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Direct tax code simple, easy to understand
August, 21st 2009

The direct tax code, unveiled last week, took three years to prepare. CNBC-TV18 in association with BMR Advisors ran a special survey on to gauge the initial response to the code. The survey shows overwhelming support for the code, with over three-fourth of respondents saying the code is simple and easy to understand.

The proposed reduction of tax rates, the end of incentives are other positives, although 72% respondents fear the new rules could lead to witch hunting, while MNC respondents are unhappy with the treaty override provision.

Mukesh Butani, Partner, BMR Advisors, feels certain aspects in the law that could lead to litigation. He says 20-25% respondents believe that there are negatives with respect to tax holidays, simplicity. According to him, India has taken a very bold and unreasonable position that the domestic law will override the double tax treaty which goes against the cannons of international taxation.

Here is a verbatim transcript of the exclusive interview with Mukesh Butani, Tejpreet S Chopra and Anand Prasad

Butani: The survey reveals several positive aspects in relation to the survey. I think more than three-fourth of the people or super-majority feel that the law is simple, easy to understand, it will avoid litigation, which I tend to slightly disagree with because there are certain aspects in the law that could lead to litigation.

Most of the aspects are positive. The other important aspect is reduction of rate of tax from 30% to 25% for corporates. This whole debate about tax incentives and continuity of tax incentives, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most people believe that the shift from profit-linked incentives into amortisation; writing of expenditure-linked incentives is a good move.

I think the successive recommendations of the expert group for the last almost two decades have been adhered to in spirit so far as the new tax code is concerned. I think everybody seems to understand the fact that the compromise for reduction of tax rate to 25% is giving away all profit linked incentives, it is worthwhile.

But I still feel that areas that are open with respect to grandfathering of tax incentives particularly to special economic zones, there would be industries that would still clamour for tax incentives. So, it is not coming out from the survey because everybody has responded to this survey.

But you still have 20-25% of people who believe that there are negatives with respect to tax holidays, simplicity. The verdict is divided when it comes to capital markets impact. So, taking away the short-term, long-term distinction and bringing capital gains to normal rate of tax is also debatable. We have an equally divided house as far as that recommendation is concerned.

Then finally, with respect to multinationals, they seem to be perturbed about the general anti-avoidance and are sceptical about the manner in which the tax administration will go about implementing those rules. Another important aspect is for the first time India has taken a very bold, and in my view, an unreasonable position that the domestic law will override the double tax treaty which I think goes against the cannons of international taxation.

Tejpreet S Chopra, President and CEO, GE India:  First let me just say one thing that it is a great positive sign that the government has actually put it out for public debate. Thats a great positive sign that at least they are giving people a chance to take the feedback in.

In terms of simplification, I think theyve really moved the needles significantly. There are a couple of points that I am sure we will get to during the discussion that I think could have further debate on it but on the whole it has gone a long way both on the corporate act side and on the income tax side for consumers.

Anand Prasad, Partner, Trilegal: It is a bit of a game changer in the sense. It has come at the right time. It sort of treats domestic investment and tends to look at foreign investment and treat them similarly. So, some of the benefits that foreign investors would enjoy at one point in time from a tax perspective is sort of being rationalized in that sense.

It puts more cash into peoples hand which will sort of result in increased spending, consumerism which will sort of have a casketing effect on the economy. Generally, it is actually quite ground breaking very, very interesting and it has come at the right time.

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