The tax authorities have now started to enforce a rule that if you earn more than Rs.10 lakh in scholarship money, the tax department will withhold the difference from your refund.
This comes in the wake of an RTI query by the Taxpayers’ Union (TU), which revealed that the government is withholding Rs.15,000 crore from the tax refund for scholarships and grants awarded to students in the name of merit.
The RTI has revealed that in FY18-19, the government has withheld Rs.16,500 crore from scholarship and grant refunds to students.
The RTI filed by TU on January 27, 2020, had revealed that Rs.5,00,000,000 was withheld from the refund of scholarship and grants, while the other Rs.2,00.000, 000 was withheld as interest.
This amounts to Rs.11,600 crore.
The tax department said in a notification dated January 29, that the tax officer would not take into account the interest from the scholarship and award refund for scholarship and merit based scholarship if the income is over Rs. 5 lakh.
The notification also states that the amount of interest to be paid on the refund will be determined by the tax office based on the amount earned and the tax amount.
The TU said in the RTI that the interest on the refunds was not due on scholarships, grants, or scholarship funds that were awarded after June 30, 2019.
In its notification, the TU had said that scholarships were given on the basis of merit and merit-based scholarships were not subject to any tax.
The RTIs disclosure of the interest was not made public until January 28, when it was revealed that it was not applicable to scholarships awarded on the first anniversary of the year of award.
The tax department has also not released details of scholarships that were given after the first year of the awards.
The department also said that the refund for such scholarships and grant are not subject for withholding.
While the tax departments response is a welcome move, the notification has also prompted speculation about the nature of the exemption, given that many scholarship and fee based scholarships are tax exempt.
In an article in the Times of India, Dr Prakash Agrawal, a senior tax lawyer, said that tax exemptions are not the same as tax deductions.
He said that since tax exemption is not an amount that the taxpayers can deduct from their income tax return, a refund can be withheld without any tax liability.
However, the minister, Ananth Kumar, clarified that the exemption applies only for scholarship, grant, and scholarship funds.
“As per the law, scholarship funds are not taxable and there is no tax deduction from them.
There is no exemption from income tax for these funds.
If the student is an awardee of a scholarship or scholarship fund, the student has to pay tax on the award.
Therefore, the exemption is only for the funds,” he said.
While the exemption does not apply to scholarships, grant and scholarship based scholarships can be deducted from the student’s income tax returns if the student was earning more than the scholarship amount.
A student who earned more than one lakh rupees can deduct up to 50 per cent of the scholarship award from his income tax.
The exemption for grant and grant based scholarships does not depend on the total amount of income earned.
A scholarship grant is taxable and tax will not be deducted on it.
However the RTIs notification states that if the scholarship is paid to students for education in India, it is taxable.
A number of colleges and universities in the country have been asked to comply with the tax authorities directions.