The much-awaited revised discussion paper on the Direct Tax Code (DTC) is set in the public domain by the Manmohan Singh government. The earlier discussion paper on the Direct Tax Code Bill was released in August 2009 to receive public feedback and inputs on the proposals. The revised paper is said to have addressed some of these issues after attracting sharp criticisms from several quarters on various grounds.
The new simplified tax code, which is likely to be introduced in Parliament in the forthcoming monsoon session, is expected to raise tax slabs and lift the ceiling for tax-free savings. The new DTC will replace the decades old Income Tax Act.
At least, for now, there is some sort of relief from the amended proposal as compared to the previous one that intended to tax the savings at the last stage of withdrawal of the investments as per the Exempt-Exempt-Tax (EET) methodology of taxation.
Under the proposal on the capital gains, the government intends to do away with the distinction between the short-term and long-term capital gains in a bid to bring simplicity in the taxation of capital gains.
The discussion paper recommends that the capital gains of the tax payer will be added to their total income. Thus, the tax liability of the assessee, on account of income from the sale of capital assets, would be in line with their income slabs. The capital gains will be considered as income from ordinary sources.
Now, this move will definitely hinder the long term savings. Currently, investments in stock market assets and equity-oriented mutual funds which are held for more than 1 year are considered as long-term capital assets and are not taxable. Whereas income from short-term investments that are held for less than 12 months from the date of acquiring such assets are taxable at rate of 15%.
The phasing-out of distinction between short-term and long-term capital assets may not provide incentive to an investor to hold their equity assets for a longer duration, if their actual investments are yielding capital gains over a shorter period of time frame. They may be tempted to book gains more frequently as and when available and take home the profits that are accruing, irrespective of the time period.
The earlier version of DTC code had proposed that the gross rent from house property that has been rented out be computed at a presumptive rate of 6% with reference to the cost of construction or acquisition.
The second draft of DTC has done away with this presumptive rate of calculation for the gross rent. It recommends that the gross rent for taxation will be the actual rent received in case of houses that are let out.
Deduction on interest payment for the loan taken by individual borrowers for acquiring (or constructing) a house property would continue to enjoy the tax benefit subject to a ceiling of Rs.1.5 lakh (only for one house that is used for residing purpose).
Minimum Alternate Tax
A minimum alternate tax (MAT) is the one which is had to be paid by the companies that are enjoying various tax exemptions under different schemes. In the previous draft code, the Centre had proposed levying MAT on the asset base of the company – at the rate of 2% on the value of gross assets for all the non-banking companies.
However, due to practical difficulties in calculating the MAT for the loss-making companies as per the older version of the proposal, the revised draft code set out by the government says that the MAT should be calculated on the book profits. Thus, the new proposal would ensure that the loss-making companies do not get away from their legitimate taxation liabilities.
The modified directive on the MAT would come as a big relief to capital-intensive sectors such as infrastructure and capital goods among others. The older proposal of calculating MAT on asset base could have translated into effective higher tax rate based on huge asset base for the companies operating in such industries.
On public demand, the finance ministry has agreed to abandon its previous proposal on tax retirement benefits under Provident Fund. In the absence of a social security scheme, the new proposal provides for an Exempt-Exempt-Exempt (EEE) method of taxation for the government provident fund, PPF and recognized provident funds. Even pure life insurance products and annuity schemes are approved under tax exempted categories.
Thus, the government has proposed not to levy tax on the earnings from investments, made by the people, with intention of saving taxes in long-term saving instruments. However, withdrawals of savings above Rs.3 lakh will be taxed.
The modified draft also includes pensions administered by interim Pension Fund and Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), including pensions of government employees who are recruited since January 2004, under the EEE treatment.
Though, this measure may act a booster for public savings and income, it may sum up into potential losses in terms of prospective government revenues from taxes that could have been earned during the maturity (or withdrawals) of such savings as per the EET methodology of taxation, proposed during the earlier version of the DTC.
Foreign Firms and Flows
The revised tax code has sought to clear the ambiguity regarding the treatment of income earned by foreign institutional investors (FII) from securities transactions will be classified as capital gains and not business income, a step which could increase their tax liability. This modified status of income being classified under the capital gains would also make the FIIs eligible to pay advance tax installments, just like any other corporate.
The new code has also succeeded to address the concerns of the foreign firms on the issue of treaty override. The code clarifies that those foreign firms having a part of business operations in India for a certain period could be treated as a resident company liable to tax over here.
What’s your view on this updated Direct Tax Code proposal?