The Delhi High Court has upheld the Centre’s decision to levy GST on the services offered by an auto-rickshaw or other non-air-conditioned carriages through electronic commerce operators like Uber.
A bench headed by Justice Manmohan dismissed the petitions of Uber India Systems Private Ltd and others challenging the 2021 central government notifications making fare in respect of a booking through the platform of an electronic commerce operator (ECO) for an auto-rickshaw ride or a bus ride exigible to tax.
The court said ECOs form a class which is “distinct” from an individual service provider and the notifications, which take away an earlier exemption from tax levy, are in compliance with the object of the GST law to levy tax on every transaction of supply of goods and services.
“The Petitioners have not disputed the aforesaid stated objective of the GST law that every transaction must be taxed. Therefore, the impugned Notifications, which seek to withdraw the exemption and tax the consumers who elect to avail a ride in the auto rickshaw or a non -air-conditioned stage carriage through ECOs, is in conformity with the stated objective of the (GST) Act of 2017,” said a bench, also comprising Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, in the order passed on April 12.
“This Court has already opined and held that the ECOs are a distinct class and the Respondents are well within their jurisdiction to exclude the said class from exemption. There is no vested right in the ECOs to claim the continuation of exemption. Therefore, in the opinion of this Court, the classification between ECO and the individual service provider has a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the Act of 2017,” it said.
Besides Uber India, the other petitioners were Pragatisheel Auto Rickshaw Driver Union and IBIBO Group Private Limited along with Make My Trip (India) Private Limited.
Uber India had contended the notifications were violative of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution of India as they failed to satisfy the test of reasonable classification.
It was stated that no differentiation in tax treatment can be created between passenger transport services rendered by auto drivers facilitated through e-commerce platforms versus passenger transport services rendered by auto drivers offline.
The court ruled there was no discrimination on the basis of the mode of booking and observed that the service provided by the individual supplier is only one facet of the bundle of services assured by the ECOs to the consumer.
The ECOs are providing bundle of services such as security, digital payments, etc and partake a charge/commission from both the consumers and the individual supplier, it added.
The court also noted that Uber and similarly placed ECOs were already paying GST on services supplied through them for motor vehicles, including motor cycle other than auto rickshaw.
“In view of the aforesaid findings, we are of the view that the Petitioners 1, 2 and 3 are not entitled to the reliefs as sought in the writ petitions. Therefore, the present batch of writ petitions are dismissed,” it said.