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Finance minister offers new reprieve on retro tax
June, 01st 2012

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday said the income tax department will not reopen cases where assessment proceedings had been finalized before April 2012, a statement which is aimed at providing fresh comfort to investors jittery about retrospective amendments to the law that will enable the government to tax overseas deals involving foreign assets.

"I gave a commitment in Parliament with regard to retrospective amendments that CBDT ( Central Board of Direct Taxes) will issue a policy circular to clarify that in cases where assessment proceedings have become final before April 1, 2012... such cases shall not be reopened. Now CBDT has issued a circular in this regard," he said.

The reiteration of sorts comes amid suggestions by tax department officials that they would look at all transactions that took place over the last six years to see that nothing escapes the net. But more than the smaller cases, the focus is on a dozen-odd large transactions, including Vodafone's stake acquisition of Hutch stake in the Indian telecom venture, to raise up to Rs 40,000 crore.

The amendment, which has set the stage for a fresh demand on Vodafone, has been criticized by domestic and international companies although the government has held firm that it was only a clarification.

Apart from M&As, Mukherjee also sought to comfort software companies as he promised that the government will ensure that companies don't have to deduct taxes (TDS) at multiple levels. "This will remove hardship in case of software distributors," he added. Due to the stipulation, 10% TDS was being deducted at every level of software distribution chain from master distributor to reseller and channel partners. The government decision follows a recommendation by an expert group and representations by Nasscom.

Mukherjee's statement at the inauguration of a new building for the tax department also had a word of caution for his officers with the minister instructing them to refrain from moving high courts unless the question of law is not involved in the disputes.

"Normally my advice would be that if there be no point of law, if it's a matter of fact, then I think with the two appeals at the commissioner's level the department need not rush to the high court if there be no point of law concerned."

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