According to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, any person who has suffered injury, permanent disability or death caused by a motor accident, the victim or their next of kin is entitled to claim a compensation from the Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal or MACT. In case of delays in settling the claims, as often is the case, the tribunal also awards interest on the compensation amount provided for the duration of the delay.
But the question arises, is this compensation or the interest paid on it is a taxable component or not? Let’s find out more about this.
Nature of Compensation
To determine whether motor accident compensation is taxable or not, we have to first determine what is the nature of this compensation.
A compensation is awarded to alleviate the suffering of the victims or their family members. It is considered as an alternative for the loss of income that the victims and their dependents have encountered as a direct result of the motor accident. Such compensations take into account the total earning capability of a victim over his/her lifetime. But the nature of the compensation is that of a receipt as a means to mitigate a personal loss.
Income Tax Law on Compensations
The income tax law is not clear on the definition of income when it comes to such compensations. Money compensated for land acquisition is considered as an income source, but that’s because, in this case a clear transfer of asset (land) has taken place. However, with motor accident claim, no such asset is transferred.
In most cases the amount of compensation is determined as a multiple of the annual income of the victim. And under income tax laws, any capital gain as a substitute of regular income is a capital receipt. Capital receipts do come under the purview of taxable income. However, capital receipt to relieve a personal loss do not fall under taxable income specifically. Thus, it’s clear that any compensation for motor vehicle accident is not a taxable source of income.
Nature of Interest on Compensation
Under our tax laws, any interest we earn are treated as part of our income, and hence, are taxable. But interest received by a motor accident victim is awarded because of delays in awarding the claim due to reasons such as late filing of claim, slow investigation, delayed verdict on claim, etc. So, this interest is actually an enlargement of the original claim amount.
Unlike compensation for land which is governed under the Land Acquisition Act, interest on motor accident compensation is a part of the original claim, and hence, has the same nature of receipt as the compensation - a capital receipt to relieve a personal loss.
Rules of Tax Deduction at Source for Interests
Provisions for tax deduction at source (TDS) on interest on motor accident claims stipulates that no TDS is to be deducted on interest accumulated up to a sum of Rs.50,000 during one year. This provision directly implies that if interest earned is more than Rs.50,000, TDS is applicable in such cases.
However, there is a clear difference in our taxation system between TDS and taxable income. There can be a number of instances where tax deduction at source is done, but the earning itself is exempt from taxation. Therefore, even if TDS is deducted from the interest earned on motor accident claim, that does not make it taxable income.
Absence of Clear Demarcations
From the above discussion it is clear that neither motor accident compensation, nor the interest on such claims are taxable, as the definition of taxable income depends on the nature of the receipt and in this case neither can be deemed as income.
The confusion and litigation arises due to the unclear set of rules regarding such claims. There is no specific exemption for such compensation or interest, like those for workmen’s compensation, LIC maturity proceeds, and compensations for disasters. Until such time as a specific provision is made in the law for exemption of motor accidents compensation, victims will continue to suffer under this system.