Taxation
Lok Sabha nod for pan-India goods-services tax regime
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday gave its consent to a far-reaching amendment to the constitution to pave the way for a pan-India goods and services tax regime and create a unified market across the country, doing away with multiplicity of central and state levies.
 
The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty Second Amendment) Bill, 2014, was passed by a division with 336 ayes, 11 against and 10 abstentions. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan announced the bill was approved with two-thirds majority of the house, as required.
 
Earlier, replying to the debate on the amendment bill, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley refuted opposition claims that the government was pushing through some amendments to some provisions without taking the house into confidence and refusing to send it to a parliamentary panel.
 
The finance minister said the same recommendations of the parliamentary panel, when the original bill was referred to it, were incorporated in the amended version and that the opposition had no reason to fault the government on this count.
 
One such amendment, he cited as an example, was to set up a goods and services tax council, with representations from the central and the state governments, to oversee any dispute, rather than leave it to a panel led by a retired Supreme Court judge.
 
Jaitley also warned that referring the amendment bill back to the relevant Standing Committee of Parliament would result in missing the target date for its implementation from April 1 next year, despite the broad consensus that had already been achieved after extensive consultations.
 
The constitutional amendment bill needs to be passed by a two-third majority in both houses of parliament and by the legislatures of half of the states in the country to become a law.
 
The main purpose of the bill is a unified regime that will subsume most indirect taxes levied by the central and state governments such as excise duty, service tax, value added tax, sales tax and octroi to facilitate a common market across the country.
 
"There would be more no tax on tax," the finance minister said referring to how these levies were leading to duplication, escalating the final price paid by customers, stoking inflation, standing in the way of efficient supply chains and preventing economies of scale.
 
He also mentioned that the union cabinet has recently approved payment of compensation to states for the loss they would incur on account of a cut in the central sales tax from four percent to two percent. This payment will be made for five years.
 
Finance ministry officials said preliminary estimates indicated that Rs.33,000 crore can be the amount payable to states and union territories for the entire period, and settling these claims will help create an enabling environment for rollout of the new regime.
 
The Lok Sabha approved a government amendment to help further states in the transition phase, by levying an additional tax of one percent on inter-state trade on goods. Like in the original bill, petroleum products, alcohol and tobacco were kept out of its purview till later.

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Auditor faults Reliance's marketing margins in dollars
India's official auditor has faulted the petroleum ministry for causing excess subsidy on urea of over Rs.200 crore by permitting Reliance Industries to charge a marketing margin on its Krishna-Godavari gas in dollars and not in rupees.
 
"The production sharing contract for KG-D6 block did not provide for marketing margin component," the Comptroller and Auditor General of India said in a report tabled in parliament on Tuesday.
 
"The contractor (Reliance), however, has been charging marketing margin based on the energy equivalent of gas supplied -- i.e. $0.135 per mBtu (million British thermal units)," the report said.
 
"Marketing margin for GAIL (the state-run company) was fixed in Indian rupee, whereas the contractor (Reliance) was charging this in terms of US dollar," said the report, referring to the margin, which is fixed over the government-approved sale price for domestic gas.
 
The report said the ministry had in May 2010 fixed a marketing margin of Rs.200 per thousand cubic metres. But charging it in dollars instead of rupees for a commodity produced, marketed and consumed domestically "is incongruous with Indian market", it added.
 
Exchange rate fluctuations meant the margin, which was Rs.244.31 per unit in 2010-11 increased to Rs.325.51 per unit in 2013-14, the report said.
 
On 15 million standard cubic meters per day of the gas that is supplied to fertiliser units, on an average, the excess amount works out to Rs.201.40 crore, if one takes into account what is paid to GAIL, it said.
 
It also said the government must ensure that the same terms of charging the marketing margin in Indian rupee is applied for natural gas from domestic sources, especially when it is used in areas where the state bears the subsidy burden.
 
The auditor said in December 2011, the oil ministry had asked the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board to determine the margin based on actual costs. Two years later, it asked the watchdog to fix the margin for gas sold to urea units and cooking gas producers.
 
In reply, the regulator said it wanted some more time since it had then decided to retain a consultant in this task, as it involved collection and analysis of data from multiple sources.

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Salman jailed for five years for hit-and-run
Bollywood actor Salman Khan was on Wednesday sentenced to five years in jail for a 2002 hit-and-run accident that left one man dead and four others injured here.
 
Additional Sessions Judge D.W. Deshpande announced the verdict at a packed courtroom here, stunning the actor and his family.
 
Salman, one of the highest paid actors in Bollywood, was sentenced for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. 
 
Barely hours after he was sentenced to five years jail in the 2002 accident case, Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was granted two days interim bail on medical grounds by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday.
 
Rushing post-haste to secure bail, Salman's defence team led by Supreme Court counsel Harish Salve mentioned the matter before Justice A.M. Thipsay of the Bombay High Court.
 
Salve cited medical reasons for seeking bail and also argued that a person could not be arrested on the basis of a summarised court order.
 
He said they were awaiting a copy of the lower court order, after which Justice Thipsay said he was already out on bail and has not yet got a copy of the judgement and granted two days interim relief till May 8.
 
The hearing on the bail application will now be taken up on Friday morning.
 
The judge held Salman guilty of rash and negligent driving when he was at the wheels of the Land Cruiser that killed the poor victim in suburban Bandra in September 2002.
 
Defence lawyer Abha Singh said justice had finally been done.
 
"I am very happy," she told the media. "Justice has been done. The law has been upheld."
 
She said the long delay had given the impression that the rich could get away with murder in India, and that the moneyed were above the law. 
 
Earlier on Wednesday, the actor was found guilty on most of the charges levelled against him in the incident.
 
His lawyers had pleaded for a lighter sentence, citing the actor's social work as well as heart and other medical issues.
 
Salman is likely to be taken into police custody and sent to the Arthur Road Central Jail in south Mumbai.

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