the intention of transferring the title to the property thereunder. In this case, the transferor continues to be the real owner.

The difference between the two kinds of benami transactions referred to above lies in the fact that whereas in the former case, there is an operative transfer from the transferor to the transferee though the transferee holds the property for the benefit of the person who has contributed the purchase money, in the latter case, there is no operative transfer at all and the title rests with the transferor notwithstanding the execution of the conveyance. One common feature, however, in both these cases is that the real title is divorced from the ostensible title and they are vested in different persons."

After the introduction of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, the Hon'ble Full Bench of High Court of Kerala, in the case of Bhargavy P. Sumathykutty Vs. Janaki Sathyabhama and Ors. [AIR 1995 Ker 42], had the occasion to deal with the definition of Benami Transaction, and it held as under:

"

  1. There are two types of benami transactions, the first type or class of benami transaction was called the real benami transaction. A typical instance of it is when A sells a property to B, but the sale deed mentions C as the purchaser. Here the real purchaser is B and C is only the benamidar. Such a transaction is described as the real benami transaction.
    The second class or category of benami transactions is the sham transaction in which one person purports to transfer his property to another without intending to pass title to the transferee. This second type of transaction was loosely called a benami transaction. The fundamental difference between the two categories of transactions is this: in the former, there is an operative transfer resulting in vesting of title in the transferee, whereas in the latter, there is no operative transfer and the transferor continues to retain title to the property notwithstanding execution of the document. The latter transaction is known as a sham transaction.
  2. The Benami Act contains a definition of "benami transactions" in section 2 thereof. The definition takes in only the first category or tripartite benami transactions. Section 3 of the Benami Act contains a prohibition against any person entering into any benami transaction. It also contains a penal, provision. By expressing that the definition is intended for the Act and by employing the restrictive term "means" in preference to the word "includes", Parliament has conveyed its intention that the word benami transaction is not to be confined to one section alone and that the definition would contain only one category the tripartite-of benami transactions."

While dealing with the repeal of the provisions of Sections 81, 82 and 94 of the Indian Trusts Act, 1882 by the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, the Hon'ble Delhi High Court in the case of Sh. Amar N. Gugnani Vs. Naresh Kumar Gugnani (Through Legal Heirs) [CS(OS) No. 478/2004], stated as under:

"I would at this stage refer to a judgment delivered by this Court in the case of J M Kohli Vs. Madan Mohan Sahni & Anr in RFA No.207/2012 decided on 07.05.2012. In this judgment this Court has had an occasion to consider the intendment of the passing of the Benami Act as reflected from Section 7 of the Benami Act. Section 7 of the Benami Act repealed the provisions of Sections 81, 82 and 94 of the Indian Trusts Act, 1882 (in short 'the Trusts Act') and which provisions of the Trusts Act gave statutory recognition and protection to the benami transactions by calling such transactions protected by a relationship of a trust. It bears note that benami transactions were very much legal within this country before the passing of the Benami Act and the relationship of a benamidar to the owner was in the nature of a trust/fiduciary relationship because it was the Trusts Act which contained the provisions of Sections 81, 82 and 94 giving statutory recognition to the benami ownership of the properties being in the nature of trust."

Section 31 of the 1988 Act forbids Benami Transactions and punishes a person entering into a Benami Transaction with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine or with both.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court in the case of Thakur Bhim Singh (Dead) by Lrs and Anr. Vs. Thakur Kan Singh [(1980) 3 SCC 72], laid down the circumstances determining whether the transaction is Benami or not, as under:

"The principle governing the determination of the question whether a transfer is a benami transaction or not may be summed up thus:

(1) The burden of showing that a transfer is a benami transaction lies on the person who asserts that it is such a transaction;

(2) if it is proved that the purchase money came from a person other than the person in whose favor the property is transferred, the purchase is prima facie assumed to be for the benefit of the person who supplied the purchase money, unless there is evidence to the contrary;

(3) the true character of the transaction is governed by the intention of the person who has contributed the purchase money, and

(4) the question as to what his intention was has to be decided on the basis of the surrounding circumstances, the relationship of the parties, the motives governing their action in bringing about the transaction and their subsequent conduct etc."

Similarly, in the case of Bibi Saddiqa Fatima Vs. Saiyed Mohammad Mahmood Hasan [(1978) 3 SCC 299], the Hon'ble Supreme Court while dealing with the circumstances governing the determination of the question whether a transfer is a Benami Transaction or not, has held as under:

"Though the question, whether a particular sale is Benami or not, is largely in the of fact, and for determining this question, no absolute formulae or acid tests, uniformly applicable in all situations, can be laid down; yet in weighing the probabilities and for gathering the relevant indicia, the courts are usually guided by these circumstances :

(1) the source from which the purchase money came;

(2) the nature and possession of the property, after the purchase;

(3) motive, if any, for giving the transaction a benami colour;

(4) the position of the parties and the relationship, if any between the claimant and the alleged benamidar;

(5) the custody of the title-deeds after the sale and

(6) the conduct of the parties concerned in dealing with the property after the sale.

The above, indicia are not exhaustive and their efficacy varies according to the facts of each case. Nevertheless No. I, viz. the source whence the purchase money came, is by far the most important test for determining whether the sale standing in the name of one person is in reality for the benefit of another."

So, in a transfer involving Benami Transaction, usually three parties are involved, i.e., Seller, Buyer and Benamidar, where the seller is the person who sells the property, the buyer is the person who pays the consideration and the Benamidar is a real or fictitious person, in whose name the property is transferred. For understanding the issue, reliance can also be laid on the verdict of the Supreme Court in Pawan Kumar Gupta Vs. Rochiram Nagdeo [(1999) 4 SCC 243], wherein the Hon'ble Court had the occasion to interpret the meaning of term 'consideration paid or provided by another person" and it held as under:

"29. Section 2(a) of the Benami Act defines benami transaction as "any transaction in which property is transferred to one person for a consideration paid or provided by another person." The word "provided" in the said clause cannot be construed in relation to the source or sources from which the real transferee made up funds for buying the sale consideration. The words "paid or provided" are disjunctively employed in the clause and each has to be tagged with the word "consideration". The correct interpretation would be to read it as "consideration paid or consideration provided". If consideration was paid to the transferor then the word provided has no application as for the said sale. Only if the consideration was not paid in regard to a sale transaction the question of providing the consideration would arise. In some cases of sale transaction ready payment of consideration might not have been effected and then provision would be made for such consideration. The word "provided" in Section 2(a) of Benami Act cannot be understood in a different sense. Any other interpretation is likely to harm the interest of persons involved in genuine transactions, e.g., a purchaser of land might have availed himself of loan facilities from banks to make up purchase money. Could it be said that since the money was provided by the bank it was a benami transaction?.

30. We are, therefore, not inclined to accept the narrow construction of the word "provided" in Section 2(a) of the Benami Act. So even if appellant had availed himself of the help rendered by his father Pyarelal for making up the sale consideration that would not make the sale deed a benami transaction so as to push it into the forbidden area envisaged in Section 3(1) of the Benami Act."

Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988 (2016 Act)

Under the 2016 Act, which came into force with effect from 1st November 2016, the term "Benami Transaction" has been defined in Section 2(9)2 as under:

Benami Transaction means,

  • A transaction or an arrangement
    • where a property is transferred to, or is held by, a person,

and

  • the consideration for such property has been provided, or paid by, another person; and
  • the property is held for the immediate or future benefit, direct or indirect, of the person who has provided the consideration,
  • except when the property is held by-

(i) a Karta ...........;

(ii) a person standing in a fiduciary capacity for the benefit of another person towards whom he stands in such capacity and includes a trustee, executor, partner, director of a company, a depository or a participant as an agent of a depository under the Depositories Act, 1996 (22 of 1996) and any other person as may be notified by the Central Government for this purpose;

(iii) any person being an individual in the name of his spouse ......;

(iv) any person in the name of his brother or sister .................;

or

  • a transaction or an arrangement in respect of property carried out or made in a fictitious name.
  • a transaction or an arrangement in respect of a property where the owner of the property is not aware of, or, denies knowledge of, such ownership.
  • a transaction or an arrangement in respect of a property where the person is providing the consideration is not traceable or is fictitious.

From a plain reading of the above Section, it is clear that a Benami Transaction, is one, in which the property is held by or transferred to a person and the property is held for the immediate or future direct or indirect benefit of the person who has provided the consideration, wherein the consideration has been provided or paid by another person. The definition also includes the following transactions under its scope:

  1. where a transaction been made under a fictitious name;
  2. where the owner is not aware or denies knowledge of the ownership of the property;
  3. the person providing the property is not traceable.

The 2016 Act also defines Benami Property as "any property which is the subject-matter of a benami transaction", and also includes "the proceeds from such property". It is pertinent to note that even the proceeds received from a property which is part of a Benami Transaction, will be covered under the definition of Benami Property. In the 2016 Act, the definition of property has been expanded to include assets of any kind, whether movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal. It specifically includes any right or interest or legal documents or instruments evidencing title to or interest in the property and where the property is capable of conversion into some other form, then the property in the converted form.

The 2016 Act provides that any person who enters into any Benami Transaction would be liable to be punished3 with rigorous imprisonment for a for a time period of one year to seven years and be charged a fine which may extend to 25% of the fair market value of the Benami Property, and if any false information is provided to the authorities, it will lead to rigorous imprisonment for six months to five years and a fine of up to 10% of the fair market value of the Benami Property, will be charged. As per the 2016 Act, properties held benami are liable for confiscation by the government4, without payment of compensation. Under Section 27 (2) of the 2016 Act, the property shall not be liable for confiscation under Section 27 (1) of the 2016 Act provided that the property is held or acquired by a person from the Benamidar for adequate consideration, prior to the issue of notice under sub-section (1) of section 245 without his having knowledge of the Benami Transaction. Accordingly, a bonafide purchase of property for adequate consideration, even from a Benamidar, before issuance of notice under Section 24 (1), cannot be confiscated, provided the purchaser did not have the knowledge the Benami Transaction.

Footnotes

1 Section 3 of 1988 Act: Prohibition of benami transactions-

(1) No person shall enter into any benami transaction.

(2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to the purchase of property by any person in the name of his wife or unmarried daughter and it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that the said property had been purchased for the benefit of the wife of the unmarried daughter.

(3) Whoever enters into any benami transaction shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine or with both.

(4) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, an offence under this section shall be non-cognizable and bailable.

2 (9) "benami transaction" means,-

(A) a transaction or an arrangement-

(a) where a property is transferred to, or is held by, a person, and the consideration for such property has been provided, or paid by, another person; and

(b) the property is held for the immediate or future benefit, direct or indirect, of the person who has provided the consideration,

except when the property is held by-

(i) a Karta, or a member of a Hindu undivided family, as the case may be, and the property is held for his benefit or benefit of other members in the family and the consideration for such property has been provided or paid out of the known sources of the Hindu undivided family;

(ii) a person standing in a fiduciary capacity for the benefit of another person towards whom he stands in such capacity and includes a trustee, executor, partner, director of a company, a depository or a participant as an agent of a depository under the Depositories Act, 1996 (22 of 1996) and any other person as may be notified by the Central Government for this purpose;

(iii) any person being an individual in the name of his spouse or in the name of any child of such individual and the consideration for such

property has been provided or paid out of the known sources of the individual;

(iv) any person in the name of his brother or sister or lineal ascendant or descendant, where the names of brother or sister or lineal ascendant or descendant and the individual appear as joint-owners in any document, and the consideration for such property has been provided or paid out of the known sources of the individual; or

(B) a transaction or an arrangement in respect of a property carried out or made in a fictitious name; or

(C) a transaction or an arrangement in respect of a property where the owner of the property is not aware of, or, denies knowledge of, such ownership;

(D) a transaction or an arrangement in respect of a property where the person providing the consideration is not traceable or is fictitious;

Explanation.-For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that benami transaction shall not include any transaction involving the allowing of possession of any property to be taken or retained in part performance of a contract referred to in section 53A of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 (4 of 1882), if, under any law for the time being in force,-

(i) consideration for such property has been provided by the person to whom possession of property has been allowed but the person who has granted possession thereof continues to hold ownership of such property;

(ii) stamp duty on such transaction or arrangement has been paid; and

(iii) the contract has been registered.

3 Section 53 of 2016 Act: "Penalty for benami transaction

(1) Where any person enters into a benami transaction in order to defeat the provisions of any law or to avoid payment of statutory dues or to avoid payment to creditors, the beneficial owner, benamidar and any other person who abets or induces any person to enter into the benami transaction, shall be guilty of the offence of benami transaction.

(2) Whoever is found guilty of the offence of benami transaction referred to in sub-section (1) shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to twenty-five per cent. of the fair market value of the property."

4 Section 27 of 2016 Act: Confiscation and vesting of benami property

(1) ..........

(2) Nothing in sub-section (1) shall apply to a property held or acquired by a person from the benamidar for adequate consideration, prior to the issue of notice under sub-section (1) of section 24 without his having knowledge of the benami transaction.

5 24. Notice and attachment of property involved in benami transaction

(1) Where the Initiating Officer, on the basis of material in his possession, has reason to believe that any person is a benamidar in respect of a property, he may, after recording reasons in writing, issue a notice to the person to show cause within such time as may be specified in the notice why the property should not be treated as benami property.

(2) Where a notice under sub-section (1) specifies any property as being held by a benamidar referred to in that sub-section, a copy of the notice shall also be issued to the beneficial owner if his identity is known.

(3) Where the Initiating Officer is of the opinion that the person in possession of the property held benami may alienate the property during the period specified in the notice, he may, with the previous approval of the Approving Authority, by order in writing, attach provisionally the property in the manner as may be prescribed, for a period not exceeding ninety days from the date of issue of notice under sub-section (1).

(4) The Initiating Officer, after making such inquires and calling for such reports or evidence as he deems fit and taking into account all relevant materials, shall, within a period of ninety days from the date of issue of notice under sub-section (1),-

(a) where the provisional attachment has been made under sub-section (3), -

(i) pass an order continuing the provisional attachment of the property with the prior approval of the Approving Authority, till the passing of the order by the Adjudicating Authority under sub-section (3) of section 26; or

(ii) revoke the provisional attachment of the property with the prior approval of the Approving Authority;

(b) where provisional attachment has not been made under sub-section (3),-

(i) pass an order provisionally attaching the property with the prior approval of the Approving Authority, till the passing of the order by the Adjudicating Authority under sub-section (3) of section 26; or

(ii) decide not to attach the property as specified in the notice, with the prior approval of the Approving Authority.

(5) Where the Initiating Officer passes an order continuing the provisional attachment of the property under sub-clause (i) of clause (a) of sub-section (4) or passes an order provisionally attaching the property under sub-clause (i) of clause (b) of that sub-section, he shall, within fifteen days from the date of the attachment, draw up a statement of the case and refer it to the Adjudicating Authority.]

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist professional advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. The views expressed in this article are solely of the authors of this article.

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Authors
Vijay Pal Dalmia, Partner
Pavit Singh Katoch
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