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Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) Amongst Other Tribunals Abolished Through an Ordinance

In a bid to streamline the functioning of tribunals and avoid delay in the dispensation of justice, the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 has been promulgated by the President of India through a gazette notification dated April 04, 2021. A bill to the same effect had been passed in the Lok Sabha in February and was pending in the Rajya Sabha, however, the ordinance was brought in despite assurances that the bill would be sent to a standing committee for a review in light of opposition.

The ordinance is seen as another step in the process of rationalisation of tribunals that began in 2015 . Through the Finance Act, 2017, seven tribunals had been abolished or merged based on functional similarity, however, the Act underwent various legal challenges for being passed as a Money Bill in violation of Articles 107, 110 and 117 of the Constitution Of India and being against the basic tenet of independence of judiciary.

The Finance Act, 2017 had empowered the central government to notify rules on qualifications of members, terms and conditions of their service, and composition of search-cum-selection committees for 19 tribunals (such as Customs, Excise, and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal). The ordinance amends the 2017 Act to include provisions related to the composition of search-cum-selection committees, and term of office of members in the Act itself as directed by the Supreme Court in the Rojer Matthew Case . However, the ordinance limits the term of members to 4 years disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision in the IPAB Case 3, which stipulated a minimum term of 5 years.

The ordinance primarily dissolves existing appellate bodies under 9 statutes including the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (“IPAB” or the “Appellate Board”) and transfers their functioning to the concerned High Courts, Commercial Courts/Commercial Division of High Courts, Registrars, Central Government etc.

The amendments introduced by the ordinance across various IP statutes have been detailed below:

Trade Marks Act, 1999

  • The IPAB which was set up under Section 83 of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 to hear appeals against the Trademarks Registrar’s decisions under the Act has been abolished.
  • The ordinance also transfers the powers of the Board to the High Court and transfers the pending cases before IPAB to the respective High Courts under whose jurisdiction the Appeal would have been ordinarily filed.
  • To dismantle the Board, the ordinance has deleted provisions related to the IPAB including the establishment (Section 83) and composition of the Tribunal (Section 84), Qualification (Section 85), Term of Office (Section 86), Salaries (Section 88), Resignation and Removal (Section 89), Procedure and Powers (Section 92) Condition on interim order (Section 95) Chairman’s power to transfer cases from one branch to another from the Act.
  • To transfer the power and function of the Board to the High Court, the ordinance has lifted the bar on the jurisdiction of the court by deleting Section 93 from the Act. It further deletes the definition of Appellate Board, Bench, Chairman, Judicial Member, Member, tribunal, and Vice-Chairman from Section 2 (1) of the Act.
  • The ordinance amends the definition of “prescribed” from “prescribed by rules made under this Act” to “(i) in relation to proceedings before a High Court, prescribed by rules made by the High Court; and (ii) in other cases, prescribed by rules made under this Act.”
  • The ordinance substitutes the term “Tribunal” with “the Registrar or the High Court” and “Appellate Board” with “High Court” wherever they occur in the Act.
  • The ordinance has also carried out amendments identical to the above in the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 to dismantle the IPAB and transfer the powers and functions to the High Court.

Copyright Act, 1957

  • Appellate Board established under the Copyright Act, 1957, which was empowered, among other things, to hear appeals against the orders of the Registrar of Copyrights has been dismantled and replaced with Commercial Courts, a division of High Courts. To do so, the ordinance has deleted provisions related to the Appellate Board including its definition under Section 2 (aa) of the Act.
  • It defines “Commercial Courts” under Section 2 (fa) of the Act as “Commercial Court, for the purposes of any State, means a Commercial Court constituted under section 3, or the Commercial Division of a High Court constituted under section 4 of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015”. The newly added definition gives “Commercial Courts” the same meaning as it has under Section 4 of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.
  • It has replaced the term Appellate Board with “Commercial Courts” wherever they occur in the Act, except for Section 50 of the Act in which the term “Appellate Board” has been replaced with “High Court”.
  • The power of the Appellate Board to hear appeals against the orders of the Registrar of Copyrights will now be vested with a Single Judge of the High Court. The Single Judge has also been empowered to refer the case to a larger bench if the Judge deems fit.
  • Since the amendment mandates that any proceeding before the High Court or the Commercial Division of the High Court including proceeding under section 31D of the Act for fixation of royalties shall be as per the rules prescribed by the High Court which in this case shall be Commercial Courts Act, 2015.
  • Since section 14 of the Commercial Courts Act mandates expeditious disposal of appeals, we can expect better management of the backlog of Copyright related commercial disputes in the near future.

Cinematograph Act, 1952

  • The ordinance has abolished the Appellate Tribunal formed under the Cinematograph Act, 1952 by deleting Section 2(h) of the Act.
  • It replaces the term ‘Appellate Tribunal’ under Section 7C of the Act with ‘High Court’. Hence, the power of the Tribunal which was empowered to hear appeals against decisions of the Censor Board has been transferred to the concerned High Court. As a result, such appeals shall now be filed directly before the concerned High Court.

Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001

  • The Plant Varieties Protection Appellate Tribunal formed under Section 54 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 has been dismantled.
  • The ordinance has removed the provisions related to the Tribunal including the definition of Chairman, Member, Judicial Member, establishment (Section 54), composition (Section 55), the procedure of the Tribunal.
  • The term “Tribunal” has been substituted with “High Court” wherever they appear in the Act.
  • As a result, the power of the Tribunal which was empowered to hear appeals against decisions of the Registrar of Plant Varieties Registry and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority has been transferred to the concerned High Court.
  • Now all such appeals shall be filed directly before the concerned High Court, and any pending cases shall be transferred to the concerned High Court.

Patents Act, 1970

  • The Appellate Board formed under Section 116 of the Patents Act, 1970 which was vested with the power to hear appeals under Section 117A of the Act against orders of the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks (“CGPDTM”) or the Central government has been abolished.
  • Much like the above amendments, the ordinance omits provisions related to the Appellate Board such as establishment (Section 116) and composition of the Board (Section 117), Procedure and Powers (Section 117B and 117D).
  • To transfer the power and function of the Board to the High Court, the ordinance has lifted the bar on the jurisdiction of the court by deleting Section 117C from the Act.
  • Prior to the amendment both the High Court and Appellate Board were supposed to function simultaneously, however, now Appellate Board has been omitted from all of those places. Further, wherever only the Appellate Board appeared, it has been substituted with the High Court.

Apart from the amendments to the statutes specified above, a transitional provision has been made to compensate outgoing tribunal members for the premature termination of term and reversion of officers on deputation to parent cadre, Ministry or Department. In addition, any appeal, application or proceeding pending before the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal or other authorities, other than those pending before the Authority for Advance Rulings under the Income-tax Act, 1961, shall stand transferred to the Court before which it would lie as per the ordinance, and the Court may proceed to deal with such cases from the stage at which it stood before such transfer, or from any earlier stage, or de novo, as the Court may deem fit. Moreover, the balance of all monies received by the abolished authorities and not spent by it as well as properties owned by it shall stand transferred to the Central Government.

CONCLUSION

Few may consider it as a notable change in IP dispute resoltion, others including the Group of Industry Associations on Intellectual Property have opined their dissatisfaction regarding the move. Nevertheless, since the Appellate Boards were formed to fast-track the backlog of cases, and they failed to meet the desired objective, it appears to be a prudent move by the Government. It should be however kept in mind that since the Indian Judiciary is infamous for backlog of cases, mere abolishment of the Appellate Tribunal will be futile unless the special commercial courts/benches are equipped to handle these cases. The substitution of the Appellate Board with the High Courts and Commercial Courts in relation to Copyright disputes also means the cost of instituting the proceedings before the respective judicial bodies will be decided in accordance with the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.

The abolition of the Appellate Board poses another problem with respect to the royalty rates that are due to be revisited by the end of this year. The ordinance may have further complicated the entire procedure under Section 31D of the Copyright Act. This means any procedure prescribed under the Copyright Rules, 2013 in relation to the above proceeding gets nullified and we can expect the Central Government to exercise its power under Section 21A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 to frame rules akin to Rule 31 of the Copyright Rules, 2013.

The content of this Article does not necessarily reflect the views / position of Fox Mandal but remain solely those of the authors.

“Read about the changes introduced through the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021.”

Image Credits: Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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SC: Consideration Paid for Purchase of Computer Software, Not Royalty, No Obligation on Buyers to Deduct Tax at Source

IN BRIEF:

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (SC) has at long last, put to rest the two-decade old controversy in relation to taxability of the consideration paid for purchase of computer software from a non-resident distributor/ manufacturer. The controversy revolved around whether the consideration paid for purchase of the computer software would constitute ‘Royalty’ as per the provisions of section 9(1)(vi) of the Act, read with relevant Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (‘DTAA’). There were divergent views of some High Courts as well as of the Authority for Advance Rulings on this issue, which, thankfully, has now been settled by the Hon’ble SC, against the Revenue and in favour of the taxpayers.

In the case of Engineering Analysis Centre of Excellence Private Limited1 and others (Appellants), the Hon’ble SC has held that the consideration paid for purchase of an off-the- shelf software from a non-resident seller does not tantamount to ‘Royalty’ as per Article 12 of the DTAA and hence there is no obligation on the Indian buyer to deduct tax at source under section 195 of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (‘the Act’), as the distribution agreements/ End-User Licence Agreements (EULAs) do not create any interest or right in such distributors/ end-users which would tantamount to the use of or right to use any copyright.

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The Appellants had imported/ acquired shrink wrapped computer software from non-residents distributor/ manufacturers. While making payment to those non-residents, the Appellants did not deduct tax at source under section 195 of the Act, on the premise that such amounts do not constitute ‘Royalty’; hence are not taxable in India as per the relevant DTAA and accordingly, there could not be any obligation on them to deduct tax at source under section 195 of the Act.

QUESTION BEFORE THE SC:

The key question before the Hon’ble SC was whether there would be any obligation on a resident buyer, acquiring computer software from a non-resident distributor/ manufacturer, to deduct tax at source, under section 195 of the Act, by classifying the consideration paid as ‘Royalty’ under section 9(1)(vi) of the Act, read with Article 12 of the relevant DTAA.

There were various appeals/ questions raised before the Hon’ble SC, which were grouped into four categories:

a) Computer software purchased directly by resident end-users from non-resident suppliers or manufacturers.
b) Resident distributors or resellers purchasing computer software from non-resident suppliers or manufacturers and then reselling the same to resident Indian end-users.
c) Non-resident distributors reselling the computer software to resident Indian distributors or end-users.
d) Computer software embedded into hardware and sold as an integrated unit/equipment by non-resident suppliers to resident Indian distributors or end-users.

APPELLANT’S CONTENTIONS:

The Appellant’s contentions have been summarized below:

  •  Computer software that is imported for onward sale constitutes ‘Goods’.
  • Definition of Royalty as per DTAA did not extend to a derivative product of the copyright. For example, a book or a music CD or software products.
  • Retrospective amendment to section 9(1)(vi) by Finance Act 2012 could not be applied to assessment years under consideration, as the law cannot compel one to do the impossible.
  • Provisions of DTAA would prevail over the provisions of the Act to the extent they are more beneficial to the deductor of tax under section 195 of the Act.
  • Distinguishment can be made between the sale of a copyrighted article v/s. the sale of copyright itself. As per section 14(b) of the Copyright Act, 1957 Act (“CA Act”), ‘Computer Program’ and a ‘copy of Computer Program’ are two distinct subject matters. In the instant case, no copyright was transferred, as the end-user only received a limited license to use the product by itself with no right to reproduce, sub-licence, lease, make copies, etc.
  • It was also contended that explanation 4 to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act would apply only to section 9(1)(vi)(b) of the Act and would not expand the definition of Royalty as contained in explanation 2 to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act. Further, reference was made to Circular No. 10/2002 issued by Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), wherein, ‘remittance for royalties’ and ‘supply for computer software’ were addressed as separate distinct payments, the former attracting the ‘royalty’ provision and the latter taxable as business profits.
  • Based on the doctrine of first sale/ principle of exhaustion, it was argued that the foreign supplier’s distribution rights would not extend to sale of copies of the work to other persons beyond the first sale.

REVENUE’S CONTENTION:

The Revenue’s contentions have been summarized below:

  • The primary contention of the Revenue was that what was transferred in the transaction between the parties was copyright and accordingly the payment would constitute Royalty and Indian user/ importer would be required to deduct tax at source.
  • It was argued that explanation 2(v) to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act applies to payments to a non-resident by way of royalty for the use of or the right to use any copyright. Reliance was placed on the language of explanation 2(v) and it was stressed that the words “in respect of” have to be given a wide meaning.
  • The Revenue further contended that since adaptation of software could be made, albeit for installation and use on a particular computer, copyright was parted with by the original owner.
  • It was further pointed out that the Indian Government has expressed its reservations on the OECD Commentary dealing with the parting of copyright and royalty.
  • It was argued that in some of the EULAs, it was clearly stated that what was licensed to the distributor/end-user by the non-resident would not amount to a sale, thereby making it clear that what was transferred was not goods.
  • It was further argued that explanation 4 of section 9(1)(vi) of the Act existed with retrospective effect from 1976 and accordingly the Appellants ought to have deducted the tax at source even prior to the year 2012.
  • The Revenue placed reliance on the ruling of PILCOM v. CIT, West Bengal- VII, 2020 SCC Online SC 426 [“PILCOM”]2, which dealt with section 194E of the Act, for the proposition that tax has to be deducted at source irrespective of whether tax is otherwise payable by the non-resident assessee.
  • With respect to the doctrine of first sale/principle of exhaustion, it was argued that it would have no application since it is not statutorily recognised in section 14(b)(ii) of the CA Act. Accordingly, it was contended that when distributors of copyrighted software ‘license’ or ‘sell’ such computer software to end-users, there would be a parting of a right or interest in copyright; in as much as, such “license” or sale would be hit by section 14(b)(ii) of the CA Act.

THE RULING:

  • Provisions of CA Act

The Hon’ble SC placed reliance on the provisions of the CA Act and observed as under:

The expression ‘copyright’ means the “exclusive right” to do or authorise the doing of certain acts “in respect of a work”. In the case of a computer program, section 14(b) read with section 14(a) of the CA Act prescribes certain acts as to how the exclusive rights with the owner of the copyright may be parted with. Thus, the nature of rights prescribed under section 14(a) and section 14(b) of the CA Act would be referred to as “copyright”, which would include the right to reproduce the work in any material form, issue copies of the work to the public, perform the work in public, or make translations or adaptations of the work.

Section 16 of the CA Act states that no person shall be entitled to copyright otherwise than under the provisions of the CA Act or any other law for the time being in force. Accordingly, it is held that the expression ‘copyright’ has to be understood only as is stated in section 14 of the CA Act.

On perusal of the distribution agreements, the Hon’ble SC observed that what is granted to the distributor is only a non-exclusive, non-transferable licence to resell computer software and it was expressly stipulated that no copyright and no right to reproduce the computer program, in any manner, is transferred either to the distributor or to the ultimate end user.

It further observed that the ‘license’ that is granted under EULA, conferring no proprietary interest on the licensee, is not a licence that transfers an interest in all or any of the rights contained in sections 14(a) and 14(b) of the CA Act. The SC held that there must be a transfer by way of license or otherwise, of all or any rights mentioned in section 14(b) read with section 14(a) of the CA Act.

  • Sale of Goods

The SC further observed that what is ‘licenced’ by the non-resident supplier/ distributor is in fact a sale of a physical object, which contains an embedded computer program and thereby held the same as “sale of goods” by placing reliance on the ruling of Hon’ble SC in the case of Tata Consultancy Services v. State of A.P., 2005 (1) SCC 308.3

  • Royalty in the DTAA vs the Act

It was observed that DTAA provides an exhaustive definition of ‘Royalty’ as it uses the expression “means” whereas the definition of ‘Royalty’ contained in the Act is wider in nature. Accordingly, Article 12 of the DTAA defining the term ‘Royalty’ would be relevant to determine taxability under DTAA, as it is more beneficial to the assessee as compared to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act.

It was further observed that explanation 4 to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act (retrospectively introduced vide Finance Act, 2012) is not clarificatory of the position as of 1 June 1976, but it expands the existing position and hence it does not clarify the legal position as it always stood.

The SC relied on two legal maxims, lex non-cogit ad impossibilia, i.e., the law does not demand the impossible and impotentia excusat legem, i.e., when there is a disability that makes it impossible to obey the law and further relied on various judicial precedents and held that any ‘person’ cannot be expected to do the impossible and accordingly the expanded definition of Royalty inserted by explanation 4 to section 9(1)(vi) of the Act cannot apply retrospectively, as such explanation was not actually and factually in the statute.

  • PILCOM Ruling

It was observed that the PICLOM ruling was in respect of section194E of the Act which deals with a different set of TDS provisions, without any reference to chargeability to tax under the Act. As already held in GE Technology4, deduction of tax under section 195 can be made only if the non-resident assessee is liable to pay tax under the provisions of the Act and accordingly it had no application to the present facts of the case.

  • Doctrine of First Sale/ Principle of Exhaustion

The SC relied on various judicial precedents to explain the concept of the doctrine of first sale/ principal of exhaustion, which enables free trade in material objects on which copies of protected works have been fixed and put into circulation, with the right holder’s consent. The said principle was introduced in the CA Act, vide amendment made in the year 1999.

Based on the above principle, it is held that the distribution rights subsist with the owner of the copyright, to the extent such copies are not already in circulation. Thus, it is the exclusive right of the owner to sell or to give on commercial rental or offer for sale or for commercial rental, ‘any copy of computer program’. The distributor who resells the computer program to the end-user cannot fall within its scope.

  • Interpretation of treaties and OECD Commentary

India has reserved its right under the OECD Commentary with respect to taxation of royalties and fees for technical services. However, in this regard, the SC has noted that, after India took such positions, no bilateral amendment was made by India and the other Contracting States to change the definition of royalties. Accordingly, the OECD commentary would only have persuasive value with respect to the interpretation of the term ‘Royalties.

  • CBDT Circular No. 10/2202 dated 9 October 2002

The SC further referred to the above-mentioned Circular, wherein the Revenue itself has made a distinction between royalties and remittance for the supply of computer software (which is treated as business profits and taxability depends upon the existence of permanent establishment in India).

  • Ruling

In light of the aforementioned reasoning, the Hon’ble SC held that the consideration paid for the purchase of an ‘off-the-shelf’ software from a non-resident seller did not amount to ‘Royalty’ as per Article 12 of DTAA, as the distribution agreements/ EULAs did not create any interest or right in such distributors/ end-users, which tantamounted to the use of or right to use any copyright. Since the amount was not chargeable to tax in India, there was no obligation on the Indian resident buyer to deduct tax at source under section 195 of the Act.

FM COMMENTS:

The taxation of royalty has always been a vexed issue in the Indian context. There have been conflicting rulings on the issue relating to the characterization of payments towards the purchase of computer software. This is indeed a welcome ruling, which has finally put to rest a long litigation.

However, it is pertinent to note that the Finance Act, 2020 has introduced the provisions of ‘equalisation levy’ leviable on a non-resident e-commerce operator from e-commerce supply of services. These transactions are exempted from Income-tax under section 10(50) of the Act.

Further, vide, Finance Bill 2021, it has been clarified that exemption under section 10(50) will not apply to royalty or fees for technical services, that are taxable under the Act read with the DTAA. Hence, as a corollary, it may be deduced that, based on this SC ruling, if a non-resident takes shelter under the DTAA, for payments that are made to it for purchase of computer software, the non-resident could still be liable to pay equalisation levy on the satisfaction of certain prescribed conditions. It is therefore advised that going forward, such issues are analysed carefully and separately, before arriving at any conclusion on the effective taxability that arises. Additionally, in cases where the payments are being made to parties residing in non-DTAA countries, suitable arguments would require to be made, on a case-to-case basis using this decision as a persuasive tool.

1 Civil Appeal Nos 8733 – 8734 of 2018
2 [2020] 271 Taxman 200 (SC)
3 [2004] 271 ITR 401
4 [2010] 327 ITR 456
This article expounds a recent decision regarding tax liability on the purchase of computer software from a non-resident distributor/ manufacturer.

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Trademark Bullying: A Legal Means to Illegal Ends

The law of Trademark Protection was developed to grant exclusive proprietary right to Trademark owners, the monopoly of the Trademark owners over their trademarks and safeguard the collective goodwill. In a nutshell, Trademark Protection originated to restrain the sale of counterfeit products under an existing reputed brand name, but what happens when the same owners who are protected go above and beyond their legal capacity to protect their mark? The exact term for such an act is “Trademark bullying”.
Off late it has become a persistent problem with big companies, whereby they try to strong-arm small enterprises for business gains. Proprietors having high stakes go out of their way to protect their marks, even though the target entities do not use marks that are remotely similar to theirs. When a proprietor becomes an aggressive protector of his Trademark, lines between actual infringement and absurd contestations blur. To understand whether the same is bullying or an actual trademark infringement we will have to understand what constitutes bullying and the subtle difference between infringement and trademark bullying.

Definition & Ingredients

Definition of Trademark Bullying
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has defined trademark bullying as “the act where the trademark owner that uses its trademark rights to harass and intimidate another business beyond what the law might be reasonably interpreted to allow.”1 The practice of a proprietor being overprotective of their mark and enforcing trademark rights beyond the required limit and scope of trademark law is called Trademark Bullying. 2 For instance when a powerful company or a big MNC like Amazon or Apple, that has immense funds, files a suit against local or smaller companies for infringement. Legal proceedings have a humongous cost attached to them and cannot be afforded by everyone. A small company that does not have adequate finances to fight a legal battle tends to budge under the influence of these powerful companies and give up on using their mark along with the products and services used under the mark, which they are legally entitled to. However, these threats are more than often groundless and baseless.

The course of action for entities that suspect infringement should be to verify whether the rival mark is actually similar to the proprietors’ mark. The next step would be to understand the trade circle, the market area and the similarity in the goods and services and further understand whether there is actual infringement or dilution. Similarly, one needs to determine whether there is a likelihood of confusion that might arise when a man with average intelligence looks at the rival marks. After the conclusion of the said due diligence, the proprietors would be in a position to understand whether they need to proceed with a legal action.

Who is a Trademark Bully and What Constitutes Trademark Bullying?
Various elements are to be considered before concluding whether it is a good faith trademark enforcement or bullying. A bully is someone who crosses the outer limit of “likelihood of confusion” en route to its trademark enforcement by prosecuting proprietors that are using an allegedly similar mark for non-competitive goods and services. In the case of deceptively similar marks and competitive goods and services, any act of aggressive enforcement will fall within the ambit of good faith litigation, and it holds true even if the mark is relatively weak but the market segment is competitive. Likewise, when owners of dissimilar marks enforce their rights against marks in the use of non-competitive goods, it is trademark bullying. But what happens when the owner of deceptively similar marks tries to enforce their rights against non-competitive goods and services? The owners in such scenarios seek to rely on the related goods or complementary goods doctrine, which tries to establish a link between two non-competitive goods. Since such links are difficult to establish, the enforcers usually rely on unfounded claims of “famous and well-known trademark”.

Modus Operandi of Bullying and the Effect on Small Entities Big companies have been observed to follow a similar pattern when they try to eradicate their competition out of the markets. They send out a common cease and desist notice which contains threats in legal language alleging trademark infringement and dilution. They also mention that they have been successful in prosecuting other enterprises using similar trademarks and then initiate either opposition proceedings or rectification proceedings against the small enterprise.3

The effect on the small enterprises that do not have any economical or legal support is they sit for a settlement wherein they are asked to withdraw their marks and the same is accepted by the small enterprises. The small enterprises tend to incur a huge financial cost of rebranding, removal of products from the markets, and loss of reputation because of the suit.

Comparative Analysis of Judicial Approach to Trademark Bullying in India and the US

The Approach by US Courts
While in India the cases which surround the issue of trademark bullying are still fewer, the instances are much higher in the United States. Here are a few cases that helped the courts of the United States to look at the situation of trademark bullying from a different perspective.

In Monster v. Vermonster, the manufacturer of a renowned energy drink “MONSTER”, Hansen Beverage Co., sent a cease-and-desist notice to Rock Art Brewery for using “Vermonster” to market its brewed beer. Rock Act Brewery was a small company that sold its beer in a few states in the United States of America. Hansen asserted a likelihood of confusion over the term Vermonster for beer and Monster for an energy drink.

Even though the marks were completely dissimilar and unique in their own way, Rock Art was asked to comply with the notice, however, the proprietors of Rock Art stood against the bullying and issued a public statement and started advertising as well as marketing their product. They also took to social media which persuaded Hansen to back down and come to a settlement.4

After this particular case the U.S. Commerce department in coordination with the USPTO came up with a report which addressed the wrongful harassment of small entities by big companies.5

In Apple v. Prepear, Apple being a leading producer and seller of electronic products tried to manipulate a small entity – Prepear, a recipe sharing application, into letting go of their mark. At the outset, the logo of Prepear and Apple are pretty distinctive with Prepear having a drawing of a pear outlined in green against a white background and leaf facing downward and the logo of Apple being a half-eaten apple with the leaf facing upward. Further, the goods and services provided were also dissimilar.

Prepear took to social media to fight against the bullying and shared how Apple had managed to do the same with other entities who has created a fruit logo. Prepear also stated that they had to let go of various employees because they could not afford their pay alongside defending the costly suit. Although this case has not been decided yet, it is clear that both the logos are dissimilar, and the goods and service offered are also distinctive therefore there should be no cause of confusion for any man with average intelligence. Nonetheless, the factors that are to be taken into consideration while deciding whether there is a plausible infringement or bullying are fairly obvious.

Indian Jurisdiction
Indian legislators had forethought the possibility of such misuse and provided a viable resolution under section 142 of the Trademark’s Act, 1999 which outlines the law against groundless legal threat.

The provision states that when a person through circulars, advertisement, or otherwise threatens another person with an action or proceeding for infringement of a registered or alleged to be registered trademark, the aggrieved person may bring a suit against such person and obtain a declaration to the extent that such threats are unjustified.

The available legal remedy for such threats is that an injunction may be issued in favour of the aggrieved party to restrain the other person from the continuance of such threats and also to recover damages. This remedy is available for only those whose trademarks are registered.

One of the first case that may be identified as bullying in India is Milmet Oftho Industries and Ors v. Allergan Inc [(2004)12 SCC 624], wherein the Indian Pharmaceutical company Allergan sold a drug named ‘Ocuflux’. The Appellant, an international pharmaceutical company sold a drug with a similar name in different countries and therefore sought a passing off suit against Allergan. The Supreme Court held that “if multinational companies do not have any intention of coming to India or introducing their products in India, they should not be allowed to throttle Indian Companies if the Indian Company has been genuinely using their mark in India and developed the product and was the first in the market”.

Another notable case is Jones Investment Co v. Vishnupriya Hosiery Mills [2015-4-L.W.30], where the Appellant was an American company which had been using the trademark ‘Jones New York’ internationally for manufacturing and producing clothing, hosiery and footwear. The respondent on the other hand was a small textile firm based in Erode, a city in Tamil Nadu. The Respondent had filed an application for their mark ‘Jones’ in relation to the textile products, which was opposed by the Appellant and the Registrar of Trademark had dismissed the same which gave rise to an Appeal.

The Appellants contended that they had transborder reputation and that the respondents did not have enough sales of their products and therefore, would not be able to compete with the Appellant. However, the IPAB took a similar stand which was taken by the Supreme Court in the previous cited case and stated that “a multinational company cannot claim infringement of trademark by a local Indian company purely based on international presence, unless they can expressly establish that their presence extends to India or precedes that of the Indian company.”

In a similar case of Bata India Limited Vs Vitaflex Mauch GmbH (CS(OS) No. 1112/2006), wherein the plaintiff instituted a case against the defendant for restraining them from making baseless groundless threats of legal proceeding. The main question that the court had to deal with was whether the legal notice sent by the defendant amounted to a legal threat and if the plaintiff was entitled to injunction and damages. The Delhi High Court held that the legal notice amounted to threat and the same was unjustifiable, therefore, the defendants were ordered to restrain themselves from issuing any further baseless threats.

The recent spat between BigBasket and DailyBasket is the latest example of prevalence of Trademark Bullying in India. BigBasket slapped DailyBasket with a cease-and-desist notice directing DailyBasket to (1) Stop business operation under the trademark “Daily Basket” and the domain name dailybasket.com ,and transfer the same to Big Basket; (2) discontinue the mobile application; (3) discontinue use of similar domain or trademark with the term “Basket” as a dominant feature of the domain name or the trademark; and lastly, (4) Pay INR 2,00,000.00/- as legal fees. This would be a fit case of bad faith enforcement, since the term “Basket” can be easily regarded as a term common to trade, and hence any proprietor in the trade of consumer goods is free to use it.

Although India had already made a provision for such threats, the act does not clarify what amounts to groundless and baseless threat. However, the above judgments decided by the Court and IPAB are clear on a few elements including whether the marks are actually similar and cause confusion, whether the international companies have an intention to bring their product into the country, first to use over first to file, etc. which have been taken into consideration when assuming if the same is to be considered as bullying or infringement. The Indian judiciary has not second guessed in slamming MNC’s and other powerful companies when it was clear that the local businesses were being wrongly and illegally affected by the infructuous cease and desist notice being sent to them.

The Road Ahead
Every legal notice of cease-and-desist would not amount to trademark bullying. The dynamics of each case are different, making the court re-think every scenario and look-out for the issue of trademark bullying or to check whether the plaintiff is seeking an injunction to avoid the actual consequence of an infringement. The primary purpose of the provision under the trademark act was to make sure that small entities and local businesses do not lose out on what they are legally entitled to own. However, there are ways in which the issue could be further curbed i.e. by providing resources to small entities including legal aid camps, creating awareness, law firms taking initiative and handling more pro bono cases etc. Small entities off late have sought some respite by resorting to social media wherein their plight is understood by a community of like-minded people who support through backlash at bigger companies which harms their reputation and goodwill gained over the years. While the laws in US on standard of proof for claims of trademark dilution shows a way to restrain trademark bullying on superficial claims of famous and well-known trademarks, the laws in India are still not clear on how far a litigant may go on such unfounded claims before being termed as a bully.
This article tries to explain what constitutes bullying and the subtle difference between infringement and trademark bullying.

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Unlocking the Potential of Space Technologies for Nation-building

On 28 February 2021, ISRO successfully launched 19 satellites using the PSLV-C51 launch vehicle. The payload included the 637 Kg Amazonia 1, Brazil’s first indigenous earth observation satellite, as well as 18 Indian satellites (including some built by students and faculty from three Indian engineering colleges). ISRO’s robust and world-class capabilities in designing, building and launching satellites have been demonstrated on multiple occasions in the course of the past five decades. The growing interest shown by India’s private sector (including start-ups), to build satellites is certainly something to be proud of.
India is already a member of an elite club of countries with significant capabilities in the arena of space technologies (“spacetech”). While we are making steady progress, space needs to be looked at in the broader context of the important role that will play in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

Mobile telephony unleashed a worldwide revolution two decades ago. By quickly becoming a part of it, India benefited hugely; indeed, we continue to see how a hand-held device can become everything from a bank to a source of news to a shop and so much more. If India can pragmatically direct even more of its resources to spacetech, enormous benefits can be realized in the decades ahead. This is something that has started to happen in recent years by way of enabling policy changes.

For many years, ISRO’s satellites have been providing us with tangible benefits in three areas:
  • Giving farmers better and more timely information about weather conditions;
  • Alerting vulnerable populations to impending natural disasters and assist rescue and relief operations;
  • Enabling TV-based classes for rural students.

But the world is changing in several ways, and harnessing space technologies can ensure that we as a nation are able to adapt more effectively. One set of direct benefits accruing from spacetech relates to people living on earth, on the other hand, exploration of outer space through manned and unmanned missions can lead to greater knowledge about other planets and their suitability to support life as we know it. This of course may offer only long-term benefits.

Harnessing space technologies can deliver a range of benefits

Here’s a look at diverse areas where space technologies can play an important role in the coming years.

It is quite clear that water will become an increasingly scarce resource because of climate change as well as continued irresponsible behaviour by human beings around the world. Managing groundwater resources will become even more critical in the years ahead. This is something that satellite-based remote sensing technologies can enable. Such information can also help farmers in selecting crops that are better suited to their areas so that they are less impacted by the vagaries of nature.

Traffic jams are an undeniable reality of most urban centres. With satellites at the right locations, it is possible to gather real-time information about traffic build-ups and alert on-ground police and other authorities to take timely action to minimize the magnitude of the jam. Similar eyes-in-the-sky can also be used to monitor forests, wildlife movements, prevent poaching and other illegal activities. Fishermen can be provided with better communication facilities when they are at sea. Government properties can be monitored so that encroachments can be prevented. Spacetech can also aid e-governance activities.

In a post-COVID19 world, as remote working and hybrid working models become mainstream, robust and reliable nation-wide digital connectivity becomes even more critical. Education too will be delivered through hybrid models, as will some elements of healthcare. However, large sections of India’s rural population do not yet have access to reliable and high-speed internet access due to various reasons including difficult terrain for laying fibre optic cables, inhospitable weather conditions for large parts of the year etc. This effectively denies many of our fellow-citizens access to various essential services. Spacetech has the potential to provide better connectivity.

If India is to encourage investments in new clusters to move away from large urban centres, those areas need high-speed connectivity. This is especially important for factories that wish to embrace Manufacturing 4.0, which relies on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Providing land banks and physical transport infrastructure, though necessary, will not be sufficient in the next decade.

While we in India are still in the early stages of testing 5G technologies, some countries have already started experiments in 6G. Although the world is several years away from agreeing on 6G standards and specifications, in November 2020, China launched what it calls the “world’s first 6G satellite” to demonstrate the use of terahertz frequency waves. If successful, this technology can enable data-transmission speeds that are many times higher than 5G can deliver.

Collaboration on space-related areas can play an important role in India’s foreign policy. The launch of Amazonia-1 is the culmination of years of collaboration between Indian and Brazilian space scientists and technologists.

As other countries start building and deploying space-based defence systems, India cannot afford to ignore its security interests. Spacetech can help identify threats and create more effective deterrents against hostile intentions.

Outer space is another frontier we must explore

While colonizing space to overcome the earth’s real estate limitations is a few decades away, we cannot ignore the growing competition in outer space exploration. Countries such as the US, Russia, China etc. have already made significant progress by sending probes to many planets. India too has made significant progress with its Chandrayaan 2 mission. While the lunar lander did not land as expected, the orbiter continues to provide valuable data to our space scientists. The Chandrayaan 3 mission is already in the works, as is Gaganyaan, India’s manned mission to the moon.

Several enablers are needed to efficiently realize the benefits of spacetech innovation

It is one thing to identify priorities and appreciate the need to move decisively; creating the right ecosystem to move forward productively, quickly and at scale is another matter altogether. Allocating financial resources is of course an important aspect. But it is just as critical to ensure that the different stakeholders- the government, industry (private and public sector) and academia work collaboratively and cohesively.

The government of India has put in place some important policies and legislations in this context. These include a Satellite Communication policy, Remote Sensing policy and the Space Activities Bill. While the intent to open up participation in different areas of the space sector to private players, the laws seek to maintain government control to prevent national interests from being compromised. However, there are still references to the Indian Telegraph Act (1885) and National Frequency Allocation (2018) that make the process of approvals and clearances cumbersome.

The draft Space Activities Bill, 2017 envisages mechanisms for regulating space activities, authorize and grant licences for commercial space activities, register space objects and liabilities relating thereto etc. India needs such umbrella legislation in keeping with the fact that we are a signatory to the international space treaty.

The government has established the Indian National Space, Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) under the aegis of the Department of Space to enable and support the participation of India’s private sector in the arena of space technologies. To build launch vehicles, provide launch services, build satellites and provide space-based services, the government, in 2019, set up New Space India Limited (NSIL). The role of the latter is to encourage industry participation in India’s space programmes. Yesterday’s successful launch was the first commercial mission undertaken by NSIL. But there needs to be more clarity around the regulatory powers of IN-SPACe.

The UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) has established a framework to ensure that individual entities (private or government) do not misuse space. Along with the International Telecommunication Union, this attempts to govern important aspects of activities in space, such as registration of objects launched into outer space, radiofrequency coordination, assignment and registration of satellite network frequencies, and compliance with the guidelines on space debris mitigation. Compliance is critical to ensure that the launch of a flurry of small satellites in the coming years does not put military or other satellites at risk.

Early steps have been taken. It is time that the government looks at bringing in necessary regulations and fine-tune existing ones to ensure that the intention of public-private partnership in this important field is encouraged, enabled and empowered.
This article talks about the important role of ‘SpaceTech’ in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

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Income-tax Residency Circular - Circular No 2 of 2021

For Financial Year 2019-2020 – Circular 11 of 2020

Considering the exceptional circumstances caused by pandemic, Central Board of Direct Taxes (‘CBDT’) had issued Circular No 11 of 2020 dated 8th May 2020 to address the genuine hardship faced by stranded Individual during the F.Y. 2019-20. In this Circular, the CBDT had clarified that the forced stay in India due to Covid-19 between 22nd March 2020 to 31st March 2020 or due to quarantine will not be considered for the purpose of determining the residential status of an Individual in India.
For Financial Year 2020-2021 – Circular 2 of 2021 Similarly, based on several representations received by the CBDT for relaxation in determination of residential status for the Previous Year (P.Y) 2020-21, the matter was examined by the Board and a Circular has now been issued with following observations / explanations:
  •  CBDT has observed that as per the domestic tax laws, an individual needs to satisfy a minimum number of days stay in India in order to qualify as an Indian resident. Generally, an individual becomes a resident in India only if he/she has stayed in India for 182 days or more and hence any forced short stay will not result in Indian residency. Further, even in exceptional case if an individual becomes resident, he/she will most likely become “not ordinarily resident” and hence his/her foreign income shall not be taxable unless it is derived from business controlled in or profession set up in India.
  • CBDT has observed that most of the countries have the condition of stay of 182 days or more for determining residency. If a general relaxation of 182 days is provided, there may be possibilities of double non-residency and eventually the individual might end up not paying tax in any country.
  • Similar condition of stay in India, generally 182 days or more, is also present in Double tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) under the employment Article, in order to tax income from Salaries, where the said employment is exercised in India. CBDT has highlighted that even if an Individual qualifies as a resident of two countries, he/she can still avail the DTAA benefit by applying “Tie-breaker rule”. In the event of non-applicability of Tie-breaker rule, the individual can apply for Mutual Agreement Procedure benefit to resolve the residency issue.
  • CBDT has also highlighted that even in a case of Double taxation, a resident Indian is also entitled to claim credit of taxes paid in other country, in accordance with Rule 128 of the Income tax Rules, 1962.
  • CBDT has also observed that a similar view has been adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that DTAAs contain the necessary provisions to deal with the cases of dual residency arising due to COVID – 19 cases. Also, globally, there have been very few countries that have provided relief in this regard.

Hence, after detailed examination and explanation as provided above, CBDT has endorsed the view taken by OECD and most other countries that in light of the domestic tax law read with relevant DTAA’s, there does not appear a possibility of double taxation of Income.

Accordingly, if any individual even after considering DTAA relief faces Double taxation issues, then such individuals can apply electronically to the Principal Chief Commissioner of Income tax (PCIT) in Form – NR up to 31st March 2021, which can then be examined by the CBDT on a case-to-case basis.

Our Comments:
This Circular is rather academic in its entire narrative and provides limited relief as it is deals only with respect to a generic kind of residency situations. The Circular does not per se attempt to address specific issues such as non-treaty country situation taxability. Similarly, the taxability of employees who became Indian residents due to their evacuation to home country from no-tax jurisdictions (eg. UAE etc) during the pandemic, thus making their foreign income exposed to tax in India. The Circular is also silent on the risk of exposures vis-à-vis “Permanent Establishment (PE)” or “Place of Effective Management (POEM)” that may be triggered in India due to presence of Key personnel of Multinational Companies (MNC) exercising their duties during the pandemic months, while being forced to be present in India.

It would help if the CBDT were to bring out a more detailed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) quickly to deal with the unanswered questions/situations.
This article provides a summary of the Circular addressing the issue of residential status in light of travel restrictions due to COVID.

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Modifying the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill to Deal with Rising Privacy Concerns

OVERVIEW OF DATA PROTECTION REGIMES

The recent advent of WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy has brought to light the legal loopholes that the Indian Data Protection Laws are laced with. A revised and updated change in Data Protection Laws in India could have prevented the possible infringements that may take place with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

The European Region has been able to circumvent this issue due to its updated Data Privacy Laws that successfully provide users with protection from such policies. These policies legally mandate WhatsApp to prevent the sharing of data with Facebook and a violation of it would infringe the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We have discussed here the modifications that could possibly be added to the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill) in India in order to ensure an air-tight privacy regulatory authority.

RISING PRIVACY CONCERNS- A STUDY ON WHATSAPP’S PRIVACY POLICY

With an undeniable rise in the relevance and indispensability of the digital platform; comes the numerous concerns regarding its safety in terms of data and privacy protection norms. A case in this instance would be that of WhatsApp releasing its updated terms of Privacy on January 04,2021, under which it would deprive users of their choice to share data or other information with other apps, including those owned by Facebook. Moreover, this policy was accompanied by a condition under which users who did not accept the updated privacy terms, would have to quit using WhatsApp altogether- beginning February 08, 2021- when the updated terms and policies was planned to be enforced.



The updated privacy policies of WhatsApp leave the end-to-end encryption clause intact. This means that WhatsApp has no access to one’s text messages and cannot share the same with any other party. However, this clause does not cover the protection of metadata- which entails everything in a conversation apart from the actual text. This information can be shared with Facebook and other apps.

WHY THIS POSES A PROBLEM

A close perusal and analysis of the entire case reveals the observation that this issue could have been avoided with a concrete Data Protection Law or Regulation in place in India.

The core issue that centres the entire case is that people largely use WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family. The data thus shared on this App by individuals is now proposed to be shared with other companies to run their businesses, for monetary gains. This implies that the purpose for which WhatsApp would be using personal data and information is not even remotely connected to the purpose for which users had share that information on the app.

This issue assumes an even graver character due to the inability of the Indian Data Protection Laws to safeguard their users from a misuse of data. Without a data protection authority or regime in force; users will be exposing their data to the surveillance of the entire Facebook group of companies.

Its lack of effectiveness to provide remedies or relief in such situations stands in stark contrast to the legal frameworks that are in place in other jurisdictions, most particularly the European countries. These countries are equipped with laws that can impose fines on Facebook for unduly sharing and using information through WhatsApp. This clause came into effect when the Competition Commission of certain European countries imposed this condition on Facebook during its purchase and acquisition of WhatsApp.
An important point to take note of, is also the commitment made by WhatsApp during its launch in 2009- “to not sell user data or personal information to any third party”. This stance changed with the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook in 2014; and its sharing of data with its parent company in 2017.However, in 2017; users were given a choice to prevent the sharing of such data to other platforms. The updated policies have mandated the exposure of such data as a condition to continued usage of the App.
The users are thus breached of the expectations and commitments with which they had initially installed the App.

IMPLICATIONS ON USERS

Unfortunately, due to the technical and legal intricacies of the issue; a majority of the Indian population will stay unaware of this issue and not do much about it other than accept the terms being forced upon them.

However, there are sections of the population sensitive to data protection and privacy norms. This brings to light the possibility of shifting to alternate and safer platforms such as Signal, Telegram and iMessage. Moreover, petitions have also been filed in several legal courts pursuant to the policies introduced by WhatsApp in January 2021 seeking to stay the implementation of these policies. After all, Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right granted under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and therefore, must not be compromised upon.

It is thus proposed that till an appropriate legal and concrete regulatory and supervisory authority is not in force vis-à-vis the Data Protection issues in India, the Court must prohibit the execution of this new Privacy Policy set forth by WhatsApp. Pursuant to this, the Supreme Court has directed WhatsApp and its parent company, Facebook, to file their replies to the petitions and growing concerns on privacy violations.

In furtherance of these directions, WhatsApp has most recently implemented its updated Privacy Policy with a new campaign. Through this updated campaign, WhatsApp aims to increase communication about its changes with its users through a small banner at the top of the chat, while also offering more time to let them read, understand and accept its terms. Following the backlash received, now the new Privacy Policy terms is expected to go into effect at a later date i.e. May 15, 2021.

HOW THE PDP BILL CAN BE MODIFIED TO INCREASE DATA PROTECTION

The PDP Bill can and must be modified in certain ways to ensure that arbitrary clauses in such online policies do not deprive the users of the rightful protection they are entitled to under the Right to Privacy. One of the main additions that the PDP Bill must incorporate is a clause or term in the law that prohibits the changing or modification of the terms of a contract after its enforcement. For instance, WhatsApp modified the terms of its contract resulting in a clause that was contrary to its initial commitments and objectives.

Moreover, since the PDP Bill has not been passed yet; it is crucial to look to other alternate legal provisions and statutes that may offer protection in such situations. For instance, the Information Technology Act of 2000, under Section 87 gives the government the authority to come up with regulations that can put a stop to arbitrary policies introduced by online platforms that pose a threat to privacy and data protection rights granted to individuals.

A company must not be able to modify terms according to their whims and mandate users to abide by it simply because they consented to the initial contract. Terms of such contracts must be regulated and privacy laws must ensure that changes in these policies have undergone user consent.

SUMMARY

In order to honour the Fundamental Right to Privacy, it is vital for the concerned platforms to provide clarity regarding its policies to ensure that a well-equipped and protective mechanism is set in force to deal with instances of data protection infringement in India. It is also crucial to formulate a structure on the PDP Bill that is well equipped to handle policy changes while ensuring a constant protection of data privacy rights. Other alternative laws must also be incorporated and interpreted in ways to prevent a breach of privacy.

The European Region was able to circumvent the imposition of data sharing norms by Watsapp due to its updated Data Privacy Laws that successfully provide users with protection from such policies. Our extant laws are glaringly inadequate and the proposed draft, as well as the delay in the passage, of the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill), is posing a serious threat to our online privacy and security.

REFERENCES

1 WhatsApp’s new privacy policy: Yet another reason why India needs data protection law – The Hindu BusinessLine.
2 Privacy Policy – Feb 2021. (whatsapp.com)

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2021 Budget Impact on the Real Estate Sector

The Real Estate Sector has received an undeniable boost with the recommendations of the Union Budget of 2021. Projects like ‘Housing for All’ and ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ (PMAY) have always received emphasis under the Modi regime. Through the changes proposed to be implemented by the Union Budget of 2021, it is clear that measures like the granting of tax holidays for affordable housing and tax exemptions in the interest of migrant workers with regard to rental housing projects point towards the priority that the housing and Real Estate Sector enjoy in the current Union Government’s policy and execution scheme.  

Considering the unavoidable and unforeseeable fiscal deficit that struck the economy with the onset of the pandemic in 2020; the Finance Ministry had to tread judiciously with limited room for any big announcements under the Union Budget of 2021.  

 

The main standpoint with regard to the Real Estate sector that was observed was the policy of the government to promote and facilitate ‘Housing for All’ which entailed prioritizing and increasing access to and affordability of housing.  

The Budget of 2021 allotted Rs. 54,581 crores to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. 

  
Here is what the Real Estate gained in the Union Budget of 2021 

 

Increase in safe harbour limit for primary sale of residential units 

  • The safe harbour limit for the primary sale of residential units has been increased from 10% to 20% in order to increase the incentivisation of Real Estate developers and home buyers. 

Incentivising Affordable Housing 

  • In an instance of taking up a loan to purchase a house; the government had already allowed, in its 2019 Budget; a deduction of interest rate that amounted to a monetary sum of around Rs. 1.5 lakh to increase affordability and purchasing power. 
  •  This deduction in interest rates for housing loans is proposed to be extended further for another year- till March 31, 2022 in the current Budget policy. This would mean that the deduction of Rs. 1.5 lakh will continue to be available for loans that are taken up in order to purchase houses at affordable rates till March 31, 2022.  
  • To further advance the procurement and supply of affordable housing, the current Budget also proposed a year-long tax holiday for affordable housing projects till March 31, 2022.  
  • With an unprecedented rise in the number of migrants all across the country due to the pandemic; Nirmala Sitharaman has also advanced the action of allowing for a tax exemption for notified “Affordable Rental Housing Projects” in order to facilitate and encourage the supply of Affordable Renting Housing to these migrant workers.  

REITs 

  • Further, the Budget has also encouraged debt financing of InVITs and REITs by Foreign Portfolio Investors by according relevant amendments to legislations. These amendments would facilitate ease of financing to InVITs and REITs, consequently promoting greater funds for the real estate and infrastructure sectors.  
  • The Finance Ministry also went a step further and suggested the provision of advance tax liability to arise only after the payment or declaration of dividend. This move is aimed to eliminate the uncertainty that arose with an estimation of dividend income by shareholders for paying tax in advance. Further, the Finance Ministry has also proposed that tax on dividend income may be deducted at the more beneficial treaty rate, for Foreign Portfolio Investors.   

Infrastructure Development 

  • The Budget has also allotted revenue towards the development of infrastructure around the country. 702 kms of conventional metro is already operational, added to another 1,016 kms of metros and RRTS that is under construction in 27 cities across the country. 
  • Metro rail systems and access will now be provided at affordable and decreased prices, to increase access through the development of two new technologies- ‘MetroNeo’ and ‘MetroLite’ in Tier-2 cities and certain areas of Tier-1 cities. This is expected to increase efficiency and safety. 

Construction workers 
 

  • With an increase in the importance accorded towards the unorganised labour sector, the Finance Ministry has further proposed to initiate and introduce a portal to collect information on construction-workers, buildings and gigs, particularly for migrant labourers. This will promote insurance, housing, health and food policies for these migrant workers. 

 

Analysis  

 

A close analysis of the afore-mentioned changes proposed by the Union Budget undeniably brings out the Government’s intention to assist, promote and facilitate development and growth in the real estate sector.  The focus laid by the Government on Affordable Housing and its policies will undeniably cause growth in this sector. Additionally, the infrastructure initiatives in the Budget are also extremely beneficial and will provide a huge boost to the sector, allowing its growth and subsequent development.  

However, the current Budget policies revolving around the real estate sector have failed to accord with the additional demand levels that were anticipated by the stakeholders of the industry in order to sustain the growing demand for housing. To facilitate growth, efficient execution and time-bound implementation are crucial. Persistent focus and attention according to the policy of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ would promote the ease of doing business. The proposed level of expenditure on infrastructure by the Government on metro lines, roads, warehousing, ports, etc. is a move that is expected to give a boost to the economic GDP and hence, is commendable.  

Conclusion 

 

While the various measures proposed to be implemented in the real estate sector through the current Budget will positively impact an economy that is still grappling with the hit delivered by the COVID 19 pandemic, these changes and proposals also act as a mark of the industry’s transition from mere existence to actual growth. 

References 

1 Budget Speech | Union Budget. (indiabudget.gov.in) 

2 Budget 2021: Analysis. (freepressjournal.in) 

 

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

close analysis of the aforementioned changes proposed by the Union Budget undeniably brings out the Government’s intention to assist, promote and facilitate development and growth in the real estate sector.  The focus laid by the Government on Affordable Housing and its policies will undeniably cause growth in this sector. Additionally, the infrastructure initiatives in the Budget are also extremely beneficial and will provide a huge boost to the sector, allowing its growth and subsequent development.  

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Evolution of the Doctrine of Public Policy in Arbitration

The pendency of litigation and piling up of cases in courts was the necessity which led to the discovery of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. These tools of dispute resolution are highly efficient, time-bound and cost-effective. Further, as the dispute resolution is amicable, the delicate and long-standing relationship of parties is preserved. It is for this reason separate tribunals are set up for arbitration, independent mediators can be appointed for mediation and a number of unaided negotiations take place between the parties for settlement of any disputes. 

Arbitration is also familiar as a form of private litigation as to some extent the formalized means of dispute resolution; witness examination, expert opinions, and binding nature of the arbitral award will substantiate the fact. However, with enhanced remedial and appellate participation from the judiciary, the idea of ‘alternative’ dispute resolution seems to replicate a façade. The primeval legislation, Arbitration Act of 1940 provided for a triangular remedial setup, namely rectification, remission, and setting aside of the arbitral award. This was narrowed down to remission and setting aside of the award in the subsequent Act, 1996.

A noteworthy argument here is, that the arbitration disputes are often referred to as, ‘matters’ and not ‘suits’, this is a practice to limit the authority of courts over these disputes. The term ‘judicial authority’ is not construed in a narrow sense, rather derives a wider import to itself by the virtue of numerous common law precedents. Inclusion of District Forums, State Commissions and National Commission[1] under COPRA Act[2], commissions under Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969[3]  and Company Law Tribunals have been brought under the ambit of ‘judicial authority’.

The interplay of litigation courts in the proceeding of arbitration can be analyzed in three stages vis-à-vis before proceedings, during proceedings, and after proceedings. When on one hand this intermingling helps establish effective checks and balances when it comes to matters of public policy, on the counter, it defeats one of the primary advantages of arbitration, i.e. the expediency of dispute resolution. 

Section 5 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996 provides for the limited or minimal intervention of judicial authority in arbitration proceedings.[4] The said section is analogous to Article 5 of UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, 1985[5]. The scope of judicial intervention is however non-arbitrary and is limited to the purposes prescribed in the Act, extending only to the administrative and non-judicial roles, within the non-obstante provisions.[6] The stance of the Indian judiciary was firmly established while inclining with the legislative intent behind the section, that the courts’ intervention should be minimal to encourage the resolution of disputes expeditiously and less expensively.[7] Even if the matter requires judicial intervention, the judicial authority is required to decide the issue expeditiously within a prescribed period and not to treat the matter in parimateria regular civil suits.[8]

Section 9 and 17 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act, 1996 provide for interim measures  by the courts and tribunals. An application under Section 9 is that of a mandatory nature and is not a substantive remedy available at the discretion of the parties. The section provides for the judicial recourse for enforcement of rights of a third party in case its rights are being affected as a result of the arbitral award. As the third party is not a party[9] to the arbitration and does not have a locus standi, the said enforcement can happen only on a separate cause of action engaged by the third party and is not covered under the ambit of an arbitration agreement.[10] The right conferred by Section 9 is therefore not a contractual right, as only a party to the arbitration agreement possess the same.[11] Only in the rarest of rare cases, the third party would be competent to claim relief under Section 9 and not otherwise.[12] As locus standi is a significant rationale before granting interim relief under Section 9, the courts must be extra vigilant to not benefit frivolous litigations.     

As the remedy of ‘rectification’ has been taken away in the 1996 Act, the Arbitral Tribunal under the 1996 Act cannot review an Award on its own, the aggrieved party who has suffered on account of the Arbitral Award is required to challenge it according to the Law prescribed, and if the aggrieved party fails to apply under Section 34 for setting aside the Award, then a de novo inquiry cannot arise on its own. Section 34 of the Act provides for setting aside the arbitral award, in two cases when either a party is willing to challenge the award on grounds of prejudice or the Court finds that the award was in conflict with the public policy of India. The aggrieved party can make an application under this section within 3 months and additional 30 days from the date of receipt of the award. Section 34(2)(a) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 provides for numerous grounds on account of which the Court can set aside the arbitral award, including incapacity of parties, invalid or illegal arbitration, no proper notice for appointment of an arbitrator, non-agreement of parties on composition of the tribunal. The court is vested with powers to set aside the award in case of a non-arbitrable dispute or if the award conflicts with the public policy of India.  

AMBIGUITY IN ‘PUBLIC POLICY’ 

The ground of public policy for setting aside the arbitral award under Section 34 of the Act is a ‘judge-made’ ground evolving from common law. A series of precedents shaped the doctrine of public policy as it stands today with regard to setting aside the arbitral award.

The foremost case of Renusagar Power Co. Ltd v. General Electric Company[13] (Renusagar), which questioned the validity of Section 7 (1)(b)(ii) of the Foreign Award (Recognition and Enforcement) Act, 1961 which provided for the non-enforceability of a foreign award in case it contravened the public policy. It was held by the Apex court that “public policy” was to be interpreted as to be the public policy of India, whilst the application of foreign law in a purely municipal legal issue. The court relied on Article I(e) of the Geneva Convention Act, 1927, which recognizes objections by the host country regarding the enforceability of the award if the same contravenes the public policy of the host country. Further, Section7(1) of the Protocol & Convention Act, 1937 which requires that the enforcement of the foreign award must not be contrary to the public policy or the law of India. Therefore, it was concluded that to invoke the bar of public policy the award must invoke something more than mere violation of any domestic law. A test was laid down for the satisfaction of the ‘public policy’ doctrine vis-à-vis, the award should not be contrary to i) fundamental policy of Indian law, ii) interests of India, iii) justice or morality.

The second landmark judgment in the evolution of public policy doctrine in the present context was, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation v. Saw Pipes Ltd[14] (Saw Pipes) the issue of the scope of judicial intervention under Section 34 was decided, as to whether a legally flawed arbitral award could be challenged on the pretext of contravention of provisions of the governing Act. The award was held to be ‘patently illegal’, therefore indirectly staining the public policy. The test to qualify repudiation of public policy in Renusagar was hence expanded to include acts contradicting i) fundamental policy of Indian law, (ii) the interests of India, (iii) justice or morality, (iv) if it is patently illegal. Hence, the thought of public policy was granted enormously wide abstract notions as if it was to ‘shock the conscience of the court’.

The final stone was laid by the Supreme Court in the case of Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano Spa[15](Lal Mahal), where the vague and abstract nature of the expression, ‘public policy’ was challenged in relation to Section 48(2)(b)[16] of the Act with identical terminology. The SC analyzed that Section 34 was of a wider import than Section 48(2)(b) despite having identical terminology. Therefore, the decision limited the inference of ‘public policy’ in the impugned section to not include patent illegality of the award.

The ambiguity and blanket protection of the term ‘public policy’ was criticized in numerous judgments that followed. The defense of public policy cannot be used as a shield protecting judicial intervention in matters of arbitration. Various counter-claims included court must assume only a supervisory role by reviewing arbitral awards to ensure fairness.[17] The object of the 1996 Act itself is to radically curtail the judicial intervention in arbitration awards except in the circumstances as contemplated in the provisions of the Act, by vesting such enormous powers of judicial intervention in Section 34; the judiciary is violating the legislative intent.[18] It must be noted that the arbitrator is no less than a judicial authority and the view taken by the arbitrator in judicial capacity is no less than that taken by the judge, therefore his plausible view must not be interfered with in a judicial proceeding under Section 34 of the Act,[19] which was reiterated in the case of State of Jharkhand v. HSS Integrated SDN & Anr.[20]    

SIGNIFICANT AMENDMENTS

2015 Amendment

The 2015 Amendment in the Act brought about significant changes in the concept of ‘public policy’ under the Arbitration Act, drawing suggestions from the 246th Law Commission Report. An amendment was made to the Sections 2A[21] and 34(2),[22] by adding Explanation 2. The amendment restricts the scope of judicial intervention in arbitral proceedings by limiting the definition of public policy. The Amendment Act restricted the grounds of setting aside international arbitral awards solely on:

  • Induced or affected by fraud or corruption
  • Contravention in the fundamental policy of Indian Law
  • In conflict with notions of morality and public justice

Therefore, the court cannot act as an Appellate Court to examine the legality of the arbitral award, nor can it examine the factual merits of the claim.[23] As factual merits could not be questioned, the record of an arbitrator was to be held to be sufficient to furnish compliance with Section 34.[24] This was reiterated as cross-examination of persons swearing such affidavits/ records is not allowed unless absolutely necessary.[25] Further, the Amendment Act provided that proceedings for setting aside could be initiated only after due notice to the parties. Furthermore, Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 was held to be prospective in nature and operation.[26]  Post amendment, the mere initiation of proceedings under Section 34 would not automatically operate as a stay of the arbitral award. The aggrieved party is required to file a separate application seeking stay of the award and the Court may grant a stay of the award by imposing conditions.

The position of the term ‘public policy’ has been further clarified in the recent judgment of Ssangyong v. NHAI[27] (Ssangyong) to not include the ‘fundamental policy’ under Section 34, relying on the 246th Law Commission Report. However, with such a firm stance, the overall efficacy of remedy under Section 34 may be objected. The judgment is noteworthy while analysing the applicability of Section 34 as it unmistakably stated that ‘under no circumstances can the Courts interfere with an arbitral award on the ground that justice was not served in the opinion of the Court as the same would clearly contradict the ethos of Section 34.’[28]

On one hand where the Ssangyong endeavours to restrict the scope of ‘public policy’, the 2020 judgment of NAFED v. Alimenta[29] (NAFED) seems to elaborate it. The judgment included export policy within the ambit public policy, stating the contravention of the former will inevitably contravene the latter. On the face of it, the judgment seems to be against the precedents, however, one argument of the judgment is found on the premise that it is highly fact-based. Even though the judgment has accredited a lot of criticism in the short span after delivery to not have considered the judgment of Vijay Karia[30]. However, it must not be overlooked that the NAFED judgment seeks to define the ‘public policy’ in Section 48 of the Act which has a very distinct pose than the use of term under Section 34.

2019 Amendment

The threshold under the erstwhile Section 34(2)(a)  for the setting aside of arbitral awards by the court was that the applicant has to furnish proof of the circumstances enumerated therein for the Court to set aside the award. The ‘furnishing of proof’ led to the prolongation of setting aside proceedings serving as an obstacle for the enforcement of domestic awards. The amendment in Section 34(2) removes the requirement of furnishing proofs to substantiate the ground(s) for setting aside the award. Instead, by virtue of this amendment, the applicant needs to establish the ground(s) for setting aside of the award based on the record of the arbitral tribunal which may ensure that proceedings under Section 34 are conducted expeditiously. It was held that proceedings under Section 34 of the Act are summary in nature.[31] Furthermore, the court held that under Section 34 (2A) of the Arbitration Act, a decision which is perverse while no longer being a ground for challenge under “public policy of India”, would certainly amount to patent illegality appearing on the face of the award.[32] The court while deciding the application for setting aside an arbitral award decided that the court will not ordinarily require anything beyond the records before the arbitrator. If otherwise pertinent to the issue, the records can be brought before the Court by the way of affidavits by both parties.[33]

CONCLUSION

Conclusively it can be said that the legislative intention behind alternative dispute resolution was never to encourage interference from the judiciary perhaps that was the reason arbitration awards were classified to be binding on the parties. However, it must not be forgotten that the judiciary is expected to be the safe-keeper of the fundamental rights of the citizens; therefore, if genuine and gross violations in the arbitral award render the parties without a remedy, the courts must not be restricted to intervene in the arbitration proceedings. Standing the evolution in time and necessary amendments, the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 has proven to be a living document. 

References

[1] Fair Air Engineers Pvt. Ltd. V. N.K. Modi AIR1997SC533

[2] Consumer Protection Act, 1986

[3] Shri Balaji Traders v. MMTC Ltd. [1999] 34 CLA 251

[4] Sundaram Brake Linings Ltd vs Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd (2010) 4 Comp LJ 345 (Mad)

[5] Article 5:  This Law shall not affect any other law of this State by virtue of which certain disputes may not be submitted to arbitration or may be submitted to arbitration only according to provisions other than those of this Law.

[6] Secur Industries Ltd vs M/S Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. (2004) 3 SCC 447

[7] P. Anand Gajapathi Raju v. P.V.G. Raju, (2000) 4 SCC 539

[8] Shin Etsu Chemical Co. Ltd. v. Aksh Optifibre Ltd., (2005) 7 SCC 234

[9] Sec. 2(h) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 defines ‘Party’

[10] Harita Finance Ltd. vs ATV projects India ltd., 2003(2)ArbLR376

[11] Firm Ashok Traders and Ors. vs. Gurumukh Das Saluja and Ors., AIR 2004 SC 1433

[12] L & T Finance Limited vs. C.T. Ramanathan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. A. No. 5314 of 2012

[13] Renusagar Power Co. Limited v. General Electric Company; 1994 Supp (1) SCC 644

[14] Oil & Natural Gas Corporation v. Saw Pipes Ltd, [2003 (5) SCC 705]

[15] Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano Spa, 2013 (4) CTC 636

[16] Section 48 in The Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 Conditions for enforcement of foreign awards,

 (2) Enforcement of an arbitral award may also be refused if the Court finds that— (b) the enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of India.

[17] McDermott International Inc. v. Burn Standard Co. Ltd 2006(5)ALT1(SC)

[18] Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. V. Langkawi Shipping Ltd, 2005 (2) Bom CR 458

[19] National Highway Authority of India v. Progressive MVR, (2018) 14 SCC 688

[20] (2019) 9 SCC 798

[21] Explanation to sec. 2A -An arbitral award arising out of arbitrations other than international commercial arbitrations, may also be set aside by the Court, if the Court finds that the award is vitiate by patent illegality appearing on the face of the award:

Provided that an award shall not be set aside merely on the ground of an erroneous application of law or by reappreciation of evidence. 

[22] Explanation to sec. 34(2)- For the avoidance of doubt, the test as to whether there is a contravention with the fundamental policy of Indian Law shall not entail a review on the merits of the dispute. 

[23] Venture Global Engineering LLC and Ors v Tech Mahindra Ltd. and Ors [2017] 13 SCALE 91 (SC)

[24] Sandeep Kumar v. Dr. Ashok Hans, (2004) 3 Arb LR 306

[25] Emkay Global Financial Service Limited v. Giridhar Sondhi, Civil Appeal No. 8367 of 2018

[26] BCCI v. Kochi Cricket Pvt. Ltd., (2018) 6 SCC 287

[27] Ssangyong Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd. v. National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Civil Appeal No. 4779 of 2019, Supreme Court

[28] Ibid

[29] National Agricultural Co-operative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) v. Alimenta S.A Civil Appeal No. 667 of 2012, delivered on April 22, 2020

[30] Vijay Karia & Ors. Vs. Prysmian Cavi E Sistemi SRL & Ors. Civil Appeal No. 1544 of 2020

[31] M/s.Canara Nidhi Limited v/s. M. Shashikala & Ors. 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1244

[32] Sangyong Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd. v/s. National Highways Authority of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 677

[33] M/s Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd. V. Girdhar Sondhi (2018) 9 SCC 49

 

 

Image Credits: Daniel b photos on Pixabay

The legislative intention behind alternative dispute resolution was never to encourage interference from the judiciary perhaps that was the reason arbitration awards were classified to be binding on the parties. 

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Why filing of Provisional Patent Application keeps you ahead in the Patenting race?

With an additional focus to build an Innovation based entrepreneurial eco system, innovation is happening at the drop of a hat. However, the floodgate of invention around the race does not seem to be limited to an ingenious mind but also requires a go-getter attitude. As we know, Patent protection works on a “first to file” basis and not on “first to invent” which means it is granted to the one who files the Patent application first, subject to fulfilling other patentability criteria.

A Patent application has to be filed along with certain Specifications (details/working of the invention). These specifications are of two types i.e. Provisional and Complete. Therefore, the application can be filed along with the Provisional or Complete Specification. If filed with Provisional, the Complete specification needs to be filed within 12 months.

 

Provisional Specification is very basic in nature and does not require details about the invention, unlike Complete Specification. Perhaps the difference between the two specifications is clear from the preambles of the specifications itself i.e.:

Preamble of the Provisional Application: “The following specification describes the invention”.

Preamble of the Complete Specification: “The following specification describes the invention and the manner in which it is to be performed.”

 

Even though, the Provisional Specification does not require claims, detailed descriptions, drawings etc., however, due care needs to be taken to ensure that the specification is broad enough so the objectives of the invention is covered as Complete Specification cannot be broader than what was disclosed in the Provisional.

 

Many times, during the office action as well as during the infringement or revocation attack, it is the provisional specification, which is first scrutinized to check if the invention was covered clearly. Therefore, even though it is provisional, taking professional guidance while drafting would be advisable to avoid possible mishaps in the future.

 

In order to stay ahead in the competition of technological advancement, R&D companies and other IP sophisticated companies around the globe, work on new inventions and file applications with the bare minimum information to get a priority date for their inventions. This is done before deep diving into specifics such as looking at the prior art or doing the feasibility test for the product/process etc.

 

Ideally, if an inventor comes up with an invention, she should not wait for the invention to be fully developed or for the feasibility test to be done. Needless to mention, millions of researchers around the globe are working on similar subjects and one never knows who might be coming up with similar invention in some part of the world and perhaps may be moving faster to file the patent application to claim priority.

 

Post filing of a Patent Application along with the Provisional Specification, an inventor has 12 months’ time to complete the research and file the Complete Specification. Since this option has been provided under the Patent law, availing it to claim the priority date would be a wise thing to do rather than wait for the research to complete where one would be running the risk of losing everything if someone else files before them. 

 

Ideally these 12 months period are given so one can carry out the patentability/ prior art search, which help the inventors tremendously in working around similar inventions.  Further, the Companies/inventors could also use the (provisional) Patent Application number to discuss the invention with potential investors, partners, licensee, etc. with due caution. 

 

In a situation where the inventor is unable to file the Complete Specification within the due date due to unavoidable circumstances, there is an option to file a request to post-date the application for a maximum period of six months subject to non-disclosure of the invention in the public domain.  

 

Considering these obvious advantages, filing a Patent Application along with a Provisional Specification could and would prevent a genuine effort from being a day late and a dollar short.

 

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Post filing of a Patent Application along with the Provisional Specification, an inventor has 12 months’ time to complete the research and file the Complete Specification. Since this option has been provided under the Patent law, availing it to claim the priority date would be a wise thing to do rather than wait for the research to complete where one would be running the risk of losing everything if someone else files before them. 

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'Honoring the Honest'- A Perspective on Transparent Taxation

The administration of a country makes headway with fiscal reforms when the revenue framework starts hindering effectiveness. Further, the redesigning of tax administration is done to widen the tax base and to achieve budgetary objectives.

Over the years, policymakers have understood the need for having a balance between innovation and compliance systems. The Tax Administration Reform Strategy that has been adopted, therefore, entails a simplified compliance system. At the innovation front, it has prompted the introduction of E-assessments; revamping of the E-filling portal and strengthening of Central Processing Centers (CPCs) for processing the ITRs. 

In addition, mandating the need for computer-generated Unique Document Identification Number (DIN) followed by the announcement by the Finance Minister of Faceless Assessment Scheme in her Budget Speech on July 5th, 2019, has sequentially nourished the Tax administration with a unique technological advancement, the “Transparent Taxation System”. 

Now India has embraced its policy reforms by introducing a scheme to “Honour the Honest” and to balance automation with compliance. By adopting a system of process simplification, India has become the first on an International platform to set a unique practice of “Faceless Assessment Scheme.” 

 

 

Need for Transparent Taxation 

 

The policymakers widely felt that the current tax system had components of arbitrary use of power, and direly needed to have fair play and transparency. The human interface and the multiplicity of visits to tax offices were prejudicial to the spirit of an honest taxpayer paving the way for corruption and favoritism.  

The tax system was called for and the Government also recognized the need for having an administrative mechanism with a minimal interface between a Tax-officer and a Taxpayer.  

The complications in efficiency and effectiveness demanded a transparent taxation system. Thus, the Government presented before us a Faceless Assessment Scheme and a scheme of Faceless Appeals at the level of Commissioner of Income Tax (Appeals).  

Towards the Transparent Taxation regime, the Hon’ble Prime Minister on August 13th, 2020, on behalf of the Central Board of Direct Taxes launched a new platform to meet the requirements of the 21st-century Taxation system. The New facilities launched are a part of the Government’s initiative to provide “Maximum Governance with Minimum Government”. 

The platform, apart from being faceless, is also aimed at boosting the confidence of the Taxpayer and making him/her fearless. It aims to make the tax system indefectible, faceless and painless for the Assessee. After Banking the Unbanked, Securing the Unsecured and Funding the Unfunded”, the “Honoring the Honest” initiative by the Tax Department has given the Indian Tax system, global recognition. 

 

 

Elements & Features of Faceless Assessment 

 

In respect of the features of the scheme, it enumerates the selection of a case for scrutiny through Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. The approach is to abolish Territorial Jurisdiction for assessment proceedings. It prescribes automated and random allocation of cases where notices, when served, will have Document Identification No. (DIN).  

The scheme provides for team-based assessments and team-based review whereby draft assessment orders from one city will undergo review in a different City and finally be issued by the Nodal Agency located in Delhi. The Government has made the facility of Faceless Appeal available from September 25th, 2020, and it will randomly allot such Appeals to any Tax officer in the country. The identity of officers deciding an appeal will remain unknown, and the appellate decisions will be team-based and reviewed.  

Most importantly, the scheme of both the Faceless Assessment and Faceless Appeal, curbs the practice of physical interface. Therefore, from now, there is no need for an assessee to visit the Income Tax Office. 

In respect of efficiency and effectiveness, the scheme intends to benefit the Taxpayer through the ease of compliance, functional specialization, improved quality of assessments, and most notably expeditious disposal of cases.  

 

 

Implementation and Execution

 

The scheme prescribes the constitution of the National E-assessment Centre (NeAC) & Regional E-assessment Centres (ReAc). The NeAC will function as a nodal agency in coordination with the ReACs located at different places supported by Assessment Units (AUs), Verification Units (VUs), Review Units (RUs), and Technical Units (TUs). Towards the completion of the Assessment, NeAc will pass and issue final orders.  

In respect of the operational perspective of the scheme, the new set-up formulated under the Faceless Assessment Scheme will administer all assessment proceedings u/s 143, 144, 148 read with 143(2)/ 142(1) of the Income-Tax Act 1961. 

However, the scheme holds exceptions as well. It would not apply to cases assigned to Central Circles, matters related to International Taxation, and facts constituting offenses under the Black Money Act and the Benami Property Act.  

Henceforth two-third of the department officers will be deputed to perform the functions of faceless assessments. The balance one third will perform residual functions enumerated under the Act including rectification proceedings, statutory powers u/s 263/264 of the Act, handling of grievances, demand management, recovery, collection, prosecution, and compounding and administrative/HRD matters. The Officers of the Directorate of Investigation and TDS units will exercise power to conduct survey u/s 133A of the Act. 

Within the folds of the new system lies the roots of the Tax Charter, which addresses the expectations of both the Revenue Department and the Assessee. The Revenue Department by way of the Charter assures fair, courteous and rational behaviour towards the Assessee. The Charter holds statutory backing with a binding character anticipating a commitment from the Assessee to fulfill the expectations of the Income Tax Department.  

 

 

Incidental Tools, towards Transparency 

 

Alongside the reforms pertaining to tax administration, the Government also revived the existing framework in terms of disclosure and reporting of transactions.  

Accordingly, Income Tax Return will now seek details of House ownership, Passport number and details of Cash deposit exceeding prescribed limits. An Assessee must now also disclose expenditure incurred on foreign travel if it exceeds INR 2 lakh and even aspects of spending on electricity bills exceeding INR 1 lakh during a Financial Year.  

Under the newly developed Tax Regime, Form 26AS (Form) will now be a complete profile of the taxpayer w.e.f. June 1st, 2020. It will cover under its scope “Specified financial transactions” covering transactions of purchase/ sale of goods, property, services, works contract, investment, expenditure, taking or accepting any loan or deposits.  

Furthermore, the Form will include information about income tax demand, refunds, pending proceedings, and proceedings completed under section 148,153A 153C of the Act. 

Revision to an assessment and details of an appeal will also be shared under the new format of the Form and it will not be a one-time affair anymore, it will be live and updated quarterly. The Form will also address information received by the Tax Department from any other country under a Tax Treaty/Tax Information Exchange Agreements. 

The Government has also proposed to expand the scope of Section 285BA of the Act for reporting of Specified Financial Transactions following which the Revenue Department may have on record the payment towards educational fee/donation and purchase of jewelry and paintings exceeding a value of INR 1 lakh.  

Thus, in a nutshell, the consumption and investment patterns of the Taxpayer will fall under the tax radar. It will now be difficult for any taxpayer to hide any transaction with a vendor, Bank/Financial Institution, etc. notified under the Income Tax Law.  

 

 

Conclusion  

 

On the face of it, the initiative is promising. Keeping in view, the intended simplicity and structure of the new administrative regime introduced for inducing better tax compliance in the Country. The question is how effectively it will overcome the challenges of and meet the intended objectives of the policymakers. The answer would depend on how seamlessly is the plan executed.   

Image Credits: Photo by Samantha Borges on Unsplash

On the face of it, the initiative is promising. Keeping in view, the intended simplicity and structure of the new administrative regime introduced for inducing better tax compliance in the Country. The question is how effectively it will overcome the challenges of and meet the intended objectives of the policymakers.

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