Bengaluru : A recent advance ruling by tax authorities, making back-office services provided by a company to global firms taxable under the goods and services tax (GST), has sent shock waves through the information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing industry.
While the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) has come out strongly against the ruling demanding clarity, tax experts are of the opinion that it will open up a Pandora’s Box, leading to litigation in the coming days.
Though an advance ruling is only applicable to the applicant party and cannot be considered a precedent for future rulings, the IT/IT enabled services (ITeS) industry is worried the interpretation of the ruling may result in losing tax benefits that the sector is currently enjoying, as its services have been categorised as exports.
“The recent ruling by the Authority of Advance Rulings (AAR) – in the case of M/s Vservglobal – has taken the industry by surprise as it seeks to treat services provided on ‘own account’ basis as ‘intermediary’ services,” Nasscom said in a statement on Monday.
“This could lead to unwarranted disputes and uncertainty in case of exports as once a service is treated as ‘intermediary’ under the GST, these would not qualify as export even if they are rendered to overseas entities,” the industry body added.
According to the AAR ruling, back-office support services qualify as intermediary services and not exports. This means, all the IT services players and business process management firms, along with global in-house centres (GICs) of multinational firms, will now be liable to pay 18 per cent GST on their services.
Since India is a large hub for exports of an array of ITeS with exports of over $126 billion in 2017-18, the ruling can result in substantial tax demand against all the big players. Apart from IT and ITeS players, this will also have a direct impact on more than 500 GICs in the country, which cumulatively employ more than 350,000 people.
“If the implication of this ruling is not suitably clarified, it will make our companies non-competitive in the global market, potentially resulting in loss of revenue, jobs, and customers,” Nasscom said.
According to legal experts, though the verdict is an advance ruling, lack of clarity on the categorisation of services will create confusion in the IT industry.
“In case of an intermediary services contract, usually three parties are involved. Now, if the companies working in the IT services space are party to any such tripartite contract, that amount of service can be interpreted as intermediary services and will be liable to taxation,” said Gyanendra Tripathi, partner (tax & regulatory services) at global audit firm, EY.
He, however, added there are legal remedies available against the ruling, as they can be challenged before the appellate authority.
Other tax consultants working in the corporate tax domain said companies should not jump the gun fearing tax demand from retrospective period, as interpretation of tax law is very case specific.
Sebi reduces minimum subscription requirement for REITs, InvITs
New Delhi: Markets regulator Sebi has reduced the minimum subscription requirement as well as defined trading lots for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs).
REITs have to offer their units in lots worth at least Rs 50,000 in initial and follow on public offers.
The minimum value of a single lot should be Rs 1 lakh in the case of InvITs.
Markets regulator Sebi on Tuesday came out with guidelines for determination of allotment and trading lot size for REITs and InvITs.
Sebi norms pertaining to REITs and InvITs were amended on April 22.
“The said amendments have, inter-alia, for publicly offered InvITs and REITs, reduced the minimum subscription requirement and has defined the trading lot in terms of number of units.
“Further, limits for aggregate consolidated borrowings and deferred payments, net of cash and cash equivalents, have been increased to seventy percent of the value of the InvIT assets,” the regulator said in a circular.
The amendments are aimed at providing flexibility to the issuers in terms of fundraising and increasing the access of these investment vehicles to investors.
Moreover, the trading lot has been defined in terms of number of units.
Further, leverage limit for InvITs has been increased to 70 percent from current 49 percent.
Such InvITs which are increasing their leverage beyond 49 percent will have to make additional financial disclosures along with specific details of available asset cover, debt-equity ratio, debt service coverage ratios, interest service coverage ratios and net worth.
While making an initial public offer and follow-on offer, the minimum subscription shall not be less than Rs 1 lakh for InvITs and Rs 50,000 for REITs. Allotment to any investor shall be made in the multiples of a lot.
For initial listing, a trading lot should be of 100 units and during follow-on offer each lot shall consist of such number of units in its trading lot as it had at the time of initial offer.
Currently, in the case of an REIT issue, the minimum subscription from any investor in an initial offer and follow-on public offer is not less than Rs 2 lakh, while the same is Rs 10 lakh in case of InvIT.
The exchanges shall in consultation with the publicly offered InvITs/REITs need to determine the number of units in the trading lot for such REITs/InvITs, within a period of 6 months from date of the circular, Sebi said.
SoftBank eyes $2-3 billion investment in Ambani’s Reliance Jio
Mumbai : Japan’s SoftBank is looking at buying a $2-3 billion stake in Reliance Jio, Reliance Industries’ telecom subsidiary and the country’s fastest-growing telco.
“For the past two years, our conversations with investors have highlighted the expectations of SoftBank investing in Jio and hence the news flow is not surprising,” wrote Pinakin Parekh, analyst, JP Morgan, in a report to investors.
Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is interested in deleveraging its balance sheet, and reports of SoftBank’s Jio investment follow last week’s news that Saudi Aramco is in talks with RIL to pick up to 25 per cent in the latter’s refining and petchem business for $10-15 billion.
According to reports, SoftBank is conducting due diligence for its investment through SoftBank Vision Fund.
Spokespersons of both Reliance Jio and SoftBank declined to comment on the matter.
“What would be important from a stock price perspective is how much SoftBank puts in, what is the implied equity valuation of Jio, and whether the e-commerce venture is included in the Jio entity,” said Parekh.
The retail and telecom arms together contributed around 25 per cent of RIL’s 2018-19 revenue.
SoftBank has a mobile telecom business in Japan and also owns Sprint in the US. It also has a 30 per cent stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Jio had a debt of Rs 76,212 crore at the end of the March 2019 quarter, and RIL may want to reduce that. It had begun the exercise by transferring its tower and fibre assets to two infrastructure investment trusts, which resulted in a reduction in liability of Rs 1.07 trillion, and issuing preference shares of Rs 78,100 crore to RIL (through the revaluation of fibre assets), according to analysts.
Jio invested Rs 21,500 crore as capital expenditure in the March 2019 quarter, and the cumulative investment so far has been around Rs 2.9 trillion.
“With most of tower and fibre (except last-mile) capex being done by InvITs, we think Jio’s capex should decline in FY20,” noted Anil Sharma, analyst, Nomura.
An analyst who did not want to be named said, “RIL may be looking at an equity investor in Jio to continue investments as it continues to keep offering services at low tariffs.”
RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani last year announced a plan to integrate the telecom and retail entities through a consumer platform called New Commerce. However, despite analyst speculation that it would be launched this year, the management has not indicated any timeline for the rollout.
RIL has, however, continued to add a number of ancillary tech platforms like Haptik, EasyGov, Saavn and Reverie over the year to create platforms similar to Baidu or Alibaba, which offers e-commerce, entertainment, finance and many other facilities to consumers.
India TikTok ban causing $500,000 daily loss, risks jobs: China’s Bytedance
New Delhi : India’s ban on popular Chinese video app TikTok is resulting in “financial losses” of up to $500,000 a day for its developer, Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, and has put more than 250 jobs at risk, the company said in a court filing seen by Reuters.
TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with special effects and is one of the world’s most popular apps. It has been downloaded by nearly 300 million users so far in India, out of more than 1 billion downloads globally, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.
Earlier this month, an Indian state court ordered the federal government to prohibit its downloads, saying the app was encouraging pornography. Acting upon instructions from the federal IT ministry, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google last week removed TikTok from their India app stores.
The developments have dealt a blow to the India growth plans of Bytedance, which is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp and by private equity. Bytedance, one of the world’s most valuable startups potentially worth around $75 billion, was considering a public listing in Hong Kong this year, sources told Reuters in August.
The ban has also worried the social media industry in India as it sees legal worries mounting if courts increasingly regulate content on their platforms.
In the filing made to India’s Supreme Court on Saturday, Bytedance urged the court to quash the ban and direct the federal IT ministry to tell companies such as Google and Apple to make the app available again on their platforms.
The court filing is not publicly available and its contents have not been previously reported.
Bytedance pegged financial losses at $500,000 each day, which it said includes destruction in the value of its investments and loss of commercial revenue. It added the ban would result in its reputation and goodwill taking a hit with both advertisers and investors.
“Banning has had adverse impact on the user base of this app, losing close to 1 million new users per day … It is estimated that approximately six million requests for downloads could not be effected since the ban came into effect,” the company said in the filing.
A spokesman for TikTok and the federal IT ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
The Supreme Court has so far not provided any interim relief on repeated pleas by Bytedance and referred the case back to the court in southern Tamil Nadu state, where the case will next be heard on Wednesday.
Memes and music videos thrive on TikTok, although some clips show youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-syncing and dancing to popular tunes.
Its growing popularity has drawn criticism from some Indian politicians and parents who say its content is inappropriate.
The Tamil Nadu court, which ruled against TikTok after an individual filed a public interest litigation, has said the app could also expose children to sexual predators.
The Supreme Court filing included a table in which Bytedance compared TikTok to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by listing 13 of its implemented safety features, including parental controls.
A “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok’s videos were considered inappropriate or obscene, the company has said.
“The constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of free speech and expression … of numerous Indian citizens have been severely impacted,” the company said in its latest filing.
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