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Gifting a tax
Kanu H Doshi | June 25, 2007
Gifts by taxpayers to their close relatives and others were brought under the tax net for the first time in India by the introduction of the Gift Tax Act, 1958 at the instance of Nicolas Kaldor who gave to India its "integrated system of taxation" where he recommended wealth tax, expenditure tax and gift tax to make a more complete picture with the then prevailing income tax on incomes and estate duty on estate passing on death.
This levy on gifts was recommended as a measure of plugging a loophole by gifts by wealthy persons just prior to death thereby escaping estate tax, which could only be levied on wealth passing on death of that person.
Estate duty was abolished in 1985 and ordinarily gift tax should have also been abolished around the same time. However, the government found several positive benefits of retaining gift tax as a source of revenue. Needless to state, the levy of gift tax was always on the donor of gifts and the tax was linked to the value of the gift.
With effect from October 1, 1998, this donor-based gift tax was abolished and it was proposed to substitute it by donee-based gift tax. However, for several reasons including serious anomalies in the done-based gift tax, gift tax on the donee was not made into law.
However, Mr Chidambaram in his Budget of July 2004 brought back the donee-based tax on gifts through the backdoor by treating certain gifts as income of the recipient donee and recovering income tax on such amounts of gifts received. Thus we now have income tax on the sum of money received after September 1, 2004 as gifts from non-relatives.
Accordingly, gifts from non-relatives are included as income under section 56(2)(v) of the Act with effect from September 1, 2004. The basic exemption initially was Rs 25,000. However, gifts from relatives are exempt without any limit.
The purpose of the provision is to tax primarily gifts from non-relatives including from friends from abroad. This basic exemption of Rs 25,000 received as gift from non-relatives was raised to Rs 50,000 with effect from April 1, 2006. But the catch here is that since the cash gift becomes a part of the individual's income, there is actually no exemption (See Box).
Besides this basic exemption gifts without any limit on the occasion of marriage of the individual receiving the gift are also exempted. It is interesting to note that "on the occasion of marriage" does not mean on the day of marriage but either at the time of or about the time of marriage, marriage being the reason for the gift. Moreover, there is no limit on marriages one may enter into and gifts on all such marriages would be exempt.
Gifts by will or inheritance are also exempt. And finally, the list of relatives for exemption is as under:
Spouse of the person referred to in clauses (ii) to (vi)Also, one should remember that most importantly, the levy applies only to gifts of "sums of money". In other words, by implication, gifts in kind would be outside the purview of gift tax.