The draft Direct Taxes Code Bill seeks to consolidate and amend the law relating to all direct taxes and will replace the Income Tax Act, 1961. The draft Bill, along with a discussion paper, was released for public comments in August 2009. Following inputs received, the government proposed revisions to the draft Bill in June 2010. The table below summarises these revisions. The government has not released the changes proposed in the form of a revised draft bill however, but as a new discussion paper. The note is based on this discussion paper. The Code had proposed a number changes in the current direct tax regime, such as a minimum alternate tax (MAT) on companies’ assets (currently imposed on book profits), and the taxation of certain types of personal savings at the time they are withdrawn by an investor. Under the new amendments, some of these changes, such as MAT, have been reversed. Personal savings in specified instruments (such as a public provident fund) will now continue to remain tax-free at all times. The tax deduction on home loan interest payments, which was done away with by the Code, has now been restored. However, the discussion paper has not specified whether certain other changes proposed by the Code (such as a broadening of personal income tax slabs), will continue to apply.
|Issue||Income Tax Act, 1961||Draft Direct Taxes Code (August 09)||Revisions Proposed (June 2010)|
|Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT)||MAT currently imposed at 18% of profits declared by companies to shareholders.||To be imposed on assets rather than profits of companies. Tax rate proposed at 2% (0.25% for banks)||MAT to be imposed on book profit as is the case currently. Rate not specified.|
|Personal Saving / retirement benefits||Certain personal savings, such as public provident funds, are not taxed at all.||Such savings to be taxed at the time of withdrawal by the investor.||Such savings to remain tax-exempt at all stages, as is the case currently.|
|Income from House Property||Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or ‘reasonable’ rent set by municipality(less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property.||Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or 6% of cost /value set by municipality (less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property.||Taxable rent is no longer presumed to be 6% in case of non-let out property. Tax deductions allowed on interest on loans taken to fund such property.|
|Interest on Home loans||Interest on home loans is tax deductible||Tax deductions on home loan interest not allowed.||Tax deductions for interest on loans allowed, as is currently the case.|
|Capital Gains||Long term and short term gains taxed at different rates.||Distinction between long and short term capital gains removed and taxed at the applicable rate; Securities Transaction Tax done away with.||Equity shares/mutual funds held for more than a year to be taxed at an applicable rate, after deduction of specified percentage of capital gains. No deductions allowed for investment assets held for less than a year. Securities Transaction tax to be ‘calibrated’ based on new regime. Income on securities trading of FIIs to be classified as capital gains and not business income.|
|Non-profit Organisations||Applies to organizations set up for ‘charitable purposes’. Taxed (at 15% of surplus) only if expenditure is less than 85% of income.||To apply to organizations carrying on ‘permitted welfare activities’. To be taxed at 15% of income which remains unspent at the end of the year. This surplus is to be calculated on the basis of cash accounting principles.||Definition of ‘charitable purpose’ to be retained, as is the case currently. Exemption limit to be given and surplus in excess of this will be taxed. Up to 15% of surplus / 10% of gross receipts can be carried forward; to be used within 3 years.|
|Units in Special Economic Zones||Tax breaks allowed for developers of Special Economic Zones and units in such zones.||Tax breaks to be done away with; developers currently availing of such benefits allowed to enjoy benefits for the term promised (‘grandfathering’).||Grandfathering of exemptions allowed for units in SEZs as well as developers.|
|Non-resident Companies||Companies are residents if they are Indian companies or are controlled and managed wholly out of India.||Companies are resident if their place of control and management is situated wholly or partly in India, at any time in the year. The Bill does not define ‘partly’||Companies are resident if ‘place of effective management’ is in India i.e. place where board make their decisions/ where officers or executives perform their functions.|
|Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements||In case of conflict between provisions of the Act, and those in a tax agreement with another country, provisions which are more beneficial to the taxpayer shall apply||The provision which comes into force at a later date shall prevail. Thus provisions of the Code would override those of existing tax agreements.||Provisions which more beneficial shall apply, as is the case currently. However, tax agreements will not prevail if anti-avoidance rule is used, or in case of certain provisions which apply to foreign companies.|
|General Anti-Avoidance Rule||No provision||Commissioner of Income Tax can declare any arrangement by a taxpayer as ‘impermissible’, if in his judgement, its main purpose was to have obtained a tax benefit.||CBDT to issue guidelines as to when GAAR can be invoked; GAAR to be invoked only in cases of tax avoidance beyond a specified limit; disputes can be taken to Dispute Resolution Panel.|
|Wealth Tax||Charged at 1% of net wealth above Rs 15 lakh||To be charged at 0.25% on net wealth above Rs 50 crore; scope of taxable wealth widened to cover financial assets.||Wealth tax to be levied ‘broadly on same lines’ as Wealth Tax Act, 1957. Specified unproductive assets to be subject to wealth tax; nonprofit organizations to be exempt. Tax rate and exemption limit not specified.|
|Source: Income Tax Act, 1961, Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill (August 2009), New Discussion Paper (June 2010), PRS|
 See PRS Legislative Brief on Draft Direct Taxes Code (version of August 2009) at http://prsindia.org/index.php?name=Sections&id=6  Available at http://finmin.nic.in/Dtcode/index.html
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.