Giving a big relief to overseas investors, the government has postponed implementation of controversial General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) provisions by two years to April 1, 2016.
The provisions, introduced by the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Budget 2012-13, were aimed at checking tax avoidance by overseas investors. The proposal, however, generated controversy, with investors expressing apprehensions that it would result in unnecessary harassment by tax authorities.
"Having considered all the circumstances and relevant factors, the government has decided that provisions of Chapter 10A of the Income Tax Act (dealing with GAAR) will come into force from April 1, 2016 as against April 1, 2014," Finance Minister P Chidambaram said on Monday.
The decision to postpone the implementation, Chidambaram said, follows the recommendations of the Shome Committee which was set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July last year to look into investor concerns.
The government has accepted major recommendations of the panel with some modifications, he added.
"The modifications that we have done are fair, non-discriminatory, just and strike a balance between interest of revenue and interest of investors. So, all apprehensions should now be set addressed," he said.
GAAR provisions, Chidambaram clarified, would override the double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) benefits if the arrangements were intended solely to evade taxes.
No investor, Chidambaram said, "should now have any apprehension about his investments in India. Only those arrangements, which have been made for the purpose of tax avoidance, will be brought under GAAR, he added.
He also clarified that investments made by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will not be covered by the provisions of GAAR.
Following the announcement, the BSE Sensex rose about 200 points to 19,864.
About the applicability of the GAAR provisions, he said FII investments seeking benefits under Sec 90 and Sec 90 (A) of the I-T Act (dealing with DTAA) would be covered.
The minister said only those arrangements which are aimed at only obtaining tax benefit would be considered as 'impermissible arrangement' and would attract GAAR.
According to the original GAAR provisions under Chapter 10 (A) of Finance Bill, 2012, the anti-tax avoidance provisions could be invoked "if one of the purposes" was to obtain tax benefit.
Chidambaram clarified that there would be a threshold limit of Rs 3 crore of tax benefit for invocation of GAAR, as suggested by the Shome panel.
Moreover, he said, investments made before August 30, 2010, would not attract the provisions of GAAR.
On whether tax officials can look into cases between August 30, 2010, and the date for implementation of GAAR, he said: "They can go back is technically correct. But in order to go, you have to comply with a number of provisions in the I-T Act. If the assessment is completed, you can reopen the assessment only after very strict circumstances."
"This decisions (of GAAR rules modifications) have by and large addressed the concerns that were expressed by investors ... Most of the apprehensions I think have been removed now," Chidambaram said.