In 1965 while delivering a public lecture on The Indian Tax System, late Mr Nani Palkhivala, one of the most revered tax lawyer of India highlighted the uncertainty of the tax laws in the country and cited its unpredictable nature as one of the pernicious characteristic. Now in 2012, British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne called for “greater predictability) in the Indian tax policies. Connecting the dots would help us to understand the issue now.
In Budget 2012-13, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has proposed amending the Income Tax Act retrospectively from 1962 to bring under net overseas deals involving domestic assets. This would have a bearing on Vodafone which won the legal dispute in Supreme Court over Rs 11,000-crore tax claim raised on its USD 11-billion deal with Hutchison Essar in 2007. Now, the retroactive law threatens to upturn the court verdict.
Will this verdict be overthrown by the Government’s amendment in the law or will the Apex Court’s decision will be given supremacy? The question is not only confined to the inland domestic tax situation but with this amendment will the Foreign Investor’s investment in the country would also be impacted or will the sentiments get dented? This question is also extremely important to be thought upon.
Though the Government official justifies the step taken by the Finance Minister and also confirms that the amendment won’t affect the FDI inflows in the country, which is already under a great stress from the other parties’ objection. They also have a view that amendments in The Income Tax Law is normal process and happens every year, in 2007-08 budget, there were eight amendments in tax laws, five amendments in 2008-09, four in 2009-10 and eleven in 2010-11.
But on the other side there are views from the industry that such amendments would hamper the sentiments of the large business houses and their investment in the country. Mr Ashok Malik, a political commentator feels that “post facto laws are increasingly seen as immoral and vindictive. Today, with international capital flows intensifying, the rules of the game cannot be changed mid match”. If the amendment would have been for the future deals of the similar fashion then it would have been a completely different issue. But the present amendment can even rope in deals like Kraft Foods’ acquisition of Cadbury India, SABMiller’s purchase of Fosters etc, so that is why the present issue is getting more and more debatable.
Though the government would proceed with the present amendment made in the law but it should definitely take into consideration the present situation of our country. Today our nation requires a boost of reforms and financial stimulus in the key areas of the economy to continue to attract the foreign investors on the land which provides equal opportunities for everyone who pitches in for business and to move on the trajectory of 8% GDP growth rate. And through these changes in the law I somehow believe that the government on its own is creating a self defeating economic agenda which can negatively impact the long term prospects of the nation.