As per S. 2(7) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, unless the context otherwise requires, the term “assessee” means a person by whom any tax or any other sum of money is payable under this Act, and includes,-
(a) every person in respect of whom any proceeding under this Act has been taken for the assessment of his income or assessment of fringe benefits or of the income of any other person in respect of which he is assessable, or of the loss sustained by him or by such other person, or of the amount of refund due to him or to such other person;
(b) every person who is deemed to be an assessee under any provision of this Act;
(c) every person who is deemed to be an assessee in default under any provision of this Act.
From above definition, we can construe that normally the term ‘Assessee’ is considered as one who is supposed to pay tax under the Income Tax Act, however for better understanding of the term ‘assessee’, we need to understand the following as well:
a. Normal Assessee
i) any person against whom proceedings under Income Tax Act are going on, irrespective of the fact whether any tax or other amount is payable by him or not;
ii) any person who has sustained loss and filed return of loss u/s 139(3);
iii) any person by whom some amount of interest, tax or penalty is payable under this Act;
iv) any person who is entitled to refund of tax under this Act.
b. Representative Assessee
A person may not be liable only for his own income or loss but he may also be liable for the income or loss of other persons e.g. agent of a non-resident, guardian of minor or lunatic etc. In such cases, the person responsible for the assessment of income of such person is called representative assesses. Such person is deemed to be an assessee.
c. Deemed Assessee
i) In case of a deceased person who dies after writing his will the executors of the property of deceased are deemed as assessee.
ii) In case a person dies intestate (without writing his will) his eldest son or other legal heirs are deemed as assessee.
iii) In case of a minor, lunatic or idiot having income taxable under Income-tax Act, their guardian is deemed as assessee.
iv) In case of a non-resident having income in India, any person acting on his behalf is deemed as assessee.
A person is deemed to be an assessee-in-default if he fails to fulfill his statutory obligations. For example, an assessee who fails to pay the demand u/s 156 within 30 days, in full, shall be deemed to be an ‘Assessee in Default’, except in circumstances where he has obtained Order staying the demand in due course. An assessee in default will continue to be so, unless he has cleared the demand/ obligations in full.
Further, In case of an employer paying salary or a person who is paying interest, it is their duty to deduct tax at source and deposit the amount of tax so collected in Government treasury. If he fails to deduct tax at source or deducts tax but does not deposit it in the treasury, he is known as assessee-in-default.