SC asks Centre to explain service tax on Tirupati trust

SC asks Centre to explain service tax on Tirupati trust

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to respond to a plea of famous Tirupati temple trust challenging the decision to levy service tax on accommodation for visiting Hindu pilgrims.

A bench of Justices A K Patnaik and F M I Kalifullah issued notice to the Union government, asking it to file a response within two weeks on the writ petition filed by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, Tirupati, a body managing the holy shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala.

Senior counsel K Parasaran along with advocate Sridhar Potaraju appeared for the petitioner, who sought quashing of the provisions of the Finance Act, claiming they are contrary to Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) and 27 (freedom to pay taxes for promotion of any particular religion) and Article 14 (equality) of the Constitution.

The court also issued notice to the government on an interim application seeking non-application of the tax on the service rendered by the trust.

The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of Section 65 (105) and Section 66 B of the Finance Act.

The trust claimed that it was not engaged in any commercial activity and merely performing duties as mandated under the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institution and Endowments Act, 1987.

The petitioner submitted that thousands, and at times lakhs, of pilgrims visit Tirumala in a day, making it difficult for the trust to ensure “darshan” for them; so providing accommodation was a necessity and a part of the pilgrimage.

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