ISLAMABAD: The counsel for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen facing a disqualification case described as “difficult” an apex court query whether a person holding thousands of acres of productive land in others’ name should not pay taxes or declare them in nomination papers.
“What income and tax will a candidate show in the entry 14 of his nomination paper if he does not own agriculture lands but has 18,000 cultivable acres on lease with an income of Rs10 billion,” asked Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar while presenting a situation.
In response, Advocate Sikander Bashir Mohmand, representing Mr Tareen, conceded simply that it was a difficult question to answer, adding that the candidate would write “nil” in the nomination form since there was no agriculture tax on leased lands. “This is the legal sort of position,” the counsel replied curtly.
The question emanated from the arguments that it was the consistent stance of Mr Tareen that agriculture income tax was due on the income derived from land owned as opposed to leased lands. Therefore, the counsel explained, his client had disclosed in entry 14 of the nomination papers he had filed for the 2013 general elections all the details of owned land and agriculture income derived there.
When you are cultivating land then you have to pay tax on whatever income you are generating, observes CJ
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice had taken up petitions of PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi seeking disqualification of PTI chief Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen over non-disclosure of assets, existence of thier offshore companies as well as the PTI being a foreign-aided party.
“When you are cultivating land then you have to pay tax on whatever income you are generating,” the chief justice observed, adding that the Punjab agriculture income tax act was not ambiguous rather clear where it had been explained that every person who derived agriculture income was liable to pay agriculture income tax.
“How could you exclude the lessee from the tax,” the chief justice wondered, reiterating that the court was dealing with the question of honesty.
“When you derive income from the agriculture land then you straight forward fall in the definition of agriculture income and thus has to pay the agriculture tax,” observed Justice Faisal Arab.
The expression ‘landholding’ denoted land owned by the candidate and not land occupied or cultivated as lessee, the counsel said, adding that this interpretation was consistent with the disclosure required in the statement of assets and liabilities in the nomination form which also did not have a specific entry or space for immoveable property occupied under lease by the candidate.
Since agriculture income of Mr Tareen was derived from both owned and leased lands, he disclosed it in the return of total income for 2010 and 2011 which was appended with the nomination form of March 27, 2013. Thus his client indeed made full disclosure of all of his agriculture income, the counsel said.
Since the Lahore High Court is also examining similar queries, there will be overlap if the same questions will be determined by the Supreme Court, the counsel argued. Let the finding first come from the high court, he said.
“There is an entrench rule that agriculture assessment cannot be reopened after two years because the assessment then attains finality. Once the limitation is expired, it gives a vested right in favour of the lessee,” the counsel said.
When Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked about the consequences if the court assumed for a moment that agriculture tax was liable to be paid on the income from the leased lands, the counsel simply replied that his client could not be disqualified because he was a serious taxpayer.
When the court invited his attention to Section 12 (f) of the Representation of People Act, 1976, which also prescribes disqualification in such matters, the counsel said: “Tell me where I have lied.”
Meanwhile, senior counsel Akram Sheikh filed a rejoinder to the documents submitted by Imran Khan and argued that the PTI chief had attached excerpts of his ex-wife Jemima’s bank statement of Anglo Irish Bank to show receipt of 562,415 pounds, but regretted that just like all other statements of foreign banks attached by Mr Khan, it also failed to comply with the attestation and certification requirement laid down in Article 89 of Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order, 1984, read with Section 4 of the Banker’s Books Evidence Act, 1981.
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017