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'Impose cap gains tax to address rich-poor divide'
June, 30th 2007
Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs suggestion to cap corporate sector salaries to reduce inequalities may not be a good idea, according to public finance expert Amaresh Bagchi. Instead, the government could impose a tax on capital gains from shares sold after one year of purchase and also on dividends. This would help bridge the divide between haves and the have-nots, he says.

There can be no quarrelling with the objective the Prime Minister has set for the corporate sector developing social responsibility. Gross inequalities are a concern of the state and powerful instruments are available to the government for this purpose such as adequate taxation of capital gains, he said at the National Institute of Bank Management Convocation on Friday.

Currently investors do not have to pay any tax on long-term capital gains from sale of shares. Dividends are also not taxed in their hands. Left parties have been pitching for scrapping long-term capital gains tax exemption. But the government has not relented so far.

Mr Bagchi took a jab at the RBI report on currency and finance for being upbeat on the India growth story, but silent on the great divide that is taking place. It would be a mistake to think that efficiency in production alone would mitigate these consequences.

Attention has to be paid to the question of equity as well, he said. He was critical of reservations as a panacea to provide equal opportunities to all. The right course was to offer good quality education and primary health and this is where the state has failed, he said. Besides corporates chipping in, banks too have a social responsibility of bridging this divide.

More loans to the priority sector is not the right solution as it impedes efficiency. Banks could help the poor by innovative banking like micro credit. They could also help by ensuring that farmers and SMEs get adequate and timely credit.

Had banks been more vigilant in securing credit to farmers and cautioned them against the use of pesticides, suicides might not have taken place on such a scale, he said. Banks can, for instance, donate computers to village schools or help build tube wells, without hurting their efficiency.
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