finance minister

The Budget: What happens next and some stats on what happened before

Authored by Vishnu Padmanabhan and Priya Soman The Budget speech may have already been scrutinised and the numbers analysed but the Budget process is far from complete.  The Constitution requires expenditure from the government’s Consolidated Fund of India to be approved by the Lok Sabha (the Rajya Sabha does not vote, but can suggest changes). After the Finance Minister presents the Union Budget, Parliament holds a general discussion followed by a detailed discussion and vote on Demands for Grants. In the general discussion, the House discusses the Budget as a whole but no motions can be moved and no voting takes place.  In the 15th Lok Sabha, the average time spent during the Budget Session on general discussion has been 13 hours 20 minutes so far. Following the general discussion, Parliament breaks for recess while Demands for Grants – the projected expenditure by different ministries - are examined by the relevant Standing Committees of Parliament. This year Parliament is scheduled to break for a month from March 22nd to April 22nd. After the break, the Standing Committees table their reports; the grants are discussed in detail and voted on.  Last year, the total time spent on the Union Budget, on both general and detailed discussion was around 32 hours (or 18% of total time in the session), largely in line with the average time spent over the last 10 years (33 hours, 20% of total time). A unique feature of Indian democracy is the separate presentation and discussion for the Railway Budget.  Including the Railway Budget the overall time spent on budget discussion last year was around 55 hours (30% of total time in the session).

Note: All data from Budget sessions; data from 2004 and 2009 include interim budget sessions. Source: Lok Sabha Resume of Work, PRS

 

During the detailed discussion, MPs can call for ‘cut motions’ to reduce the amounts of demands for grants made by a Ministry. This motion can be tabled in three ways: (i) ‘the amount of the demand be reduced to Re.1/’ signifying disapproval of the policies of that ministry; (ii)  ‘the amount of the demand be reduced by a specified amount’, an economy cut signifying a disapproval of the amount spent by the ministry  and (iii) ‘the amount of the demand be reduced by Rs.100/-', a token cut airing a specific grievance within the policy of the government. However in practice almost all demands for grants are clubbed and voted together (a process called guillotining). In 2012, 92% of demands for grants were guillotined. The grants for Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Health and Family Welfare, Home Affairs and Urban Development were the only grants taken up for discussion. Over the last 10 years, 85% of demands for grants have been voted for without discussion. The most frequently discussed demand for grants come from the Ministry of Home Affairs (discussed in 6 of the last 10 sessions) and the Ministry of Rural Development (5 times).  Demand for grants for Defence, the largest spending Ministry, has only been voted after discussion once in the last 10 years.

Source: Lok Sabha Resume of Work, Union Budget documents, PRS

 

If the government needs to spend any additional money, it can introduce Supplementary Demands for Grants during the year.  However if after the financial year government spending on a service exceeds the amount granted, then an Excess Demand for Grant has to be introduced and passed in the following year.  The Budget process concludes with the introduction and passage of the Appropriation Bill authorising the government to spend money from the Consolidated Fund of India. In addition, a Finance Bill, containing the taxation proposals of the government is considered and passed by the Lok Sabha after the Demands for Grants have been voted upon.

General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR)

The issue of the General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) has dominated the news recently and there are fears that GAAR will discourage foreign investment in India.  However, tax avoidance can hinder public finance objectives and it is in this context GAAR was introduced in this year’s Budget.  Last week, the Finance Minister pushed back the implementation of GAAR by a year. What is GAAR? GAAR was first introduced in the Direct Taxes Code Bill 2010.  The original proposal gave the Commissioner of Income Tax the authority to declare any arrangement or transaction by a taxpayer as ‘impermissible’ if he believed the main purpose of the arrangement was to obtain a tax benefit.  The 2012-13 Finance Bill (Bill), that was passed by Parliament yesterday, defines ‘impermissible avoidance arrangements’ as an arrangement that satisfies one of four tests.  Under these tests, an agreement would be an ‘impermissible avoidance arrangement’ if it  (i) creates rights and obligations not normally created between parties dealing at arm’s length, (ii) results in misuse or abuse of provisions of tax laws, (iii) is carried out in a way not normally employed for bona fide purpose or (iv) lacks commercial substance.

As per the Bill, arrangements which lack commercial substance could involve round trip financing, an accommodating party and elements that have the effect of offsetting or cancelling each other.  A transaction that disguises the value, location, source, ownership or control of funds would also be deemed to lack commercial substance. The Bill as introduced also presumed that obtaining a tax benefit was the main purpose of an arrangement unless the taxpayer could prove otherwise. Why? GAAR was introduced to address tax avoidance and ensure that those in different tax brackets are taxed the correct amount.  In many instances of tax avoidance, arrangements may take place with the sole intention of gaining a tax advantage while complying with the law.  This is when the doctrine of ‘substance over form’ may apply.  ‘Substance over form’ is where real intention of parties and the purpose of an arrangement is taken into account rather than just the nomenclature of the arrangement.  Many countries, like Canada and South Africa, have codified the doctrine of ‘substance over form’ through a GAAR – type ruling. Issues with GAARcommon criticism of GAAR is that it provides discretion and authority to the tax administration which can be misused.  The Standing Committee responded to GAAR in their report on the Direct Taxes Code Bill in March, 2012. They suggested that the provisions should ensure that taxpayers entering genuinely valid arrangements are not harassed.  They recommended that the onus should be on tax authorities, not the taxpayer, to prove tax avoidance.  In addition, the committee suggested an independent body to act as the approving panel to ensure impartiality.  They also recommended that the assessing officer be designated in the code to reduce harassment and unwarranted litigation. GAAR Amendments On May 8, 2012 the Finance Minister amended the GAAR provisions following the Standing Committee’s recommendations.  The main change was to delay the implementation of GAAR by a year to “provide more time to both taxpayers and the tax administration to address all related issues”.  GAAR will now apply on income earned in 2013-14 and thereafter.  In addition, the Finance Minister removed the burden upon the taxpayer to prove that the main purpose of an alleged impermissible arrangement was not to obtain tax benefit.  These amendments were approved with the passing of the Bill. In his speech, the Finance Minister stated that a Committee had also been formed under the Chairmanship of the Director General of Income Tax.  The Committee will suggest rules, guidelines and safeguards for implementation of GAAR.  The Committee is expected to submit its recommendations by May 31, 2012 after holding discussions with various stakeholders in the debate.

Amendments Proposed to Draft Direct Taxes Code

The draft Direct Taxes Code Bill seeks to consolidate and amend the law relating to all direct taxes and will replace the Income Tax Act, 1961.  The draft Bill, along with a discussion paper, was released for public comments in August 2009.[1] Following inputs received, the government proposed revisions to the draft Bill in June 2010. The table below summarises these revisions.  The government has not released the changes proposed in the form of a revised draft bill however, but as a new discussion paper.  The note is based on this discussion paper.[2] The Code had proposed a number changes in the current direct tax regime, such as a minimum alternate tax (MAT) on companies’ assets (currently imposed on book profits), and the taxation of certain types of personal savings at the time they are withdrawn by an investor.  Under the new amendments, some of these changes, such as MAT, have been reversed.  Personal savings in specified instruments (such as a public provident fund) will now continue to remain tax-free at all times.  The tax deduction on home loan interest payments, which was done away with by the Code, has now been restored. However, the discussion paper has not specified whether certain other changes proposed by the Code (such as a broadening of personal income tax slabs), will continue to apply.

Issue Income Tax Act, 1961 Draft Direct Taxes Code (August 09) Revisions Proposed (June 2010)
Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) MAT currently imposed at 18% of profits declared by companies to shareholders. To be imposed on assets rather than profits of companies.  Tax rate proposed at 2% (0.25% for banks) MAT to be imposed on book profit as is the case currently.  Rate not specified.
Personal Saving / retirement benefits Certain personal savings, such as public provident funds, are not taxed at all. Such savings to be taxed at the time of withdrawal by the investor. Such savings to remain tax-exempt at all stages, as is the case currently.
Income from House Property Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or ‘reasonable’ rent set by municipality(less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property. Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or 6% of cost /value set by municipality (less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property. Taxable rent is no longer presumed to be 6% in case of non-let out property. Tax deductions allowed on interest on loans taken to fund such property.
Interest on Home loans Interest on home loans is tax deductible Tax deductions on home loan interest not allowed. Tax deductions for interest on loans allowed, as is currently the case.
Capital Gains Long term and short term gains taxed at different rates. Distinction between long and short term capital gains removed and taxed at the applicable rate; Securities Transaction Tax done away with. Equity shares/mutual funds held for more than a year to be taxed at an applicable rate, after deduction of specified percentage of capital gains. No deductions allowed for investment assets held for less than a year. Securities Transaction tax to be ‘calibrated’ based on new regime. Income on securities trading of FIIs to be classified as capital gains and not business income.
Non-profit Organisations Applies to organizations set up for ‘charitable purposes’. Taxed (at 15% of surplus) only if expenditure is less than 85% of income. To apply to organizations carrying on ‘permitted welfare activities’. To be taxed at 15% of  income which remains unspent at the end of the year.  This surplus is to be calculated on the basis of cash accounting principles. Definition of ‘charitable purpose’ to be retained, as is the case currently. Exemption limit to be given and surplus in excess of this will be taxed.  Up to 15% of surplus / 10% of gross receipts can be carried forward; to be used within 3 years.
Units in Special Economic Zones Tax breaks allowed for developers of Special Economic Zones and units in such zones. Tax breaks to be done away with; developers currently availing of such benefits allowed to enjoy benefits for the term promised (‘grandfathering’). Grandfathering of exemptions allowed for units in SEZs as well as developers.
Non-resident Companies Companies are residents if they are Indian companies or are controlled and managed wholly out of India. Companies are resident if their place of control and management is situated wholly or partly in India, at any time in the year.  The Bill does not define ‘partly’ Companies are resident if ‘place of effective management’ is in India i.e. place where board make their decisions/ where officers or executives perform their functions.
Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements In case of conflict between provisions of the Act, and those in a tax agreement with another country, provisions which are more beneficial to the taxpayer shall apply The provision which comes into force at a later date shall prevail.  Thus provisions of the Code would override those of existing tax agreements. Provisions which more beneficial shall apply, as is the case currently.  However, tax agreements will not prevail if anti-avoidance rule is used, or in case of certain provisions which apply to foreign companies.
General Anti-Avoidance Rule No provision Commissioner of Income Tax can declare any arrangement by a taxpayer as ‘impermissible’, if in his judgement, its main purpose was to have obtained a tax benefit. CBDT to issue guidelines as to when GAAR can be invoked; GAAR to be invoked only in cases of tax avoidance beyond a specified limit; disputes can be taken to Dispute Resolution Panel.
Wealth Tax Charged at 1% of net wealth above Rs 15 lakh To be charged at 0.25% on net wealth above Rs 50 crore; scope of taxable wealth widened to cover financial assets. Wealth tax to be levied ‘broadly on same lines’ as Wealth Tax Act, 1957. Specified unproductive assets to be subject to wealth tax; nonprofit organizations to be exempt.  Tax rate and exemption limit not specified.
Source: Income Tax Act, 1961, Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill (August 2009), New Discussion Paper (June 2010), PRS

[1] See PRS Legislative Brief on Draft Direct Taxes Code (version of August 2009) at  http://prsindia.org/index.php?name=Sections&id=6 [2] Available at http://finmin.nic.in/Dtcode/index.html