The Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act) contains several provisions to prevent tax evasion. One such provision seeks to tax loans and advances made to shareholders by a closely held company as deemed dividends in the hands of the shareholders. This is intended to prevent tax evasion in situations where closely held companies distribute accumulated profit as loans or advances which are not chargeable to tax under the IT Act, instead of distributing it as dividends which is chargeable to tax under the IT Act. However, the said provision of deemed dividend is attracted subject to the satisfaction of the following conditions:
Permanent Establishment (PE) is a significant feature of bilateral tax treaties and is a key threshold adopted by source countries to tax profits earned by non-resident entities from the business activities carried out by the non-resident in the source country.
A ‘Fixed Place PE’ relates to a non-resident entity having a fixed place of business in the source country. But certain tax treaties also provide for a ‘Service PE’. A Service PE is established if: (i) the non-resident delivers services for longer than the prescribed threshold; and (ii) the said services are furnished in the source country through the employees or other personnel of the non-resident.
Traditionally, a Service PE required the physical presence of employees of the non-resident in the source country. However, in the present digital economy, this understanding is being challenged as more and more jurisdictions are doing away with this requirement.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, for example, have passed internal guidelines that suggest a non-resident would have a Service PE if it furnished services, including consultancy services, through employees or other personnel who are offshore and not physically present in the Source State. This would only be the case, however, if the activities continue (for the same or connected projects) within the Source State for more than 183 days in any 12-month period.
The real estate industry has experienced unprecedented growth in the past couple of decades. This has led both landowners and developers to enter into several innovative business models to optimise their resources and maximise returns. The landowners try to ensure that they participate in the future substantial value accretion of the project being developed while developers try to avoid shelling out the entire consideration for the land before commencing any work, to avoid depletion of their resources.
Thus, entering into a joint development agreement (JDA) has become particularly common. This is where the landowner and developer collaborate on the basis that the landowner contributes his land to the project while the developer brings in his expertise in construction to develop the project and both parties share the income earned from the developed project in a pre-determined ratio. Of course, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, multiple variations of this structure can be seen in the marketplace, with the broad contours of the arrangement remaining the same.
For a long time, litigation has arisen over the taxability of income accruing or arising from a JDA. Primarily, Indian tax authorities contend that the landowner should be liable to pay tax at the time of entering into the JDA, whereas taxpayers have been contending that the tax should be payable only at the time of registration of the JDA.
This contentious issue has hopefully been resolved with the Hon’ble Supreme Court (SC) delivering its verdict in the case of Balbir Singh Maini [CIT v. Balbir Singh Maini, Civil Appeal No. 15619 of 2017]. In the said case, the SC upheld the contentions of the taxpayers, by confirming the decision of the Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court (HC).
The constitution validity of Entry Tax has faced a series of challenges. It was hoped that once the constitutional bench took control of the matter, the controversy would be resolved once for all. However, even after the constitutionality of the levy of Entry Tax per se was upheld by the majority of a nine judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court (SC) in the case of Jindal Stainless Steel v. State of Haryana, Civil Appeal No. 3453/2002 (Jindal Case), the impending disputes weren’t put to rest.
The SC in the Jindal Case opined that non-discriminatory taxes do not interfere in the free movement of goods across the territory of India and therefore levy of Entry Tax by states does not violate Article 301 of the Constitution of India. The SC also laid down certain touchstones to be considered while analysing whether a levy is discriminatory against goods coming from outside the state vis-a-vis goods produced locally in the said state.
However, it directed the respective benches to adjudicate the question of the constitutional validity of each state’s Entry Tax legislation. Accordingly, the bench left important ancillary issues, which are relevant for deciding the validity of state specific Entry Tax legislation, open for determination, namely: (a) whether states have the right to tax imports from outside India; and (b) whether the entire state can be notified as a ‘local area’.
One of the most widely litigated issues in India is the disallowance of expenditure incurred on earning income that is exempt from tax. In an endeavor to put the controversy to rest, the Supreme Court (“SC”) in the recent case of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Ltd. v. DCIT, has held that expenditure should be disallowed if it is incurred in connection with the earning of tax-exempt income.
Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited (“Taxpayer”) is engaged in the business of manufacture of steel furniture, electrical equipments, etc. It is also a promoter of various other companies and invests funds into these companies to maintain control over them.
With globalisation spreading economic activities across jurisdictions, enterprises nowadays have a presence in several jurisdictions. The taxability of activities undertaken by companies on foreign soil is closely linked to whether they are conducted through a permanent establishment (PE). This is a concept widely used in the context of international taxation wherein a particular business transaction leaves its footprint in multiple jurisdictions. Under the terms of various tax treaties, existence of a PE in the source State is a pre-requisite to hold a non-resident liable to pay taxes on business profits. The term PE is generally defined in the tax treaties as “a fixed place of business through which the business of a foreign enterprise is carried on wholly or in part”.
Under the various tax treaties executed with other countries, India imposes tax on any business income accruing or arising to a non-resident, whether directly or indirectly through or from any PE in India.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (SC), in the recent case of Steel Authorities of India Ltd.[i], considered the question of admissibility of an appeal, against an order of the Central Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), filed before the SC under Section 130E(b) of the Customs Act, 1962 (Customs Act).
The SC analysed the provisions pertaining to the appellate mechanism laid down under the Customs Act juxtaposed with the role of the SC and its appellate powers, as envisaged under the Constitution of India (Constitution). It concluded that the appellate powers of the SC in relation to appeals filed against orders of the CESTAT are no different from the said powers of SC in case of an appeal against a judgment/ order of the High Court (HC).
Interestingly however, the SC laid down a non-exhaustive list of conditions for determining the admissibility of appeals, against an order of the CESTAT filed before it. They were as follows:
Indian income tax law exempts long-term capital gains arising from transfer of listed equity shares provided such transfer takes place through the stock exchange, and securities transaction tax (STT) is paid. However, the Government believes that this exemption is being misused by certain unscrupulous elements to convert unaccounted money into legal money. The law was therefore recently amended to remedy the situation, restricting this benefit only to such cases where STT is paid both at the time of purchase as well as sale.
However, since this amendment is being introduced as an anti-abuse provision, it also provided that the Government would notify certain types of acquisitions where this restrictive provision would not apply so that genuine business transactions are not impacted.
A draft notification has recently been issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) attempting to list out such instances and inviting comments from stakeholders. Through this blogpost, we will discuss the efficacy and appropriateness of this draft notification.
Draft CBDT Notification
As discussed above, the recent amendment provides that the capital gains exemption shall be available only in such cases where STT is paid both at the time of purchase as well as at the sale of such listed shares, unless the shares were acquired through a mechanism which has specifically been notified to be unaffected by this provision. In other words, the import of this provision is very wide and could deny capital gains exemption to all such instances unless the notification exempts them. To protect genuine business transactions, the Government has been empowered to come up with instances where the exemption will not be denied. Hence, the nature of transactions to be specified by the notification shall be very important to determine the taxability of capital gains.
The Finance Bill 2017 proposes certain significant amendments in respect of the direct tax regime, especially in the area of M&A and restructuring / reorganisation. While some of the suggested changes are designed to ensure that the provisions are not abused by taxpayers through aggressive tax planning, the Finance Bill also attempts to provide much needed clarity on certain long-standing issues. This blog post briefly deals with some of the key points regarding restructuring / reorganisation and M&A transactions. Continue Reading M&A and Internal Restructuring – Providing Clarity & Plugging Loopholes
India has time and again shown its commitment to curbing base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), an initiative of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the G20 nations. The Finance Act 2016 is testimony to this fact as it enabled the introduction of an equalisation levy, country-by-country reporting and the Indian patent box regime. The Government has been continuously revising various tax treaties to plug loopholes, strengthen information sharing between the contracting states and prevent double non-taxation under the garb of avoidance of double taxation.
In continuation of the Government’s support of the BEPS project, the Finance Bill 2017 proposes to introduce measures to curb thin capitalisation in India. Continue Reading Thin Capitalisation – The Line Is Getting Blurred!