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GST Council should bring real estate sector under new tax regime at the earliest

Rahul Gandhi for once spoke sensibly when he insisted that the GST rate should be one-size-fits-all 18 percent enshrined in the constitution.

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Finance Minister Arun Jaitley barnstorming the United States of America hot on the heels of the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said real estate could enter goods and service tax (GST) soon following the deliberations of the GST council next month.

It is time it did because accounting for as much as 6 percent of the GDP, real estate is one of the three major components of the GDP pie which was left out by the GST council when it was rolled out with effect from 1 July, 2017. The other two are petroleum products and liquor with the former accounting for a whopping 15 percent share of the GDP. Critics might say there was a crying need for first bringing petroleum products into the GST net given its sensitivity and inelastic nature of demand but building a consensus on it is a lot more difficult than on real estate.

When real estate comes under the GST regime, it would subsume multiple state taxes like stamp duty and registration fees giving buyers freedom from a lot of last mile hassles. As it is, stamp duty varies egregiously from state to state with some states like Delhi giving concessions to senior citizens and women while others choosing to treat the sector as a milch cow. The main achievement of the GST in its current form is at least the rate of tax on a given commodity or service is the same across the country even though ideally for the sake of simplification and ease of doing business it ought to be a single rate as well across product and service segments. Rahul Gandhi for once spoke sensibly when he insisted that the GST rate should be one-size-fits-all 18 percent enshrined in the constitution. But Jaitley pooh-poohed it saying tax on Hawaii chappals and a BMW car cannot be the same.

Indeed, the GST reforms won’t be complete unless all products and services are brought into the net and the rate is uniform across product and service categories. The recent changes were at best palliatives compounding for turnover up to a heightened amount of Rs 1 crore being the mainstay.

As it is, the realty sector continues to reel under the cascading effect of tax on tax without input credit except when it comes to excise duty on construction materials. State finance ministers, however, would try to wangle as many concessions and latitude as possible even while reluctantly agreeing to realty being brought under the GST regime. For example, regional parties would try to take up cudgels for their poor and wretched and say GST on economically weaker section and LIG houses should be minimal with the brunt being borne by the villa and bungalow owners.

The most beneficial aspect of realty coming under GST would be prevention of tax evasion which is admittedly rampant as rightly emphasized by Jaitley repeatedly including in his ongoing US tour. In fact, after gold, realty is the second most fecund place for parking black money in the country with builders and buyers indulging in an unholy mutual back scratching.

Many items, especially those procured from the unorganized sector, like bricks and granite stones from illegal quarries are outside the tax net. Such things will become a thing of past with GST whose lynchpin is tax on value addition at each stage and the concomitant credit for tax already paid till the last stage making each successive buyer dig his heels for the fear of having to pay tax again on value additions made hitherto before he stepped in. The result would be builders having to perforce pay income tax as well on the full price. Used property sales of course would lend themselves to income tax evasion as usual for which solution lies elsewhere.

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Home loan borrowers can expect fall in rates

Earlier this month, the RBI cut the benchmark interest rate by 0.25 per cent to 6.25 per cent. But PSU and private banks are yet to pass on the resultant benefits to customers.

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New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) Taking note that benefits of lower interest rates were not reaching consumers, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das will meet the public and the private sector banks on February 21 to persuade them to pass on the benefits.

“I will meet the private and public sector banks Chief Executive Officers and managing directors on February 21 over this because transmission of monetary policy decisions is important. We will see what needs to be done,” he said after a customary post-budget meeting of the RBI Board with the Finance Minister.

Earlier this month, the RBI cut the benchmark interest rate by 0.25 per cent to 6.25 per cent. But PSU and private banks are yet to pass on the resultant benefits to customers.

The RBI is mandated to see whether banks are cutting lending rates in line with repo rates. For this, the RBI will start linking interest rates to external benchmarks replacing MCLR.

The home loan borrowers have often complained about the opacity of interest rate fixing mechanism, which allows banks to not pass on the rate cut benefits to customers.

As and when the external benchmark rate changes, it will reflect in the change in interest rate of the loan as well.

The RBI had earlier proposed that from April 1, 2019, banks would have to use external benchmarks instead of the present system of internal benchmarks — Prime Lending Rate (PLR), base rate based on PLR, and Marginal Cost of Lending Rate (MCLR) to ascertain the lending rates.

He said the RBI has received several comments on external benchmarks and is examining them.

On the government’s expectation to receive Rs 28,000 crore interim dividend from the RBI, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “the RBI decides independently on the quantum of interim dividend to be paid to the Centre and a central bank committee is examining the issue.”

He said it was the prerogative of the central bank to decide the quantum of RBI’s interim dividend to be paid to the government.

Das said a decision on the issue was yet to be taken and a committee was going into the issue. “Once the matter is decided, it will be communicated. I cannot pre-judge it,” he said.

The RBI’s audit board recently took up the matter. The RBI that follows the July-June fiscal year has transferred Rs 40,000 crore in the current fiscal as interim dividend. The Finance Ministry wants a formal commitment on Rs 28,000 crore interim dividend. If the RBI agrees to pay Rs 28,000 crore as interim dividend, the total surplus transfer to the government in the current fiscal would total Rs 68,000 crore.

Das declined to comment on the RBI scrutiny of two private lenders — Yes Bank and Kotak Bank. He said the Kotak Bank case is sub judice with the Bombay High Court and the issue of Yes Bank is between it and the regulator. It’s RBI’s endeavour to constructively engage with all the regulated enitites for compliance of rules and regulations, he added.

On loans to small businesses, he said the RBI has come out with the restructuring package for SMEs. Now it was up to banks to restructure loans of the eligible MSMEs as per the guidelines, he added.

The Governor said there is some credit growth visible and the aggregate flow of credit to the commercial sector has shown improvement. However, it was not broad based and was not flowing into various sectors the way it should, he added.

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Delhi traders demand boycott of Pakistani, Chinese goods

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General Secretary Praveen Khandelwal

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) Infuriated at the Pulwama blast, retailers from across the national capital on Monday called for boycott of Pakistani and Chinese goods from being sold in the markets and observed a general “bandh” as a mark of respect to the martyrs.

According to the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) secretary general Praveen Khandelwal, the bandh was observed in prominent Delhi markets including Chandani Chowk, Bhagirath Place, Khari Baoli, Naya Bazar, Chawri Bazar, Kashmiri Gate, Sadar Bazar and Karol Bagh.

“In the current scenario, the government should impose absolute ban on trade with Pakistan. Goods worth about Rs 3,500 crore are being imported from Pakistan annually.

“The CAIT has also demanded of the government to levy at least 300 per cent customs duty on goods being imported from China, so that import from China is discouraged,” Khandelwal told IANS.

The traders also burnt the effigy of “Pakistani Terrorism”.

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Rising crude prices, Indo-Pakistan tension drag Sensex 310 pts lower

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Sensex equity Nifty

Mumbai, Feb 18: Rising global crude oil prices, along with heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, dragged the Indian equity market on Monday, with the key equity indices closing lower for the 8th consecutive session despite optimism following the US-China trade talks.

The rising Brent crude prices weakened the Indian currency by 12 paise on Monday. Rupee closed at Rs 71.34 per dollar from its previous close of 71.22.

Besides, the equity market also reacted negatively to the outflow of foreign funds seen in the last few trading sessions.

The S&P BSE Sensex closed 310.51 points or 0.87 per cent lower at 35,498.44 from its previous close of 35,808.95, while the Nifty ended 83.45 points lower at 10,640.95.

“Domestic markets are seeing a decoupling from global markets that further indicates the fact that we are moving towards a macroeconomic event such as the general elections, one of the reasons why this decoupling is seen in the last 2-3 months,” said Mustafa Nadeem, CEO, Epic Research.

“Crude oil prices (WTI) may further have an impact on the Indian equity market since it has been on the rise and taking well support over $50-mark for the last couple of weeks.”

Lately, investors have also grown cautious due to the Indo-Pak tensions following the Pulwama terrorist attack. Indian withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan and imposed 200 per cent customs duty on imports from there.

Analysts said that worsening relation0s between India and Pakistan have a bearing on the captital inflow. This was one of the reasons for the acceleration of outflows of foreign funds.

“Market remained on a selling spree as reducing foreign inflows due to fear of escalation of tensions at the border impacted the sentiment,” said Vinod Nair, Head of Research, Geojit Financial Services.

“Volatility in the market may continue due to lack of domestic triggers as investors are likely to remain cautious.”

Top gainers on the BSE were ONGC, up 1.70 per cent at 137.40, followed by Tata Motors, Axis Bank, Vedanta and NTPC, which gained up to 1.15 per cent.

Among the top laggards were TCS, down over 3 pet cent, followed by Yes Bank, ITC, Sun Pharma, Reliance Industries and Coal India.

On Friday, foreign institutional investors (FIIs) sold shares to the tune of Rs 966.43 crore, while the domestic institutional investors (DIIs) bought Rs 853.25 crore worth of scrips.

IANS

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