Friday, August 12, 2011

Section 115BBD of the I.T. Act - Disguised Amnesty

Section 115BBD of the I.T. Act - Disguised Amnesty

T.N. PANDEY
EX-CHAIRMAN, CBDT

In this article, the author has examined the nuisances of newly introduced section 115BBD in the I.T. Act, 1961 by the Finance Act, 2011 for an year only and has demonstrated that this section is in the nature of disguised tax amnesty for short period for getting foreign funds taxed in India at 15% rate, making the country lose the balance tax @15% without mentioning any ostensible justification for doing so. Such an amnesty is against the assurance given on behalf of the Govt. to the Supreme Court of India and the Government's doing so is apparently unfair and morally unjustified.

A new section 115BBD titled 'Tax on certain dividends received from foreign companies' has been inserted in the Income Tax Act, 1961 (Act) by the Finance Act, 2011. The reason for such a provision has been explained in para 146 of the budget speech of the FM as under:-

"It has been represented that the taxation of foreign dividends in the hands of resident taxpayers at full rate is a disincentive for their repatriation to India and they continue to remain invested abroad. For the year 2011-12, I propose a lower rate of 15% tax on dividends received by an Indian company from its foreign subsidiary. I do hope these funds will now flow to India".

In the Explanatory Memorandum to the Finance Bill, 2011, the rationale for this provision has been elucidated saying that the provision is being enacted to give relief in respect of dividends received from foreign companies, which are presently taxable in the hands of the Indian taxpayers at the rates applicable in their cases. The provision is applicable only for one year. There is no corresponding section in the Direct Taxes Code, 2010.

The new section relates to taxation of dividends received from foreign companies. Under the existing provisions of the Act, dividend received from foreign companies is taxable in the hands of the recipient at applicable marginal rate of tax. Therefore, in case of companies, who receive foreign dividend, such dividend is taxable at the rate of 30% plus applicable surcharge and cess.

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The new section raises the issue as to why this provision for taxation of foreign dividends at reduced rate for one year has been considered necessary. The provision is seemingly in the nature of tax amnesty for facilitating transfer of tax evaded incomes from abroad at concessional rate of tax without any liability for penalty or prosecution.

The word 'amnesty' properly belongs to international law, and is applied to treaties of peace following a state of war, and signifies there the burial in oblivion of the particular cause of the strife, so that shall not be again a cause for war between the parties. And so amnesty is applied to rebellions, which by their magnitude are brought within the rules of international law, and in which multitudes of men are the subjects of the clemency of the government [Knote v. US, 95 US 149, 24, L.Ed. 442]. Broadly, it implies general pardon [see Deputy Inspector General of Police v. D. Rajaram, AIR 1960 AP 259, 262 [Constitution of India, Art. 72].

Tax amnesty implies an opportunity offered by a government to tax evaders to declare their past concealment of income, wealth, etc., without fear of being prosecuted. Tax amnesty (or impunity) is granted only for the past in order to secure better compliance and higher tax yield in the present and future.

Taxing dividends from foreign subsidiary company @15% rate only, without mentioning any cogent necessity for the same for the first time, gives an indication that at a time when there is so much stress for repatriation of tax evaded incomes slashed in foreign companies, the Govt. has quietly decided to lessen its quantum by giving incentive in the nature of an amnesty, when persons stocking such money abroad should be penalized.

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The last amnesty scheme under the Act was announced by the Finance Act, 1997 by Shri P. Chidambaram, the then Finance Minister titled "Voluntary Disclosure Scheme, 1997". The concept of this scheme has been explained in the Memorandum of the Ministry of Finance, explaining the Finance Bill, 1997, in the following words:-

"In order to mobilize resources and to channelise funds into priority sectors of the economy, and to offer an opportunity to persons, who have evaded tax in the past, to declare their undisclosed income, pay a reasonable tax and in future adopt the path of rectitude and civic responsibility, a voluntary disclosure of income and wealth is proposed to be introduced".

The validity of the scheme was challenged before the Bombay HC in the case of All India Federation of Tax Practitioners v. UOI. The HC upheld the constitutional validity of the VDIS, 1997. The matter was then taken to the Supreme Court, where an assurance was given by the Attorney General (AG) of India, inter alia, that amnesty schemes would not be introduced in future. On the basis of assurances by the AG, the SLP against the Bombay HC's decision was dismissed. Introducing section115BBD in the Act, when there is demand for transparency apparently flouts the assurance given to the Apex Court and is unfair and regrettable.

The FM needs to answer the following queries:-

(i) Why such scheme was not thought of earlier?

(ii) Why it has been brought in for one year only?

(iii) If the reply to the query at (ii) above is that the life left for the I.T. Act, 1961 is only one year then, why there is no such provision in the DTC, 2010?


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