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Faceless Appeal Scheme 2021: A Forward-Looking Initiative

The Central Board of Direct taxes (“CBDT”), with an objective of bringing in more transparency in the appeal proceedings and “honoring the honest”, had introduced the “Faceless Appeal Scheme 2020”[1] (“Old Scheme”), on September 25, 2020. The Old Scheme was introduced with an aim to eliminate human interference between the taxpayer and the First appellate authority (Commissioner Appeals), thereby ensuring that the appeals are disposed in a fair manner and are not influenced by any relation and human biasness.

The Old Scheme was introduced with the noble intention of curbing malpractices, easing compliance and make appeal process seamless and faceless. However, there were some post implementation hiccups experienced and accordingly taxpayers requested certain modifications in the Old Scheme.

In order to fix the hiccups and incorporate the changes requested by taxpayers, the CDBT, in supersession of the Old Scheme, has introduced a new appeal scheme called as “Faceless Appeal Scheme 2021”[2] (“New Scheme”) on December 28, 2021.

In this alert, we have made an effort to apprise the readers with the changes introduced in the New faceless appeal Scheme vis-à-vis the Old Scheme.

Key Changes in the New Faceless Appeal Scheme, 2021

The key changes brought in by the New Appeal Scheme are as follows:

  1. Mandatory personal hearing, if requested

In the Old Scheme, the appellant or his authorized representative had to make a request for personal hearing and the Chief Commissioner or Director General in charge of the Regional Faceless Appeal Centre (RFAC) had the discretion to approve such request, if he was of the opinion that the request is covered by the circumstances laid down by the CBDT.

In the New Scheme, there is no requirement for prescribed circumstances and the discretion for grant of personal hearing has been completely removed. CIT(A) shall allow personal hearing if requested by the appellant anytime during the course of the proceedings.

  1. Restructuring of the appeal center

In the Old Scheme, CBDT had set up a three-layer structure with National Faceless Appeal Centre (NFAC) at the top to conduct appeals in a centralized manner (nodal agency), followed by RFAC to support NFAC and Appeal Unit (AU) at the bottom, to facilitate the conduct of e-appeal proceedings and dispose them. In the composition structure, each AU unit had one or more Commissioner Appeals [CIT(A)].

In comparison, the New Scheme has done away with the RFAC and has set up a two-layered structure headed by NFAC and AU will directly coordinate with NFAC and conduct the appeal and dispose them. Further, in the New Scheme, each AU will have only one CIT(A).

  1. Elimination of review by multiple AUs

In the Old Scheme, the NFAC on receipt of draft order from AU, would  review the order and if the payable amount in respect of disputed issue was more than a specified amount, then send the draft order to another AU, other than the AU which had prepared it. In any other case, the NFAC would  examine the order based on the specified risk management strategy and then finalise the appeal or send the draft order to another AU.

The other AU who was assigned such case, would  either concur with the order or suggest variations as it would  deem fit. In case of variation, the NFAC would  assign the said appeal to another AU other than the one who had prepared or reviewed the draft order. The NFAC would then pass the final order, based on the order received from the last AU.

In the New Scheme, the CIT(A), after examining the submissions, shall now pass the order by digitally signing the same and send it to NFAC, along with details of penalty proceedings, if any, to be initiated therein.

Such order shall be final and will not be reviewed at multiple AUs as provided in the erstwhile scheme. NFAC shall communicate such order to the appellant and such other officers as may be prescribed.

  1. Penalty Proceedings

In the Old Scheme, AU in the event of any non-compliance during the appeal proceedings, had to send a recommendation to NFAC to initiate penalty proceedings. However, in the New Scheme, there is no need to send such recommendation and the CIT(A) can directly send the penalty notice through NFAC.

FM Comments:

The modifications provided in the New Scheme are certainly a move in the right direction by easing the process and building a robust appeal scheme. The CDBT, by removing the discretionary power of the authorities for grant of personal hearing, has also made an effort to meet the constitutional validity criteria, which has also been one of the matters, challenged before the Courts.

References: 

[1] Notification No 76/2020 dated 25 September 2020

[2] Notification No 139/2021 dated 28 December 2021

Image Credits: Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

In order to fix the hiccups and incorporate the changes requested by taxpayers, the CDBT, in supersession of the Old Scheme, has introduced a new appeal scheme called as “Faceless Appeal Scheme 2021”[2] (“New Scheme”) on December 28, 2021.

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Decoding the India - US Transitional Approach on 2% Equalization Levy

Addressing tax issues arising in the digital economy has been a priority of the international community since past few years. In order to deliver a consensus-based solution and ensure that Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) pay a fair share of tax in the jurisdiction they operate, the Organization for Export Co-operation and Development (OECD) / G20, by way of a Statement/Deal had, on the 8th of October 2021, introduced a major reform in the international tax framework.  In all, 136 countries, including India and the USA, out of a total of 140 countries, have agreed to this Statement.

The Statement/Deal provides for an Inclusive Framework that requires countries to remove all digital services tax and other similar unilateral measures and provide for a Two-pillar solution, consisting of two components viz: Pillar One, which is about reallocation of an additional share of profit to the market jurisdictions and Pillar Two, consisting of minimum tax and subject to tax rules. For a detailed discussion on the OECD/G20 inclusive framework, kindly refer our article on OECD BEPS Framework: Recent Development.  

 

Post the issuance of the said Statement/Deal, on October 21, 2021, the United States of America (US), Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom reached an agreement on a transitional approach to the existing Unilateral Measures, while implementing Pillar One. A similar transitional approach has been agreed by India and the US on the 24th of November and notified by way of a Press Release by the Government of India- Ministry of Finance, the same has been elaborated below: 

 

Press Release dated 24th November on India and USA Agreement on Equalization Levy 

 

As per the Press Release, India and the US have agreed that the same terms that apply under the joint statement released by the US with five European countries on 21 October 2021, shall apply between the US and India, during the interim period before Pillar One rules comes into effect.

 In light of the Press Release and 21 October joint statement, impact on India’s 2% EL could be as follows:  

 

  • India will not be required to withdraw the 2% EL until Pillar One takes effect.
  • India will allow a credit of the excess of 2% EL chargeable on non-resident (NR) e-commerce operator (NR EOP), belonging to a multinational enterprise (MNE), during the “interim period”, vis-a-vis the tax liability determined under Pillar One – Amount A, for the said interim period, once Pillar One rules are in effect. As per the Press Release, this interim period will begin from 1 April 2022, till the implementation of Pillar One or 31 March 2024, whichever is earlier.
  • The US will terminate its proposed trade actions against India regarding the 2% EL.
  • India and the US will remain in close contact to ensure that there is a common understanding of the respective commitments and endeavour to resolve any further differences of views on this matter through constructive dialogue.
  • The final terms of the India-US agreement are awaited and is expected to be issued by 1 February 2022.

 

FM Comments: 

While the fine print of this agreement between the India and US is still awaited, it would be interesting to see how the 6% EL on online advertisement revenues, are proposed to be dealt with, as apparently, the same does not seem to form a part of the deal. 

It also remains to be seen what kind of potential hiccups this deal would entail, should there be a delay in the implementation of Pillar One, beyond the time provided in the deal, and the potential impact of this on the business of MNEs. 

At the given point of time, the above seems to be merely a statement of intent by the two major economies, so as to streamline the long pending issues of digital taxation. One can only hope that the said deal is not a result of threat of trade actions by the US and would indeed be a win- win for both the countries. 

Image Credits: Photo by Antonio Quagliata from Pexels

Post the issuance of the said Statement/Deal, on October 21, 2021, the United States of America (US), Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom reached an agreement on a transitional approach to the existing Unilateral Measures, while implementing Pillar One. A similar transitional approach has been agreed by India and the US on the 24th of November and notified by way of a Press Release by the Government of India- Ministry of Finance

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Additional Guidelines Issued on TDS/TCS Under Sections 194-O, 194Q & 206C(1H)

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has issued Circular No 20/2021 dated November 25, 2021, providing more clarification on deduction and collection of tax at source on certain transactions under sections 194-O, 194Q & 206C(1H) of the Income Tax Act.

Finance Act, 2020 inserted section 194O and section 206(C)(1h), effective from 01 October 2020, requiring E-commerce operators and sellers, respectively, to deduct Tax at Source (TDS)/ collect tax (TCS) on sale of goods, under prescribed circumstances. Subsequently, Finance Act, 2021 inserted section 194Q, effective from 01 July 2021, requiring buyer of goods, to deduct TDS on payment made to seller under prescribed circumstances.

In this regard, CBDT vide Circular no. 17/2020, dated 29.09.2020 and Circular no. 13/2021, dated 30.06.2021, issued guidelines to clarify the scope and applicability of the above sections and thereby removing the difficulties faced by the assessee.

In continuation to the above, to further remove the difficulties, CBDT with the approval of the Central Government (CG), has issued the following guidelines to clarify on the scope of the above TDS provisions:

 

Guidelines:

 

I. E-auction services carried out through electronic portal

It has been represented by various stakeholders involved in the business of e-auction services that provisions of section 194-O shall not be applicable to them based on the following arguments:

  • E-auctioneer conducts e-auction services for its clients in its electronic portal and is responsible for the price discovery only which is reported the client.
  • The price negotiations may happen directly between the parties and may not necessarily happen at the price discovered through e-auction process.
  • The transaction of purchase / sale takes place directly between the buyer and the seller party outside the electronic portal maintained by the auctioneer.
  • The e-auctioneer is not responsible for purchase / sale of goods except for limited purpose of price discovery.
  • Negotiation and payments terms happens only between the purchaser and seller offline and e-auctioneer does not have any further information or role to play to in this.
  • On the service charges payable to e-auctioneer, the client deducts TDS under the relevant provisions other than section 194-O of the Income tax Act (Act).

In this regard, it has been clarified by the CBDT that provisions of section 194-O shall not be applicable in cases where all the above features are cumulatively satisfied. Further, the buyer and seller would still be liable to deduct/ collect tax u/s. 194Q / 206C(1H) of the Act, as the case may be.

II. Adjustment of various State levies and taxes other than GST

It has been represented that while the clarification with respect to treatment of TDS on GST component is provided in the earlier Circular no. 13/2021, the same is silent on other non-GST levies such as VAT, Excise duty, Sales tax, etc.

In this regard, it has been clarified by CBDT that in case of purchase of goods exigible to other levies, if the component of VAT/Sales tax/Excise duty/CST, as the case may be, has been indicated separately in the invoice, then the tax is to deducted u/s. 194Q of the Act, without considering levies such as VAT/Sales tax/Excise duty/CST. However, in case of advance payment, the tax is to be deducted on the whole amount, as it will not be possible to identify the VAT/Sales tax/Excise duty/CST component to be invoiced in the future.

 

III. Applicability of Section 194Q of the Act in case where exemption has been provided under section 206C (1A) of the Act

Section 206C(1A) of the Act provides that, if the buyer furnishes to the seller a declaration in respect of  goods viz liquor, forest produce, scrap etc (specified in section 206C(1)) are to be utilized for the purpose of manufacturing, processing or producing article or thing or for the purposes of generation of power and not for trading purposes, than tax is not required to be collected. It has been requested to clarify whether the provisions of section 194Q of the Act will be applicable in such a case.  

Section 194Q of the Act does not apply in respect of those transaction where tax is collectible u/s. 206C [except sub-section (1H)]. Accordingly, it is noted that since section 206C(1A) exempts tax collection in respect of goods specified in section 206C(1),  it is hereby clarified that in such cases, the provisions of section 194Q of the Act will apply and the buyer shall be liable to deduct tax under the said section, if the conditions specified therein are fulfilled.

 

IV. Applicability of the provision of section 194Q in case of department of Government not being a public sector undertaking or corporation

It has been represented by both Central and State Government (department), to enquire if such department is required to deduct tax under the provision of section 194Q of the Act.

The provision of section 194Q requires tax to be deducted by a person, whose total sales, gross receipt or turnover from business carried on by that person, exceeds specified limit. Accordingly, it is clarified that in case department is not carrying any business or profession, the primary requirement of being considered as “buyer” will not be fulfilled. Hence, provision of section 194Q will not be applicable. However, if such department is carrying business or profession, then the provisions of section 194Q will be applicable.

In case where department is a seller, it is clarified that for the purpose of deduction of tax under section 194Q, department shall not be considered as “seller” and no tax should be deducted by the buyer.

In continuation to the above, it is further clarified that any other person, such as a public sector undertaking or corporation established under central or state Act, shall be liable to comply with provisions of section 194Q.

 

FM Comments:

The above are  welcome clarifications issued by the CBDT to bring more clarity and remove the hardship faced by the stake holders. However, there is still no clarity with respect to transactions where TDS / TCS is already deducted / collected and if by virtue of this clarification, the above provisions were not applicable, then whether in such cases refund can be claimed or not.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Finance Act, 2020 inserted section 194O and section 206(C)(1h), effective from 01 October 2020, requiring E-commerce operators and sellers, respectively, to deduct Tax at Source (TDS)/ collect tax (TCS) on sale of goods, under prescribed circumstances. Subsequently, Finance Act, 2021 inserted section 194Q, effective from 01 July 2021, requiring buyer of goods, to deduct TDS on payment made to seller under prescribed circumstances.

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OECD BEPS Framework: Recent Development

Addressing tax issues arising in the digital economy has been a priority of the international community since past several years. It aims to deliver a consensus-based solution and ensure Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) pay a fair share of tax in the jurisdiction they operate. After years of intensive negotiations, the Organization for Export Co-operation and Development (OECD) / G20 has recently introduced a major reform in the international tax framework for taxing the Digital Economy.

The OECD / G20 inclusive framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) [“IF”] has issued a Statement, on 8th October 2021, agreeing on a two pillar-solution to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the economy. There are 136 countries, including India, out of a total of 140 countries, representing more than 90% of the global GDP, that have agreed to this Statement. All members of the OECD countries have joined in this initiative and there are four G20 country members  (i.e. Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan & Sri Lanka) who have not yet joined. The broad framework of the two-pillar approach as per the Statement is as follows:

 

Pillar One

 

Introduction and applicability:

  • Pillar One focuses on fairer distribution of revenue and allocation of taxing rights between the market jurisdictions (where the users are located), based on a ‘’special purpose nexus’’ rule, using a revenue-based allocation.
  • Applicable to large MNEs with a global turnover in excess of  Euro 20 Billion and profitability above 10% (i.e. profit before tax)[1]. This revenue threshold is expected to be reduced to Euro 10 Billion, upon successful review, after 7 years of the IF coming into force.
  • The regulated financial services sector and extractive industries are kept out of the scope of Pillar One.

 

Calculation Methodology:

  • Such allocation will help determine the ‘’Amount A’’ under Pillar one.
  • The special-purpose nexus rule will apply solely to determine whether a jurisdiction qualifies for Amount A allocation based on which 25% of residual profits, defined as profit in excess of 10% of revenue, would be allocated to the market jurisdictions using a revenue-based allocation key.
  • Allocation vis-à-vis nexus rule will be provided for market jurisdictions in which the MNE derives at least Euro 1 Million  of revenue  [Euro 250,000  for smaller jurisdictions (i.e. jurisdiction having  GDP lower than Euro 40 Billion )]
  • Profits will be based on financial accounting income, subject to:
    • Minimal adjustments; and
    • Carry forward of losses
  • Detailed revenue sourcing rules for specific categories of transactions shall be developed to ensure that revenues are sourced to end market jurisdiction, where goods or services are consumed.
  • Safe harbour rules will be separately notified, so as to cap the allocation of baseline marketing and distribution profits of the MNE, which may otherwise already be taxed in the market jurisdiction.

 

Tax Certainty:

  • Rules will be developed to ensure that no double taxation of profits gets allocated to the market jurisdiction, by using either the exemption or the credit method.
  • Commitment has been provided to have mandatory and binding dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms to eliminate double taxation of Amount A and also resolve issues w.r.t transfer pricing and business profits disputes.
  • An elective binding dispute resolution mechanism for issues related to Amount A will be available only for developing economies, in certain cases. The eligibility of jurisdiction for this elective mechanism will be reviewed regularly.

 

Implementation:

  • Amount A will be implemented through a Multilateral Convention (MLC), which will be developed to introduce a multilateral framework for all the jurisdictions that join the IF.
  • The IF has mandated the Task Force on the Digital Economy (TFDE) to define and clarify the features of Amount A (e.g. elimination of double taxation, Marketing and Distribution Profits Safe Harbour), develop the MLC, and negotiate its content so that all jurisdictions that have committed to the Statement will be able to participate.
  • MLC will be developed and is expected to be open for signature in the year 2022, with Amount A expected to come into effect in the year 2023.
  • IF members may need to make changes to domestic law to implement the new taxing rights over Amount A. To facilitate consistency in the approach taken by jurisdictions and to support domestic implementation consistent with the agreed timelines and their domestic legislative procedures, the IF has mandated the TFDE to develop model rules for domestic legislation by early 2022 to give effect to Amount A.
  • The tax compliance will be streamlined allowing in-scope MNEs to manage the process through a single entity.

 

Unilateral Measures:

  • The MLC will require all parties to remove all digital service tax (DST) and other similar taxes (eg: Equalisation levy from India perspective) with respect to all companies and to commit not to introduce such measures in the future.
  • No newly enacted DST or other relevant similar measures will be imposed on any company from 8 October 2021 and until earlier than 31 December 2023 or coming into force of the MLC.

 

Pillar Two

 

Introduction:

 

  • Pillar Two consists of Global anti-Base Erosion Rules (GloBE) to ensure large MNEs pay a minimum level of tax thereby removing the tax arbitrage benefit which arises by artificially shifting the base from high tax jurisdiction to low tax jurisdiction with no economic substance.
  • Pillar Two is a mix of several rules, viz. (i) Income Inclusion Rule (IIR); (ii) Undertaxed Payment Rule (UTPR); and (iii) Subject to Tax Rule (STTR).
  • IIR imposes a top-up tax on parent entity in respect of low taxed income of a constituent entity
  • UTPR denies deductions or requires an equivalent adjustment to the extent low tax income of a constituent entity is not subject to tax under an IIR.
  • STTR is a treaty-based rule which allows source jurisdiction to impose limited source taxation on certain related-party payments subject to tax below a minimum rate. The STTR will be creditable as a covered tax under the GloBE rules.
  • There would be a 10-year transition period for exclusion of a certain percentage of the income of intangibles and payroll which will be reduced on year on year basis
  • GloBE provides de minimis exclusion where the MNE has revenue of less than Euro 10 Million and profit of less than Euro 1 Million and also provides exclusion of income from international shipping.

 

Calculation Methodology:

 

  • Pillar Two introduces a minimum effective tax rate (ETR) of 15% on companies for the purpose of IIR and UTPR and would apply to MNEs reporting a global turnover above Euro 750 Million under country-by-country report.
  • The IIR allocates top-up tax based on a top-down approach, subject to a split-ownership rule for shareholdings below 80%. The UTPR allocates top-up tax from low-tax constituent entities, including those located in the Ultimate Parent Entities (UPE) jurisdiction. However, MNEs that have a maximum of EUR 50 million tangible assets abroad and that operate in no more than 5 other jurisdictions, would be excluded from the UTPR GloBE rules in the initial phase of their international activity.
  • IF members recognize that STTR is an integral part of Pillar Two for developing countries and applies to payments like interest, royalties, and a defined set of other payments. The minimum rate for STTR will be 9%, however, the tax rights will be limited to the difference between the minimum rate and tax rate on payment.
  • GloBE rules would not be applicable to Government entities, international organizations, non-profit organizations, pension funds or investment funds that are UPE of an MNE Group or any holding vehicle used by such entities, organizations, or funds.

 

Implementation:

  • Model rules to give effect to the GloBE rules are expected to be developed by the end of November 2021. These model rules will define the scope and set out the mechanics of the GloBE rules. They will include the rules for determining the ETR on a jurisdictional basis and the relevant exclusions, such as the formulaic substance-based carve-out.
  • An implementation framework that facilitates the coordinated implementation of the GloBE rules is proposed to be developed by the end of 2022. This implementation framework will cover agreed administrative procedures (e.g. detailed filing obligations, multilateral review processes) and safe-harbors to facilitate both compliance by MNEs and administration by tax authorities.
  • Pillar Two is proposed to be effective in the year 2023, with the UTPR coming into effect in the year 2024.

 

FM Comments :

 

With the introduction of the OECD/G20 inclusive framework on BEPS, OECD expects revenues of developing countries to go up by 1.5-2% and increase in overall reallocation of profits to developing countries of about USD 125 Billion. India, being a huge market to large MNEs, has always endorsed this global tax deal. However, with the introduction of this framework, India will have to abolish all unilateral measures, such as equalization levy tax and Significant Economic Presence (digital permanent establishment) provisions. MNEs will also have to re-visit their structure to ring-fence their tax positions based on the revised digital tax norms.  This Statement lays down a road map for a robust international tax framework w.r.t taxing of the digital economy,  not restricted to online digital transactions.

References

[1] Calculated, using an “averaging mechanism”, details of which are awaited.

Image Credits: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

With the introduction of the OECD/G20 inclusive framework on BEPS, OECD expects revenues of developing countries to go up by 1.5-2% and increase in overall reallocation of profits to developing countries of about USD 125 Billion. India, being a huge market to large MNEs, has always endorsed this global tax deal.

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The Other Face of Digitalization: Changes to Tax Laws and More

Very often, speeches and articles begin by alluding to an environment of significant change, that brings in its wake, opportunities as well as higher levels of uncertainty. The wave of digitalization triggered by the emergence of various technologies is often cited as a prime example of this change. Digitalization has undoubtedly proved its worth in the past 18 months. Enabling remote working for millions of employees in various industries, enhancing the convenience of online banking, creation of new mobile payment options, virtual video/audio conferences are all examples of how digitalization has transformed the global society.

But there is a flip side to this too. Big Tech companies are growing rapidly, not just in terms of influence but also their financial muscle. To put it in perspective, the combined market capitalization of the top five Big Tech companies- i.e., Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon and Facebook was around US$9 Trillion as of 1 October 2021[1]. By comparison, the market cap of India’s top five companies was around US$750 Billion.

Tax laws need to keep up with the “digital economy”

The pandemic has severely dented government revenues worldwide, while expenses have ballooned. This has led to spiraling fiscal deficits, that have their own consequences. Given that most corporate tax regimes worldwide evolved keeping conventional businesses in mind, and that digital economy businesses are very different in nature, a new corporate tax playbook is clearly needed.

Given its large number of digitally-savvy consumers, a country like India is often one of the top three markets for digital economy companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, etc. But the nature of their business is such that they can carry out business in India (or any other jurisdiction) without having a significant place of business in that jurisdiction. So while countries like India contributed to revenues, low local operating costs meant higher profits. But this did not translate into higher taxes for India because MNCs registered companies in countries with lower tax rates and assigned IPR to these companies. The subsidiary operating in India would then pay a royalty to this overseas company. This is not illegal under the letter of existing tax laws, but it does lead to low tax revenues.

The Tax Justice Network estimates that India loses US$10.1 Billion annually due to abuse of tax laws; the US is believed to lose five times that amount (US$49.2 Billion). It is interesting that the same study identifies the Netherlands, the Cayman Islands, China, Hong Kong and the UK as the largest enablers of tax abuse. (source: “How global Tax Rules may reshape India”, The Mint, 23 September 2021).  

Change is already in the air

India was, in fact, a pioneer of sorts, when it introduced the equalization levy (a sort of digital service tax) in 2016 to bring some of the revenues of these digital companies into the tax net. Many other countries followed suit. Not surprisingly, there are now more concerted efforts to plug loopholes that Big Tech in particular is able to exploit to avoid tax in jurisdictions with higher tax rates. A major step to address this situation was announced in July 2021 by the OECD and G20. The move envisions a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% worldwide as well as a new framework for allocating more rights to tax digital economy companies to countries housing digital consumers- i.e., ensure fairer taxation of businesses in those jurisdictions where they earn profits.

Stop press!

Talk about timing! Just as I thought I had finished writing this blog, I saw the news that the OECD has finalized the framework for this major international tax reform. A new global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% has been set and will apply to companies whose revenues exceed 750 million Euros. Additionally, MNCs with global sales above 20 billion Euros and profitability above 10% will also be covered by the new rules. Model rules are expected to be formulated in 2022 and the new regime is to take effect in 2023.[2]

Including India 136 countries (that together account for 90% of global GDP) have backed this framework. Once such a regime comes into effect, individual countries will be required to withdraw any digital taxes they levy- e.g., India’s equalization levy.

While this kind of thinking will have a far-reaching impact on digital businesses and the global economy, new tax laws are not the only drivers of major change. If the recent testimony to the US Senate by whistleblower Ms. Frances Haugen is any indication, Facebook and other companies may soon face tougher laws around advertising and targeting specific segments of users. And given Google’s dominant position in the search business, competition laws too will inevitably get tougher. And as seen by India’s tough stand on Mastercard, data localization requirements too will become increasingly stringent. And finally, of course, data privacy laws too will evolve. The popular saying “May you live in interesting times” (incidentally, there’s no credible evidence that this was indeed a Chinese curse, as is often claimed) seems to have had the current period in mind. Even if it didn’t, we do live in interesting times- that’s for sure.

I wish you all a Happy Navratri/Durga Puja.

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1181188/sandp500-largest-companies-market-cap/
  2. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/oecd-deal-mncs-will-be-subject-to-a-minimum-tax-of-15-from-2023/articleshow/86876192.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

Photo by fabio on Unsplash

The pandemic has severely dented government revenues worldwide, while expenses have ballooned. This has led to spiraling fiscal deficits, that have their own consequences. Given that most corporate tax regimes worldwide evolved keeping conventional businesses in mind, and that digital economy businesses are very different in nature, a new corporate tax playbook is clearly needed.

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Heightened Onus on Assessee to Prove Genuineness of Share Subscription Money Routed Through Web of Entities

The Hon’ble Mumbai Tribunal in the case of Leena Power Tech Engineers Pvt Ltd[1] has held that the onus (i.e. burden) is on the assessee to prove the ‘bonafides’ or ‘genuineness’ of the share application money credited in the books of accounts. The Tribunal further remarked that it would be superficial approach to examine assessee’s claim only on the basis of documents filed and overlook the unusual pattern in the documents filed by the assessee and pretend to be oblivious of the ground realities.  

Considering the fact that the monies were routed through complex web of entities, which failed to inspire any confidence about the genuineness of the investing company and made it looks like a shell company, the Tribunal upheld the additions made by the Assessing Officer (AO) in the hands of the assessee with respect to the receipt of share application money.

 

Facts – Leena Power Tech Engineer’s Pvt. Ltd.:

In the instant case, the assessee had received share application monies from Rohan Vyapar Private Limited (RVPL) and Manbhawan Commercial Pvt Ltd (MCPL). The equity shares were issued at 900% premium on the face value of Rs 10 each i.e. Rs 90 per share. The assessee had issued 3,78,290 equity shares to RVPL and accordingly received an amount aggregating to Rs 3,78,29,600. Similarly, the assessee had received an amount aggregating to Rs 4,35,00,000 from MCPL.

The case of the assessee was reopened by the Assessing Officer (‘AO’) on the basis of certain information received from the investigation wing which mentioned that the assessee has received share application money from RVPL which was subjected to routing through several layers and ultimately has its source in of huge cash deposits in one of the branches of ICICI Bank.

The transaction flow has been elaborated below for ease of reference.



Assessee’s Contentions: Relevant documentary evidence produced

The Assessee’s contentions have been summarized below:

The assessee contended that it had submitted all the relevant documentary evidence such as details of the subscribers to the share capital, share premium, bank statement, justification of share premium (computed on a scientific basis), share valuation by cash flow method, and ledger confirmation from the subscribers. The assessee further submitted that the Revenue had also issued a notice under section 133(6) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (Act) which was duly replied along with the details of the transaction with the assessee, ledger account, return of income, audited balance sheet, etc. and accordingly it was contended that the assessee had discharged its initial onus cast upon it and now it is for the revenue authorities to prove otherwise.

It was further contended that the proviso to section 68[2] of the Act inserted with effect from 1 April 2013 cannot have retrospective operation. In this regard, reliance was placed on the ruling of Hon’ble jurisdictional High Court in the case of Gagandeep Infrastructure Pvt Ltd[3].

The Assessee further contended that the companies from which the assessee had received the share subscriptions were companies with proper net-worth and these companies were properly assessed to tax and have not been declared as shell companies by the Government or any official body and just because five levels below these companies, there are cash deposits in some bank accounts, the receipts cannot be rejected as lacking bonafide.

Accordingly, it was contended that the entries in the books of accounts of the companies subscribing to the shares cannot be brought to tax in the hands of the assessee.

Revenue’s Contentions: Assessee has failed to prove ‘Bonafides’

The primary contention of the Revenue was that the assessee has failed to prove the ‘bonafides’ of the share application money. Further, the Revenue further contended that the surrounding circumstance of the transaction clearly demonstrates that the transaction is not bonafide and the assessee is a beneficiary of a sophisticated money-laundering racket wherein the money is routed through multiple layering of accounts to the accounts of entities subscribing to the share capital of the assessee.

The Revenue further contended that it was the responsibility of the assessee to show the genuineness of the share application money received and merely producing PAN, income-tax returns, and financial statements of the subscriber do not prove that the transaction is bonafide. It was pointed out that there were hardly any overnight balances in the bank accounts of the companies subscribing to the shares of the assessee company, and all this indicates that these companies are merely conduit companies.

Issue Before the Tribunal:

The question which arose before the Tribunal was whether the learned Commissioner of Income-tax (Appeals) was justified in deleting the addition of Rs 8,13,29,600 as unexplained credit under section 68 of the Act in the hands of the assessee.

Mumbai Tribunal’s Ruling:

The Mumbai Tribunal observed and held as under:

At the outset, the Tribunal observed that there cannot be any dispute on the fundamental legal position that the onus is on the assessee to prove ‘bonafides’ or ‘genuineness’ of the share application money credited in the books of accounts and to prove the nature and source on the money to the satisfaction of the assessing officer.

The Tribunal placed reliance on the cases of Youth Construction Pvt Ltd[4], United Commercial and Industrial Co (P.) Ltd[5] & Precision Finance (P.) Ltd[6] and noted the kind of explanations which assessee is expected to provide:

  1. proof regarding the identity of the share applicants;
  2. their creditworthiness to purchase the shares; and
  3. genuineness of the transaction as a whole.

The Tribunal remarked that the onus of the assessee of explaining nature and source of credit does not get discharged merely by filing confirmatory letters, or demonstrating that the transactions are done through the banking channels, or even by filing the income tax assessment particulars.

The Tribunal further went on to add that, being a final fact-finding authority, it cannot be superficial in its assessment of the genuineness of a transaction and this call has to be taken not only in the light of the face value of the documents presented before the Tribunal but also in the light of all the surrounding circumstances, the preponderance of human probabilities and ground realities. The Tribunal placed reliance on the case of Durga Prasad More[7] wherein it was held that “If all that an assessee who wants to evade tax is to have some recitals made in a document either executed by him or executed in his favour then the door will be left wide open to evade tax. A little probing was sufficient in the present case to show that the apparent was not real. There may be a difference in subjective perception on such issues, on the same set of facts, but that cannot be a reason enough for the fact-finding authorities to avoid taking subjective calls on these aspects and remain confined to the findings on the basis of irrefutable evidence.”

The Tribunal further analyzed the financial statements of RVPL and observed that RVPL has earned only an interest income of Rs 1.13 lakhs and has not carried out any substantial activity during the relevant period. Further, the Tribunal found it difficult to believe that company handling investments in excess of Rs 10 crores and making such aggressive investments as buying shares for Rs 3.78 crores, at a huge premium of nine times the face value of shares, in the private limited and wholly unconnected companies, without any management control, will operate in such a modest manner. This defies logic and such transactions do not take place in the real-life world. The Tribunal also examined the bank account of RVPL and noted that there are series of transactions that do not inspire any confidence about the genuineness of the investing company but make it looks like a shell company acting as a conduit.

The Tribunal also observed that the entities involved in the transaction only provide different layers to the transaction and de facto hide the true investor. The assessee was also unaware of the actual beneficial investor in his company.

Additionally, the Tribunal examined, in detail, the valuation carried out by the assessee on the basis of Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) method and rejected the same thereby holding that the share premium at which the shares are issued is wholly unrealistic.   

A similar analysis was also carried out by the Tribunal with respect to another investor ‘MCPL’.

In light of the above facts and circumstances, the Tribunal rejected the assessee’s contention and held that the transactions under consideration are not ‘bonafide’ and accordingly restored the additions made by the AO.

Our Observation:

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue. The judgment further emphasizes taking a holistic view of the matter based on the surrounding circumstances rather than just relying upon the documentary evidence. Having said this, one has to keep in mind that documentary evidence will always be the primary source of substantiation of a particular transaction.

Going forward, it would be interesting to see the repercussions of this judgment and whether the other Tribunal and lower tax authorities would adopt a similar path and undertake a holistic view of the matter in order to differentiate between the apparent and the real.’

References

[1] [TS-883-ITAT-2021(Mum)]

[2] It provides that where the assessee is a company (not being a company in which the public are substantially interested), and the sum so credited consists of share application money, share capital, share premium or any such amount by whatever name called, any explanation offered by such assessee-company shall be deemed to be not satisfactory, unless— (a) the person, being a resident in whose name such credit is recorded in the books of such company also offers an explanation about the nature and source of such sum so credited; and (b) such explanation in the opinion of the Assessing Officer aforesaid has been found to be satisfactory.

 

[3] (2017) 80 taxmann.com 172 (Bom)

[4] [(2013) 357 ITR 197 (Del)]

[5] [1991] 187 ITR 596 (Cal)]

[6] [1994] 208 ITR 465 (Cal)]

[7] 1971) 82 ITR 540 (SC)

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

The order of the Mumbai Tribunal has, indeed, widened the scope of ‘onus’ placed on the assessee to prove the genuineness of a particular transaction. Such ‘onus’ will not be deemed to be discharged by merely filing the documents before the tax authorities, but the assessee would have to go one step further to justify the rationale of such transactions in order to prove that the transaction has not been entered as a colorable device to defraud the Revenue.

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45th GST Council Meeting: Sectoral Highlights

The 45th GST Council meeting held in Lucknow on 17th September 2021 saw quite a few revisions in GST rates, clarifications, extensions of timelines for concessional rates as well as extension of exemption. Apart from that the council recommended other trade facilitation measures and conducted pertinent discussion on anomalies in revenue stream arising out of earlier rounds of rate rationalisation and inclusion of petrol and diesels within the ambit of GST. Following is a sectoral analysis of changes recommended by the GST Council:  

Changes in the GST rates and clarifications  issued in the 45th GST Council Meeting:

 

A. Pharmaceutical Sector

Extension of existing concessional rates 

GST exemption on Amphotericin B and Tocilizumab has been extended from September 30, 2021, to December 31, 2021. 

 

Reduced rate of GST @5% available to COVID-19 medicines including Remdesivir, Heparin, 2-Deoxy-D-Glucosemade and monoclonal antibodies like Casirivimab and Imdevimab has been extended from September 30, 2021, to December 31, 2021 

 

Reduction in GST rates from 12% to 5%, till December 31,2021 
  • Pembrolizumab, sold under the brand name Keytruda used as an antibody in cancer immunotherapy to treat lung, stomach, head, and neck cancer. 
  • Itolizumab, an antibody used for patients with COVID-19. 
  • Posaconazole an antifungal agent. 
  • Infliximab used in treatment of arthritis. 
  • Favipiravir, Bamlanivimab & Etesevima used for COVID-19 treatment. 
GST Rate reduced to Nil 
Import of Infliximab, Zolgensma and Viltepso used in treating arthritis and Spinal-Muscular Atrophy, are exempted from Basic Customs Duty but attracts Integrated Goods and Services Tax [IGST] @12%. The GST Council has recommended reducing the IGST rate to Nil 
Clarification 
All laboratory reagents, falling under heading 3822, to attract GST @12%. 

B. Mid-Day Meal Services  

Reduction in GST rates  

To reduce the cost of serving food in Anganwadi under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and Mid-Day Meals Schemes, the GST Council has recommended reduction in GST on Fortified Rice Kernels classifiable under HSN 19049090, from 18% to 5%.  

C. Skill Training  

Reduction in GST rates  

Notification No.12/2017-Central Tax (Rate) dated June 28, 2017, provides for Nil rate of GST on skill training if 100% funded by the Government. The GST Council has recommended to extend this exemption to skill training for which the Government bears 75% or more of the expenditure.  

 

 

D. Oil and Gas Sector  

GST on Petrol & Diesel  

In response to the direction of the Kerala High Court, based on a writ petition to decide levy of GST on petrol and diesel, the member states of the GST Council have unanimously rejected the proposal and opted not to include petroleum products under the GST regime at this stage. 

 

Reduction in GST rates  

GST on biodiesel supplied to oil marketing companies (OMCs) for blending with diesel reduced from 12% to 5%. 

 

Trade Facilitation Measure 

The Director-General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) is empowered to issue an Essentiality Certificate to Exploration & Production (E&P) operators to undertake E&P operations in India. Based on the said certificate, E&P operators avail exemption from customs duty on goods imported for E&P operations. The said certificate is applied online. Under the Goods and Service Tax Regime, stock transfers are taxable. However, stock transfers by E&P operators stand exempted provided operators have NOC from the DGH. Operators apply for NOC through filing a physical application. To ease trade operations in the E&P sector, the GST Council recommends waiving the NOC requirement making the essentiality certificate an eligible document to undertake stock transfers without payment of tax. 

 

 

E. Metal & Mining Sector  

Increase in GST  

GST on ores and concentrates of metals classified under Chapter 26 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975 under tariff heading 2601, i.e., iron, under tariff heading 2608, i.e., zinc, under tariff heading 2603, i.e., copper, under tariff heading 2606, i.e., aluminium, increased from 5% to 18%. 

 

Clarification 

It is clarified that services by way of grant of mineral exploration and mining rights attract GST rate of 18% w.e.f. 01.07.2017. 

 

 

F. Infrastructure and Construction Sector 

Increase in GST 
  • GST on supply of bricks increased from 5% to 12%.  
  • Composition scheme has been extended to brick kilns with effect from April 01, 2022. The dealers opting for the composition scheme will pay GST@6% on supply of bricks. Dealers not opting for composition scheme will have to pay GST @12% with input tax credit facility. 

 

GST has been increased from 12% to 18% on – 

  • Railway or tramway locomotives, rolling stock and parts thereof 
  • Railway or tramway track fixtures and fittings and parts thereof  

 

 

G. Renewable Energy Sector 

Increase in GST rates  

GST rate increased from 5% to 12% on specified renewable energy devices and parts classified under Chapter 84, 85 or 94 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975. 

 

Clarification 

GST on setting up of a renewable energy system clarified. On December 31, 2018, the Government, through a Notification (27/2018), amended the law providing that if renewable energy devices were supplied along with a supply of other goods and taxable services towards setting up, then 70% of the gross consideration is to be deemed as ‘value of supply of goods’ attracting GST of 5% and the remaining 30 % shall be ‘value of services’ attracting GST @18%. GST Council clarifies that on specified Renewable Energy Projects, GST can be paid in terms of 70:30 ratio respectively for goods and services from July 01, 2017 to December 31, 2018 following the manner prescribed for the period on or after January 01, 2019. 

 

 

H. Food Sector 

 

Levy of GST  

Purchase of Mentha Oil [Peppermint Oil] from unregistered suppliers to attract GST @12% under reverse charge mechanism. 

 

Food Aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato, providing restaurant services, to collect GST @5% [w.e.f. January 01, 2022]. 

 

Clarification 

GST Council clarifies that Brewers’ Spent Grain (BSG), Dried Distillers’ Grains with Soluble (DDGS) and other such residues, are to be classified under heading 2303, which reads for “Residues of starch manufacture and similar residues, beet-pulp, bagasse and other waste of sugar manufacture, brewing or distilling dregs and waste, whether or not in the form of pellets” and shall attract GST @5%. 

 

It is clarified that scented sweet supari and flavoured and coated illachi fall under heading 2106, which reads for “food preparations not elsewhere specified or included (other than a roasted gram), sweetmeats, batters including idli/dosa batter, namkeens, bhujia, mixture, chabena and similar edible preparations in ready for consumption form, khakhra, chutney powder, diabetic foods” and attract GST @ 18%.  

 

Under the current tax structure, aerated drinks are classified under sub-heading 220210 attracting GST @28% plus a compensation cess of 12% and non-aerated drinks (including fruit juice-based drinks) are classified under sub-heading 22029920, attracting GST of 12% and sub-heading 22029100 [Other non-alcoholic beverages (other than tender coconut water and caffeinated beverages)] attracting GST @18%. GST Council clarified that “Carbonated Fruit Beverages of Fruit Drink” and “Carbonated Beverages with Fruit Juice” to attracts GST@ 28% with Cess of 12%. 

 

Tamarind seeds fall under heading 1209 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975, which reads for “Seeds, fruit and spores, of a kind used for sowing” will attract Nil rate of GST, irrespective of its use.  

 

GST Council clarified that cloud kitchens/central kitchens are covered under ‘restaurant service’ and attract GST @5%, without input tax credit. 

 

Supply of Ice creams by Ice Cream parlour to attract GST @18%.  

 

Alcoholic liquor for human consumption is not classifiable as food and food products. 

 

 

I. Entertainment Sector  

Increase in GST  

GST Council recommends increasing GST on licensing services/ right to broadcast and show