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Budget: Kelkar proposals in limelight

February 25, 2003 19:09 IST

The Kelkar Committee recommendations, popularly known as the Task Force on Direct and Indirect Taxes, have been suggested by a committee headed by Dr Vijay Laxman Kelkar, advisor tot the finance minister.

Following pressure from the middle class and the BJP, the watered-down version of the Kelkar committee report, tabled on 2 November 2002, suggests sweeping changes to the tax system and are likely to form the key input for the preparation of the forthcoming Union Budget for 2003-04.

The basic objective of the Kelkar Committee was to arrive at long-term sustainable solutions to enhance transparency, reduce transaction costs, promote growth, improve tax compliance and to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio through a world-class fiscal regime. The report largely focuses on the simplification and rationalisation of tax laws and to impart a greater transparency in tax administration.

However, the general view on the report, which has been out for over 3 months now, is that the recommendations are in line with the present economic policy of rewarding the rich with tax cuts, while putting the burden on the middle class and common people.

The report aims at widening the tax net by expanding the service tax base and improving the tax-payers' compliance. That justifies why the committee tampered with personal taxes to such an extent. Bringing more people under the tax net is, no doubt, important as less than 2 per cent of our total population currently pays taxes. But wasn't just simplification of tax structures and widening of tax base enough, rather than increasing the tax rates.

The report favours scrapping important sections, like section 88, section 80L and section 10, available to individuals, except for handicapped and women over 65 years. If these recommendations are accepted, tax-payers can no longer obtain exemption on interest income received from bonds, securities and debentures u/s 10 and the tax exemption u/s 88. The removal of section 80L will make investments suffer to a great extent.

The report further suggests abolition of standard deduction for incomes below Rs 5 lakh and the continuation of tax exemption on conveyance allowance with a ceiling of Rs 9600 per annum. The only concession the report provides is the continuation of deduction for contribution to pension funds run by LIC or private players. In fact, the ceiling for this deduction has been raised from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000.

The report aims at removing the tax burden on capital gains in equities. So only the capital gains on the sale of debt and property investments will be taxed.

As in the past couple of years, the middle class has been bearing an increased tax burden, it has been under-reporting its income. This, the report claims, has led to a stagnation in the tax-to-GDP ratio in the second half of 1990s. In view of this, the peak rates of direct taxation have come down more sharply for the upper income groups rather than the tax-paying middle income group.

A positive feature of the report is that the basic exemption limit in income tax is expected to be raised from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Further, instead of the current three, a structure of two slabs has been proposed in personal income tax 20 per cent for those earning between Rs 1-4 lakh and 30 per cent for those above Rs 4 lakh. A welcome step is that the panel has recommended to process tax returns in four months instead of one or two years and provide tax refunds directly through a bank.

Though the report puts a dampener on personal taxes, the corporate sector will stand to gain from the proposals. Kelkar believes that India's sagging economy can be revived only by boosting the corporate sector.

The report favours a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 36.75 per cent to 30 per cent for domestic companies and 35 per cent for foreign companies in the next three years. The minimum alternate tax of 7.5 per cent on book profits will also be taken off.

In terms of housing, the report suggests that the tax exemption on the interest portion of a housing loan be reduced from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 1 lakh in 2003-04, Rs 50,000 in 04-05 and nil in the following year. This, if accepted, it will affect the construction industry and also have a multiplier effect on cement and steel.

In housing, the committee offers two options. One, incentivise borrowings by a 2 per cent interest subsidy being provided by the National Housing Bank (NHB) on loans below Rs 5 lakh. Two, reduce the amount of mortgage interest deductible for taxable interest purposes from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 50,000.

In terms of indirect taxes, the report suggests a plethora of exemptions granted on import and excise taxes. Most importantly, it recommends two rates of excise duty 16 per cent and 8 per cent. It also suggests the removal of multiplicity of levies by only retaining three types of duties basic, countervailing duty and antidumping duty. The report aims to organise the current multiple customs duty structure under a two-tier structure of 10 per cent for raw materials and 20 per cent for finished goods by 2004-05.

Further, to rationalise excise duty rates, it favours the removal of special excise duty of 8 per cent and 16 per cent, levied over and above the 16 per cent Cenvat, and the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT). The peak rate of customs duty should have a gradual reduction from 30 per cent to 5 per cent, by slashing 5 per cent every year. Duties should be reduced to 5 per cent for basic raw materials and 8 per cent for intermediate goods.

It also aims at reducing the number of products on which the rate of customs duty is nil, and confining this to products of strategic importance, such as life-saving drugs and equipment. On the remaining products, it recommends a charge of 5 per cent customs duty.

The report recommends a 20 per cent excise duty for motor vehicles, air-conditioners and aerated water, and a 6 per cent duty on processed food products. It further recommends raising the excise duty on kerosene by Rs 1 per litre and the exemption of excise duty on bulk tea. It recommends a custom duty of 8 per cent on crude oil and 15 per cent on petroleum products.

Recommendations on indirect taxes

Duty

Existing

Proposed

Auto

Input

40

10

Finished goods

30

20

Pharma

Input

30

10

Finished goods

30

20

Textiles

Input

20

10

Finished goods

30

20

Recommendations on direct taxes

Item

Existing

Proposed

Corporate tax

Tax on dividend

10% in the hand of the investor

Abolish it, not be be taxed at the hands of unitholder and shareholder

Tariff on imports

NA

Bring down to 10%

Long term capital gains tax on equities

30%

Abolish it

Minimum alternate tax (u/s 115 JB)

NA

Remove

Corporate tax

36.75%

Reduce to 30% for domestic cos; 35% for foreign cos

Depreciation rate for general plant and machinery

25%

15%

Business loss

Cannot be carried forward indefinitely

Can be carried forward indefinitely

Personal tax

Personal

First slab begins at Rs 50,000 and second at Rs 1.5 lakh

Have two basic rates: 20% and 30%, first slab beginning at Rs 1 lakh and second at Rs 4 lakh

Section 88 rebate

Available for those with earnings below Rs 5 lakh

Knock off on all schemes

Section 80 L for interest and dividends

Available for all

Knock off tax deductions

Pension funds

Tax deduction available. Ceiling at Rs 10,000

Continue the deduction. Ceiling raised to Rs 20,000

Standard deduction

16%

To abolish

Exemption for conveyance allowance

NA

To continue, but ceiling of Rs 9600

Section 10 for interest income from bonds, securities, debentures

NA

Remove exemption

Housing

Rs 1.5 lakh

Deduction to be reduced to Rs 50,000

Section 80E for repayment of educational expenses

NA

Can continue. In some cases, allow as tax rebate at 20% to maximum Rs 4,000.

Mortgage interest in housing loans

Rs 2 lakh per year

Reduced to Rs 1 lakh in 04-05, Rs 50,000 in 05-06 and nil thereafter

Run-up to the Budget 2003

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