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Global Captive Centers in India: Can Add Value if Set Up Differently

Major forces of change, such as the emergence of new technologies, maturing of platform-based business models and other competitive threats are forcing businesses to transform themselves. Another driver of large-scale change is the pandemic, which has led to new ways of working. Hybrid models, where a large chunk of employees work remotely and not from a designated office space, are now becoming the norm. Although some companies have begun to announce plans for their employees to return to workplaces, the consensus opinion is that a hybrid model is going to become the new norm because it significantly reduces operating costs; also, employees are finding it more convenient.

One area where the above changes are clearly visible relates to how large and medium enterprises across industries are looking at outsourcing to countries such as India. In recent years, the contours of both IT outsourcing and BPO have evolved rapidly; the above-mentioned forces of change are only accelerating the velocity of change.

A survey by NASSCOM recently found that by 2025, MNCs are likely to set up 500 new Global Captive Centers (GCCs) in India. Until two years ago, the number of such units established annually was around 50. This demonstrates that India’s large talent pool continues to be attractive. But it’s a different world we live in than even five years ago.

Earlier, most MNCs viewed their GCCs in India as low-cost delivery centers and design, architecture, prioritization of projects etc. were all the exclusive domain of Business/Technology leaders in the parent company. Cost arbitrage opportunities still exist in India vis-à-vis western countries, and thus, cost savings will remain an important objective for evaluating GCC performance. However, the ongoing shifts are raising the bar on how GCCs are expected to contribute to their parent organizations. Along with cost-efficient service delivery, enhancing automation, driving process innovation and enabling adoption of new technologies and architecture paradigms will all become important performance criteria. In some cases, there may even be expectations of new product innovations coming out of the Indian GCC.

MNCs will need appropriate operating models and talent to deliver on the potential. Employee contracts need to be suitably structured. IPR must be appropriately protected. Compliance with data privacy and other regulations must be ensured. As MNCs plan and implement their GCCs in India, they must keep in mind that India too is changing rapidly. They must formulate their strategies keeping in mind four specific factors:

  • Quality infrastructure (including reliable electricity and broadband connectivity) is now available across the country, and not limited to Tier 1 cities. This gives companies a wider choice of locating their GCCs.
  • As a result of reverse-migration triggered by the pandemic, talent too is available in smaller cities across the country. Given the possibility of remote working, the proximity to families and lower cost of living have become significant incentives; in fact, many employees prefer to live and work from such locations.
  • Many state governments are offering incentives to companies establishing operations in less-developed parts of their states and creating employment opportunities.
  • The country’s FDI, income tax and GST regimes are also frequently being tweaked to make India more competitive and business-friendly.

All this means that making choices and decisions around business objectives, investment routing, structuring and locations based on criteria and checklists that were relevant even a couple of years ago may lead to sub-optimal outcomes. Your GCC in India has the potential to be a global Centre of Excellence- so make sure that you make the right decisions so that your investments deliver ROI in ways that go far beyond cost arbitrage.

Mr. Sandip Sen, former Global CEO of Aegis and a well-known veteran of the BPO industry, put it thus: “These are exciting times for the Business Process Management industry for many reasons. Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics and higher levels of automation mean that players at the lower end of the value chain will need to raise their capabilities. In the next phase, GCCs will focus more on innovation as well as technology enablement aimed at enterprises to embrace ecosystem-based business models and higher levels of customer-centricity. But to achieve all this, companies have to take an approach that is very different from what they might have taken some years ago”.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

MNCs will need appropriate operating models and talent to deliver on the potential. Employee contracts need to be suitably structured. IPR must be appropriately protected. Compliance with data privacy and other regulations must be ensured. 

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Project Cost in Infrastructure Projects: Concept, Challenges and Way Forward

The IMF and Central Statistic Organization had dubbed the Indian economy as the fastest growing economy back in 2019. Moving forward, in 2021 despite the havoc wrecked by the pandemic on advanced economies across the globe, the IMF has kept India’s growth forecast unchanged at 9.5%. In order to sustain India’s growth momentum, the development of country’s infrastructure sector is cogent. The National Infrastructure Pipeline has been the focus of current policies, with an unprecedented increase in capital expenditure allocation for FY 2021-22 by 34.5% to INR 5.5 lakh crore to propel infrastructure creation. However, the April-June 2021 report of The Ministry of Statistics states that 470 projects sanctioned by the centre suffered from a cost overrun of 61.5 percent, that is Rs 4,46,169.37 crore[1].

Project cost remains the central concern for any seminal discussion on infrastructural projects in India or around the world. This is the nebulous point where a host of stakeholders would converge to dispute, disagree, or litigate. This article aims to discuss the concept of project cost and its various implications for the different stakeholders involved.

Introduction to Infrastructure and Projects

 

Costs that are reasonably incurred for the acquisition and construction of infrastructure are referred to as infrastructure costs. Hence, Project cost could mean the total cost of an infrastructure project.  In India, there is no clear definition of the term infrastructure. However, on 1st March 2012, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure approved the framework to include a harmonised master list of sub-sectors to guide all the agencies responsible for supporting infrastructure in India. These sub-sectors include transports and logistics, energy, water and sanitation, communication, and social infrastructure. Out of the plethora of these sub-sectors, during the fiscals of 2020-2025, it is expected that sub-sectors such as Energy (24%), Roads (19%), Railways (13%) and Urban (16%) shall constitute 70%of the projected capital expenditure in infrastructure in India[2]. The total capital expenditure as per the report is expected to be 102 lakh crore Indian rupees. Furthermore, in India, the current investment in infrastructure is USD 3.9 Trillion, and the required investment is USD 4.5 Trillion, leaving a gap of USD 526 Billion[3]. Therefore, the energy and infrastructure sector are instrumental in generating tremendous employment opportunities and drive a substantial increase in GDP per annum in India as well as countries all over the world.

 

Structure of Project Finance Transactions

 

The main parties involved in a project finance transaction structure are (i) The Authority or the Government (ii) The Private Party Investors/Developers, Sponsors or Promotors and (iii) the Lenders. These three parties are key players responsible for the determination of project costs in infrastructure and construction projects. The principal point of convergence for these three players is the project company (i.e., also known as special purpose vehicle) set up by the private party investors under which the infrastructure project is formed and under which the project exists in the concession agreement. The project cost is mainly estimated by the private party and the lenders who would finance in the form of equity and debt. The typical financial structure for infrastructure projects has a debt-to-equity ratio of 75:25. However, the ratio may vary depending upon the risks involved.

                Illustration I: Key parties that influence the project cost of an infrastructure project

                                                                                                                     

 

Risks that affect the Determination of Project Cost

 

Every project has certain risks attached to its completion. These risks influence the determination of project costs by the authority, the private parties and the lenders. The risks, in turn, then affect the total cost of the project. The risks affecting the three parties are explained below:

 

                                Illustration II: Risks that affect the determination of project cost

    

 Risk for Authority

Risk for Private Party
Investors

Risk for Lender

Technical or physical risks

Economic or market risks

Economic or market risks

Risk relating to land acquisition

Construction and completion risk – cost overrun/time
overrun/delays

Financing risks

For eg. Technical or physical risks may include risks
associated with
technology during
construction and operation as well as social and environmental risks.

For eg. Economic or
market risks may include input and output price variations, variation in
demand, debt/equity financing as well as counterparty risks.

For eg. Economic or
market risks may include input and output price variations, variation in
demand, debt/equity financing as well as counterparty risks.

The other risks that affect the cost of the project are contractual and legal risks, resource and raw material availability risks, demand risks, design risks, force majeure, property damage, permits, licenses, authorization, supply risk, social and environmental risks.

 

The Major Risks affecting Project Cost in India: Cost Overrun and Time Overrun

 

Out of the myriad of risks affecting project cost, the major risks in India are the risks associated with cost and time overruns. As many as 525 infrastructure projects were hit by time overruns, and as many as 470 infrastructure projects, each worth Rs 150 crore or more, were hit by cost overruns of over Rs 4.38 Trillion owing to delays, according to a report by the Ministry of Statistics, cited previously[4] The main causes for time overruns are delay in obtaining forest and environmental clearances, delay in land acquisition,  and lack of infrastructure support.  As per the report, there are other reasons like delay in project financing, delay in finalisation of detailed engineering, alteration in scope, delay in ordering and equipment supply, law, geological issues, contractual complications and delay in tendering.

 

The Key Elements of Project Cost

 

The elements of ‘costing’ include variables such as raw materials, labour, and expenses. Thus, for infrastructure projects as well, at the time of estimation of cost, these variables would come into play. The factors affecting cost for a public-private partnership project could be the following:

 

                        Illustration III: Factors affecting Cost of Projects: PPP model projects

FACTORS AFFECTING COST OF PROJECTS : PPP MODEL PROJECTS

Materials

Labour

Consultants

Contractor

Client

External
Factors

Dispute
Resolution

Costs and delays
associated with procurement and delivery of materials, import costs

Availability or non –
availability of skilled labour.

Recurring changes in
design

Poor site management
and supervision

Change orders

Force Majeure events
and weather changes.

International dispute
resolution in outside jurisdictions[1]

Unavailability of raw
materials

Poor management of
labour

Delay in approvals and
inspections

Inept subcontractors

Political and policy
changes such as MII[2]

Approvals from
authorities

Costly and time-consuming
domestic litigation

Wastage and theft of
materials – 13 to 14 million construction waste (FY 2000-2001)[3]

Increasing cost of
labour

Inaccuracy in design,
costs associated with knowledge transfer

Poor planning,
scheduling and cash flow management by Contractors

Poor communication for
quality and cost

Accidents

High legal costs and high
arbitrators fees[4].
Non-realisation of arbitral awards and court decree amounts.

 

 

Case Study: The Mumbai Monorail – An EPC Contract Model

 

Time and cost overruns in projects lead to disputes and arbitrations. A suitable example is the  Mumbai Monorail which has entered disputes and arbitration between the Contractor and the Authority over its project cost[9]. The development authority MMRDA entered into a contract with L&T Scomi Engineering for the construction of the Mumbai Monorail project. The original project cost between the Private Party Investors and the Authority was estimated to be Rs 2,700 crore, after which disputes arose. The Authority had claims against the Contractor for not completing the project task on time. The arguments of the Contractor pertained to the cost escalations caused by delays due to the fault of the Authority.  In 2019, the Bombay High Court appointed an arbitrator to settle the dispute. Currently, the dispute is still in the arbitration stage. Furthermore, post-December 2018, the MMRDA had taken over the Operation and Maintenance of the Mumbai Monorail project from L&T Scomi Engineering. Due to the Make in India policy, the tenders for manufacturing of the Mumbai Monorail were altered to encourage manufacturers and Indian technology partners to participate and fulfil the demands of manufacturing the additional monorail rakes[10]. Among other issues currently plaguing the Mumbai Monorail project, such as unavailability of a sufficient number of rakes to keep the services running and an inadequate number of spare parts, the widening deficit between revenue and O&M costs, remains primary.   

   

Way Forward

 

As per the report by the Ministry of Statistics cited above, the reason for cost and time overruns can be largely attributed to the state-wise lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been causing great hindrance to the implementation of infrastructure projects. Time and cost overruns in projects lead to disputes and arbitrations. Furthermore, in the procurement stage of projects, biddings in India happen with the project sponsor underbidding for the project so as to survive the competitive market. However, the underbidding combined with lack of margin included in the overall costs by contractors or sponsors often overlook inevitable hidden and unforeseeable costs which in turn enhance the final costs of the project. For instance, the Mumbai-Monorail project is a classic example of cost overrun. The solution would be to have a clear understanding of the project agreements, risks involved in the project particularly the conditions of force majeure, an objective evaluation of project cost while bidding taking into account uncertainties relating to raw material procurement, labour laws, land acquisition and risks related to cost and time overruns due to decisions of the awarding authority or public policy or any of the factors described above. The compensation clauses should be coherent and unambiguous, and in line with actual project cost incurred in the project leaving less scope for future disputes and arbitrations. Furthermore, it would be useful for the contractors / concessionaires , while making claims in an infrastructure project, to do it in a timely manner while maintaining clear and systematic evidentiary documentation, to substantiate the claims that may have arisen during the course of the project.

References: 

[1] http://www.cspm.gov.in/english/flr/FR_Mar_2021.pdf

[2] Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman releases Report of the Task Force on National Infrastructure Pipeline for 2019-2025, dated 31 December 2019, Press Information Bureau, pib.gov.in (2019), https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1598055 (last visited Sep 17, 2021).

[3] Forecasting Infrastructure Investment Needs and gaps, Global Infrastructure Outlook – A G20 INITIATIVE, https://outlook.gihub.org/ (last visited Sep 17, 2021).

[4] 422nd Flash Report on Central Sector Projects (Rs.150 Crore and Above), March 2021, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation Infrastructure and Project Monitoring Division (2021), Available at: http://www.cspm.gov.in/english/flr/FR_Mar_2021.pdf (last visited Sep 17, 2021)

[5] Joseph Mante, Issaka Ndekugri & Nii Ankrah, Resolution of Disputes Arising From Major Infrastructure Projects In Developing Countries Fraunhofer, https://www.irbnet.de/daten/iconda/CIB_DC24504.pdf (last visited Sep 17, 2021).

[6] Make in India Initiative, Government of India.

[7] Sandeep Shrivastava and Abdol Chini M.E. Rinker Sr., Construction Materials and C&D Waste in India, School of Building Construction University of Florida, USA, https://www.irbnet.de/daten/iconda/CIB14286.pdf (last visited Sep 17, 2021).

[8] Amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, August 2014, Law Commission of India, Report No.246.

[9] Larsen and Toubro Limited Scomi Engineering BHD vs. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority MANU 2018 SC 1151, Arbitration Petition (C) No. 28 OF 2017.

[10]Adimulam, S. (2021, March 2). Mumbai: Monorail rakes will be made in India. Mumbai. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/mumbai-monorail-rakes-will-be-made-in-india.

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash

The solution would be to have a clear understanding of the project agreements, risks involved in the project particularly the conditions of force majeure, an objective evaluation of project cost while bidding taking into account uncertainties relating to raw material procurement, labour laws, land acquisition and risks related to cost and time overruns due to decisions of the awarding authority or public policy or any of the factors described above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change is already in the air

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

Stop press!

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

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

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

I wish you all a Happy Navratri/Durga Puja.

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

Photo by fabio on Unsplash

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

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Online Games Involving Money Now Banned in Karnataka

In a major setback to the Online Gaming platforms and all other gaming entities in Karnataka falling under the category of wagering or betting, the Karnataka Government on 5th October 2021 notified the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021, (“Act”/”Amendment”) which prohibited all forms of online gaming involving a transfer of money.

The controversial legislation comes in the backdrop of the upcoming T20 World Cup involving a huge stake for online gaming companies, including MPL, Dream11, to name a few. Further, it is said to damage Bangalore/Karnataka’s position as the country’s start-up capital which houses about 92 gaming companies and employs over 4,000 persons. 

Key Amendments Made Through the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Amendment widened the scope of certain definitions under Section 2 of the Act. Some of the key amendments are:  

The definition of the term “Gaming” under Section 2(7) has been revised to include online games that involve “all forms of wagering or betting, including in the form of tokens valued in terms of money paid before or after issue of it, or electronic means and virtual currency, electronic transfer of funds in connection with any game of chance“.

Similarly, Section 2(11) that defines “Instruments of gaming” has been substantially expanded and now includes any article used or intended to be used as a subject or means of gaming, including computers, computer system, mobile app or internet or cyberspace, virtual platform, computer network, computer resource, any communication device, electronic applications, software and accessory or means of online gaming, any document, register or record or evidence of any gaming in electronic or digital form, the proceeds of any online gaming as or any winning or prizes in money or otherwise distributed or intended to be distrusted in respect of any gaming“.

The Amendment has also introduced a new Section 12(A) that defines “online gaming” as “games as defined in clause (7) played online by means of instruments of gaming, computer, computer resource, computer network, computer system or by mobile app or internet or any communication device, electronic application, software or on any virtual platform;

Further, Section 78 has been amended to criminalize activities related to opening certain forms of gaming centres and penalize anyone who opens, keeps or uses cyber cafes, computer resources, mobile apps, the internet, or any communication device as defined in the IT Act for online gaming. Offences under Section 78 have been made cognizable and bailable.

The Amendment has also increased the nature of, and scope of punishments for various offences. Offences under Section 78 and Section 87 of the Act that deals with gaming in public streets are punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to ten thousand rupees. 

Punishments under Section 79, which criminalizes keeping common gaming house, and Section 80, which criminalizes gaming in common gaming-house, have been increased to imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to one lakh rupees. 

Previously, Sections 79 and Section 80 did not apply to wager in games of pure skill. The Amendment removed this exception, bringing games of skill as well under the purview of the ban.

Judicial Stand on Similar Bans Placed on Online Gaming

Recently in the case of Junglee Games v. State of Tamil Nadu[1], the Madras High Court struck down the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, which was similar to the Amendment in Karnataka, holding that such a blanket ban was excessive and disproportionate and that it was violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Rajasthan High Court in Saahil Nalwaya v. State of Rajasthan and Ors. [2] held that online fantasy sports, which functions under the Charter for Online Fantasy Sports Platforms of the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports, the self-regulatory body in the online fantasy gaming industry which we have discussed before, are protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in Avinash Mehrotra v. The State of Rajasthan[3], dismissed an SLP from a decision of the High Court of Rajasthan, thereby upholding the judgements of the Rajasthan High Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and the Bombay High Court, that games such as Dream11 do not involve any commission of the offence of gambling and betting.

Considering these judicial stands, the constitutional and legal validity of the Amendment is also in question, and the Amendment will likely be challenged in Court.

 

Effects of the Amendment Banning Online Gaming in Karnataka

Immediately after the Amendment Act was notified, Online platforms started geotagging and blocking access to their apps for users in Karnataka. While MPL and PayTM First seem to have blocked access to their users in Karnataka, some other online fantasy sports apps are still trying to interpret and adhere to the new legislation.

Industry experts predict that the ban will impact over 10% of online transactions in the country and will cause around 7-12% loss of revenue to the online gaming industry other than damaging the investor-friendly tag of Karnataka. 

 

The Way Forward

This move is the latest of the numerous attempts by legislatures in different States of the Country to ban online gaming. Such actions are criticized for showcasing the misplaced concern of the legislature for online games, and critics advocate for regulation instead of an outright ban. While clarity is needed and perhaps the rules which are yet to be framed may help clear the air, the Gaming industry may not wait until then from moving to Court challenging the blanket ban.

References

[1] (2021) SCC OnLine Mad 2762.

[2] D.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 2026/2021.

[3] SLP (Civil) Diary No. 18478/2020.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Aidan Howe on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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



Assessee’s Contentions: Relevant documentary evidence produced

The Assessee’s contentions have been summarized below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue Before the Tribunal:

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

Mumbai Tribunal’s Ruling:

The Mumbai Tribunal observed and held as under:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Observation:

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

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

References

[1] [TS-883-ITAT-2021(Mum)]

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

 

[3] (2017) 80 taxmann.com 172 (Bom)

[4] [(2013) 357 ITR 197 (Del)]

[5] [1991] 187 ITR 596 (Cal)]

[6] [1994] 208 ITR 465 (Cal)]

[7] 1971) 82 ITR 540 (SC)

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

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

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The Messi Exit: A Legal & Financial Perspective

Behind the passions of the fans, tackled goals, swanky parties and brand endorsements, there is a lot that goes into structuring a football team/club, registration as well as the transfer of a player while maintaining sustainable finances. 

In response to multiple financial irregularities in clubs such as Deportivo La Coruña, Racing Santander, Valencia, Real Zaragoza, Real Mallorca, Albacete, Real Betis etc., the economic control framework was introduced in 2013 to keep clubs financially afloat and maintain competitive sustainability.

At a later stage, FFP (Financial Fair Play) came into effect against errant clubs for breach of regulations. Spain’s economic control- La Liga controls the fire before it can damage (to an extent) by setting a limit to the amount a club can spend, thereby making it easier to stay within limits and preventing the creation of unsustainable debts. 

What were the legal reasons for Messi’ s exit from Barcelona?

 

Recently Argentinean professional footballer Lionel Andrés Messi, popularly known as Leo Messi, decided to part ways with the Spanish football club FC Barcelona and join the French football club Paris Saint-Germain. Messi had been with the Spanish club for the last 21 years and their association came to an end on 30th June 2021, when they decided to move on.

Messi had agreed to a new five-year contract with Barcelona, however on 8th August 2021, the legendary football player announced his exit from the Spanish club, by signing a two-year contract with the French club Paris Saint-Germain, with the option of further extension up to a year. FC Barcelona announced that despite the agreement between the club and Messi, they were not able to honour the new contract due to the Spanish football league’s (LaLiga’s) financial fair-play rules. 

 

What is LaLiga Financial Fair-play Rule? 

 

Under the LaLiga fair play rule, each club is provided with a cost limit for each season, which includes the wages of the players, the coaching staff, physios, reserve teams, etc. Clubs have the flexibility to decide how the wages are distributed, as long as the overall limit is not breached. Factors taken into consideration for setting the financial cap are inclusive of expected revenues, profits and losses from previous years, existing debt repayments, and sources of external financing among others. In this case, the Catalan club could not accommodate Messi’s contract within the financial limit for the upcoming year, even though Messi was allegedly willing to take a 50% pay cut. 

Considering the fact that Messi is Barcelona’s record scorer with 751 goals and 10 La Liga titles, Messi’s exit could mean a heavy blow for the world’s most valuable[1] European football club. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales, and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales, and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season. However, there is no question over how Messi has played an important role in bringing laurels to Barcelona over the past few years, which has garnered a significant fan following, not just for the footballer, but also for the club. Thus, his exit may likely cause a dip in the viewership and fan following which will directly affect the Club’s revenue.

Typically for a footballer, his contract with any club would include basic salary, signing-on fees, royalty fees, and objectives based on games. Apart from these, some of the other key element included in a contract is his image rights, merchandising right and licensing deals, which form a major portion of any footballer’s gross income. 

 

What are Image Rights? 

Image rights are the expression of a personality in the public domain. For an athlete, it will include their name, photo, and likeness, signature, personal brand, slogans, or logos, etc. Generally, football clubs try to extract a greater percentage from the image rights of a player, in a club capacity as compared to their personal capacity. Club capacity is usually when the image rights of the player are used in connection with or combined with his name, colours, crest, strip, logos identifying him as a player for his club. Personal capacity is usually when the player is appearing in and conducting activities outside his role as a player at the club. 

Any player leaving the club would have an impact on the commercial revenue generated by the club in the form of sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales as well as digital content. This would be especially notable for a player like Messi, whose personal brand value boasts over 130 trademarks. Messi’s trademark portfolio consists of mostly a single class trademark in his home country of Argentina, with others filed or registered in China, Brazil, EU, Malaysia, UK, Spain, Canada, Chile, and the US. The most common goods and services represented in Messi’s trademark portfolio are class 25 (clothing and footwear), class 28 (games, toys, and sporting apparatus) and class 9 (computer software). Apart from the above classes, class 18 has been filed in multiple applications.

The trademark consists of either the word mark MESSI/LIONEL MESSI or his logo. This means that Barcelona will no longer be able to use the footballer’s name or logo for apparel and merchandise sales, which will directly impact its revenue as most clubs collect a portion of the sales revenue. Also, Messi’s exit means that the club will have no control over his image rights to attract corporate sponsorships. Further, Messi’s huge online presence, with over 276 million Instagram followers, which is more than double of Barcelona’s official account (100 million), will have a direct impact on any advertising or publicity that the club may generate. 

A player of Messi’s stature, brand, and persona is significant to any club. How the present scenario is played with the new club and how much impact Messi’s presence will bring to Paris Saint-Germain is yet to be seen. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season.