Rationalising the schemes meant to cut down tax litigation and creating a climate where officers do not have to take defensive decisions would go a long way in giving certainty and confidence to foreign investors, said experts who look forward to a new approach in tax administration under the BJP-led NDA government.
Resolving pending tax disputes relating to the offshore sale of Indian assets such as the Rs 20,000 crore dispute with Vodafone are among the many issues foreign investors would eagerly track when the new government takes charge.
It is not impossible for the NDA, with an absolute majority in Parliament, to drop the retrospective application of the changes made to the Income Tax law in 2012 to tax such deals.
On the other hand, many steps that would have great impact on the business environment and investor interest could be implemented easily, especially those that discourage frivolous tax demands that get struck down at the tribunal stage itself.
One immediate measure that many businesses ask for is a more liberal safe harbour scheme, introduced to give associates of multinational companies in India conditional exemption from transfer pricing audit.
The scheme drew lukewarm response as the minimum operational profit margins taxpayers have to report to avoid audits were seen as too high. That has forced the IT and IT-enabled services to queue up for another scheme called the advance pricing agreement (APA), increasing the workload of the foreign tax (FT) division that is racing against time to conclude all APAs within reasonable time.
Sources said that nearly 40% of APA requests are filed by the IT and ITeS companies. If the safe harbour scheme — a presumptive tax scheme –is made more attractive, IT and ITeS businesses would not seek individual APAs with the tax department that is mainly meant for complex cross-border transactions.
The FT division urgently needs more manpower to decide on nearly 370 APA applications received in two years. Out of these, five have been decided in the first year itself, which experts consider as a world record.
The government also needs to change the way it selects cases for transfer pricing audits. At the moment every cross-border deal above Rs 15 crore between associated companies is compulsorily audited. Businesses say selection of transfer pricing audits need to be risk based.
The tax department's claims of under reporting of income by MNC units—called transfer pricing adjustments—has been growing steadily