Outlandish it may appear but an Income Tax Tribunal in Maharashtra has held that Hinduism is not a religion and Shiva, Hanuman or Goddess Durga are regarded as "superpowers of the universe" and do not represent a particular religion.
The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Nagpur, in a recent order, said the expenses on worshipping Hindu deities and maintenance of temple could not be considered as religious activity.
"Technically, Hinduism is neither a religion nor Hindus form a religious community. Therefore, expenses incurred for worshipping Shiva, Hanuman or Durga and for maintenance of temples cannot be regarded to be for religious purposes. They are merely regarded to be the superpower of the universe," it said.
The order by accountant-member P K Bansal and judicial member DT Garasia came on an appeal filed by 'Shiv Mandir Devsthan Panch Committee Sanstan' against an order of Income Tax Commissioner of Nagpur, who had denied the trust an exemption on the ground that more than 5 per cent of its expenses had been on religious activities, thus rendering it ineligible for such concession.
The case pertains to expenses incurred by the trust in 2008 and the tax benefit sought under Section 80G(5)(vi) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which says "charitable purpose" does not include a purpose which is of a "religious nature".
The CIT took the view that the expenses for building maintenance, offering free food and festival prayers as also daily expenses, and those for imparting tailoring and yoga training, and free distribution of opticals, totalling Rs 82,977 were religious in nature and expenses of only Rs 6,700 were for non-religious objectives, the ITAT order said.
However, the Sanstan said the temple run by it was open to everyone, irrespective of caste and creed and that "the temple does not belong to a particular religion. Installing idols is not a religious activity".
The trust claimed that maintenance expenses incurred on the building was a charitable and not religious activity.
"The I-T commissioner must be aware that Hindus are a number of communities having different gods who are being worshipped differently, with different rituals and follow ethical codes. Even worship of god is not essential for a person who has adopted Hinduism as a way of life," the ITAT said.
In the instant case, the ITAT order said, since nothing had been brought by IT authorities to prove that the activity carried out by the trust was religious in nature, the onus now lay with the Revenue Department to prove that the assessee trust was "wholly or substantially for religious purpose.