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Now PM must tackle retrospective tax. Only then will he find space to revamp long-term fiscal policies
Through Friday's order on general anti-avoidance rules (GAAR), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indicated that he is keen to reverse the government's taxation policies from a collection-focused domain to an investor-friendly domain. By giving the committee headed by Parthasarathi Shome the mandate to rewrite tax laws relating to foreign investors in the Indian capital markets, Singh has made this clear. More notably, this is the second order on the controversial subject that Singh has issued within 15 days of taking over the additional responsibility of the finance ministry — a keen acknowledgment of the fact that this is a piece of tax legislation introduced in Budget 2012-13 that can potentially undo the regime of predictable and stable tax policies India had begun to build over the past decade and more.
The order issued on Friday allows the four-member committee to effectively junk the entire set of draft GAAR guidelines issued by the finance secretary with unusual gusto on July 1, write a fresh set and invite comments thereon. To be sure, there is a need for more consultation on the rules and for greater clarity on many fronts. There are concerns about whether unilateral action by an arm of the government, in this case the revenue department, can override a treaty with another nation — in this case, Mauritius — approved by Parliament. This is exactly what the finance ministry had set out to do by introducing the provisions in the Finance Bill.
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