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Why new tax surcharge has stunned foreign portfolio investors


India’s tax revenue structure has seen some volatility in the nearly two decades since the turn of the millennium. In 2000-01, Indian direct taxes, which include individual income taxes (taxes on salaries, house properties, capital gains, etc) and corporate income taxes accounted for barely 36.31% of total tax collection. This percentage share grew steadily in the subsequent years, to peak at 60.78% in 2009-10. Thereafter, it fell to 49% in 2016-17, recovering to 52% in 2017-18, more or less contributing an equal share as indirect taxes such as GST (goods and services tax) and customs duty. The budget estimates for 2019-20, however, shows the government is hoping the share of direct taxes will go up again the next year, as after several rounds of lowering of GST rates in 2018-19, the actual GST collection will be somewhat subdued.

For 2018-19, the budget estimates for GST was Rs 7.43 lakh crore, but the revised estimate shown in the budget papers last week, for 2018-19 is only Rs 6.43 lakh crore and the budget estimate for 2019-20 shows a small improvement to Rs 6.63 lakh crore. Direct taxes are expected to make up for this drop and then some more. In fact, the budget estimates for total tax collection is 11.7% of GDP in 2019-20, which is a little lower than the revised estimate for 2018-19 at 11.9% of GDP. Out of the 11.7%, direct taxes are now expected to be 6.3% of GDP, while indirect taxes’ contribution will be 5.3%.

Given this context, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s moves to bring in more money by way of direct taxes start making sense. The new surcharge announced in the budget kicks in for people with annual income of more than Rs 2 crore at 3% and then for those with income above Rs 5 crore at 7%. All hell broke loose in the bourses after the implications of these new taxes on foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) became clear. Many FPIs in India are not registered as a company or a limited liability firm, but pay their taxes under a taxation construct called Association of Persons (AOP). AOPs are treated as individuals in the eyes of the law, and the new surcharge applies to them. There is, in fact, a suspicion in the markets that the tax was actually targeting the AOPs, as there has been a surge in their numbers in the last few years.

Courtesy : Economic Times

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