The basic purpose of Indian Stamp Act, 1899 is to raise revenue to Government. However, over a period of time, the stamped document has obtained so much value that a ‘stamped document’ is considered much more authentic and reliable than an un-stamped document.
Power of Parliament in respect of stamp duty - Parliament can make law in respect of Stamp Duty. It can prescribe rates of stamp duty. The stamp duty rates prescribed by Parliament in respect of bill of exchange, cheques, transfer of shares etc. will prevail all over India. However, other stamp duty rates prescribed by Parliament in Indian Stamp Act, 1899 (e.g. stamp duty on agreements, affidavit, articles of association of a company, partnership deed, lease deed, mortgage, power of attorney, security bond etc.) are valid only for Union territories. In case of States, the rates prescribed by individual States will prevail in those States.
Powers of State Government of Stamp Duty - State Government has powers to fix stamp duties on all documents except bill of exchange, cheques etc. Rates prescribed by State Government will prevail in that State. State Government can make law for other aspects of stamp duty also (i.e. matters other than quantum of duty). However, if there is conflict between State law and Union law, the Union law prevails [Article 254 of Constitution].
Instruments chargeable to stamp duty - Instrument includes every document by which any right or liability, is, or purported to be created, transferred, limited, extended, extinguished or recorded [section 2(17) of Indian Stamp Act]. Any instrument mentioned in Schedule I to Indian Stamp Act is chargeable to duty as prescribed in the schedule [section 3]. The list includes all usual instruments like affidavit, lease, memorandum and articles of company, bill of exchange, bond, mortgage, conveyance, receipt, debenture, share, insurance policy, partnership deed, proxy, shares etc. Thus, if an instrument is not listed in the schedule, no stamp duty is payable. ‘Instrument’ does not include ordinary letters. Similarly, an unsigned draft of an agreement is not an ‘instrument’.
Duty payable when several instruments - In case of sale, mortgage or settlement, if there are several instruments for one transaction, stamp duty is payable only on one instrument. On other instruments, nominal stamp duty of Re. 1 is payable [section 4(1)]. If one instrument relates to several distinct matters, stamp duty payable is aggregate amount of stamp duties payable on separate instruments [section 5]. However, it may happen that one instrument covering only one matter can come under more than one descriptions given in Schedule to Stamp Act. In such case, highest rate specified among the different heads will prevail [section 6].
Powers to reduce stamp duty - Government can reduce or remit whole or part of duties payable. Such reduction or remission can be in respect of whole or part of territories and also can be for particular class of persons. Government can also compound or consolidate duties in case of issue of shares or debentures by companies [section 9(1)]. ‘Government’ means Central Government in respect of stamp duties on bills of exchange, cheque, receipts etc. and ‘State Government’ in case of stamp duties on other documents [section 9(2)].
Mode of payment of stamp duty - The payment of stamp duty can be made by adhesive stamps or impressed stamps. Instrument executed in India must be stamped before or at the time of execution (section 17). Instrument executed out of India can be stamped within three months after it is first received in India [section 18(1)]. However, in case of bill of exchange or promissory note made out of India, it should be stamped by first holder in India before he presents for payment or endorses or negotiates in India [section 19].
Valuation for stamp duty - In some cases, stamp duty is payable on ad valorem basis i.e. on basis of value of property etc. In such cases, value is decided on prescribed basis.
Adjudication as to stamp duty payable - Adjudication means determining the duty payable. Normally, the person paying the duty himself may decide the stamp duty payable and pay accordingly. However, in cases of complex documents, the person paying the duty may not be sure of the stamp duty payable. In such case, he can apply for opinion of Collector. He has to apply with draft document and prescribed fees. Collector will determine the stamp duty payable as per his judgment [section 31(1)].
What is meant by ‘duly stamped’ - ‘Duly stamped’ means that the instrument bears an adhesive or impressed stamp not less than proper amount and that such stamp has been affixed or used in accordance with law in force in India [section 2(11)]. In case of adhesive stamps, the stamps have to be effectively cancelled so that they cannot be used again. Similarly, impressed stamps have to be written in such a way that it cannot be used for other instrument and stamp appears on face of instrument. If stamp is not so used, the instrument is treated as ‘un-stamped’. Similarly, when stamp duty paid is not adequate, the document is treated as ‘not duly stamped’.
Instrument cannot be accepted as evidence if not duly stamped - An instrument not ‘duly stamped’ cannot be accepted as evidence by civil court, an arbitrator or any other authority authorised to receive evidence. However, the document can be accepted as evidence in criminal court.
Case when short payment is by mistake - If non-payment or short payment of stamp duty is by accident, mistake or urgent necessity, the person can himself produce the document to Collector within one year. In such case, Collector may receive the amount and endorse the document that proper duty has been paid [section 41].
Stamp duty on Receipt - Stamp Duty on receipt is Re. 1 for receipt above Rs. 5,000. Receipt includes any note, memorandum or writing [whether signed by any person or not] (a) where any money, or any bill of exchange or promissory note is acknowledged to have been received or (b) where any other movable property is acknowledged to have been received in satisfaction of a debt or (c) whereby any debt or demand is acknowledged to have been satisfied or discharged or (d) which signifies or indicates any such acknowledgment [section 2(23)].
Stamp duty on transfer of shares in a company or body corporate - It is 50 Paise for every hundred rupees or part thereof of the value of share. [It is 75 Ps as per Article 62 of Schedule I to Stamp Act, reduced to 50 Ps per Rs 100 vide notification No. SO 198(E) dated 16.3.1976]. As per section 21, the duty has to be calculated on the basis of market price prevalent on date of instrument and not on the face value of shares.
Stamp Duty on transfer in Depository Scheme - If the company issues securities to one or more depositories, it will have to pay stamp duty on total amount of security issued by it and such securities need not be stamped. [section 8A(a) of Stamp Act]. If an investor opts out of depository scheme, the securities surrendered to Depository will be issued to him in form of a certificate. Such share certificate should be stamped as if a 'duplicate certificate’ has been issued. [section 8A(1)(b) of Indian Stamp Act]. If securities are purchased or sold under depository scheme, no stamp duty is payable.