The government on Wednesday unveiled the draft of a brand new direct tax law, which will replace the four-decade Income-Tax Act, "... to improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system by eliminating distortions in the tax structure, introducing moderate levels of taxation and expanding the tax base", said finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The tax code makes radical changes in all areas of taxation: it lowers the incidence of tax on corporate and individual incomes but reintroduces wealth tax and capital gains tax, albeit at lower levels. It also proposes to bring a uniform pattern of taxation on all long-term savings in the form of EETexempt at the stage of contribution, exempt during accumulation and taxed during withdrawal.
Releasing the draft direct taxes code, Mr Mukherjee said if a reasonable level of discussion happens on the code, a bill could be placed in the winter session of Parliament. The government is hoping to implement the new code from 2011.
Home minister P Chidambaram, who during his tenure as finance minister had initiated work on the Code and was intensely involved with its drafting, said this was a brand new Code written from scratch. Mr Chidambaram also said the underlying philosophy behind the Code is the philosophy of the government, which is wedded to a well-regulated free market system.
The code proposes to exempt income up to Rs 1,60,000 a year from tax. Income up to Rs 10 lakh will be taxed at 10%, 10-25 lakh at 20% and beyond Rs 25 lakh at 30%. Currently, there is no tax till Rs 1,60,000 of income in a year. However, there is a 10% tax on income between Rs 1,60,000 and Rs 3 lakh, 20% between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, and 30% beyond Rs 5 lakh.
But under the new tax law, an individuals gross salary would also include perquisites such as value of rent-free accommodation, medical reimbursements and leave travel encashment. Taxpayers will also not be able to claim tax benefit on interest repayment on housing loans. However, the benefit would be available if the house is rented.
All savings schemes would also come under EET, implying that they would face tax at the time of withdrawal. However, tax exemption would be available to the Public Provident Fund and other pension fund schemes on withdrawals of amounts accumulated up to March 31, 2011.
The Code further proposes abolition of STT. Capital gains on shares and securities has been proposed to be taxed as income, added to other income after indexation with base year 2000. The capital gains regime is proposed to be simplified by eliminating the distinction between long-term and short-term capital assets, Vikas Vasal, executive director, KPMG.