The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology released three draft policies on telecommunications, information technology and electronics. The Ministry has invited comments on the draft policies, which may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. These policies have the common goal of increasing revenues and increasing global market share. However, the policies may be incompatible with the Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010 (DTC) and India’s international obligations under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT). Below we discuss these policies within the scope of the GATT and the DTC. The draft National Information Technology Policy, 2011 aims to formulate a fiscal structure to attract investment in the IT industry in tier II and III cities. It also seeks to prepare SMEs for a competitive environment by providing fiscal benefits. Similarly, the draft National Electronics Policy provides for fiscal incentives in manufacturing on account of infrastructure gaps relating to power, transportation etc. and to mitigate the relatively high cost of finance. The draft policy also provides preferential market access for domestically manufactured or designed electronic products including mobile devices and SIM cards. The draft National Telecom Policy seeks to provide fiscal incentives required by indigenous manufacturers of telecom products and R&D institutions. The theme of the DTC was to remove distortions arising from incentives. The detailed note annexed to the Bill states that “tax incentives are inefficient, distorting, iniquitous, impose greater compliance burden on the tax payer and on the administration, result in loss of revenue, create special interest groups, add to the complexity of the tax laws, and encourage tax avoidance and rent seeking behaviour.” It further notes that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on finance had recommended removal of exemptions other than in exceptional cases. As per the Department of Revenue, tax holidays should only be given in businesses with extremely high risks, lumpy investments and lengthy gestation periods. The DTC also removes location-based incentives as these “lead to diversion of resources to areas where there is no comparative advantage”. These also lead to tax evasion and avoidance, and huge administrative costs. The proposals to provide fiscal incentives in all three draft policies contradict the direction of the direct tax reforms. Article 3 of GATT provides that foreign products should be accorded the same treatment accorded to similar domestic products in respect of all laws, regulations and requirements affecting their internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution and use. The provisions in the draft electronics policy to secure preferential market access to products manufactured in India may contravene this Article. In granting such fiscal and trade incentives, the policies may be contrary to the approach adopted in the DTC and India’s obligations under the GATT. These draft policies will have to be reconciled with tax reforms and trade obligations.
A Committee has been set up to examine appropriateness of procedures followed by the Department of Telecommunications in issuance of licences and allocation of spectrum during the period 2001-2009. The Committee will be chaired by retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice (Retd.) Shri Shivraj V. Patil. According to news reports the Committee is scheduled to submit its report by the first week of January 2011. The Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Committee have been listed as: 1. To study the circumstances and developments in the Telecom sector that led to the formulation of the New Telecom Policy 1999 and subsequently, introduction of 4th Cellular Telecom Mobile Service (CMTS) licence in 2001. 2. To examine the internal (intra-departmental) procedures adopted by DoT during the period 2001-2009 for: a. Issue of telecom access service licences, and b. Allocation of spectrum to all telecom access services licencees during the above period. 3. To examine whether these procedures were in accordance with existing policies and directions of DoT/Government. 4. To examine whether these procedures were followed consistently and if not, identify specific instances of: a. Deviation from laid down procedures; b. Inappropriate application of laid down procedures; c. Violation of underlying principles of laid down procedures. 5. To examine whether the procedures adopted were fair and transparent and were in keeping with the principles of natural justice and if not, identify the specific instances of lack of fairness and transparency. 6. To identify the deficiencies, if any, in the procedures as formulated and identify the public officials responsible for such deficiencies. 7. To identify the shortcomings and lapses, if any, in the implementation of the laid down procedures and identify the public officials responsible for such lapses. 8. To suggest remedial measures to avoid in future: a. Deficiencies in formulation of procedures; and b. Lapses in implementation of laid-down procedures.