Service tax stays for MSOs

NEW DELHI: Bureaucratic language used for government communication can trip anybody. And, it happened when the media put out incorrect news yesterday ( included) that the Indian government has exempted multi system operators (MSOs) from paying service tax.



The industry reacted, by and large, positively, but today came a clarification from the government, which stated that MSOs have not been taken out of the service tax net and that such reports had "no basis."

So, what is the actual position? The fact of the matter is that MSOs will have to pay service tax, though an apex body of such operators, MSO Alliance, today sought further clarifications from the finance ministry on the issue.

The government today simplified its clarification to state that all those categories that have been brought under the service tax regime from this financial year will not be required to pay any service tax for services rendered before 10 September 2004. Since the effective date is 10 September, a long notification was issued, dated 10 September, which gave rise to confusion.

Why did a long-winded notification have to be issued, stating exemption from service tax till a certain day in September? A finance ministry spokesperson told this evening that it was issued to make things easier --- something that never happened.

So, the broadcast and cable industry can continue its stir against service tax. Meanwhile, the MSO Alliance has asked the finance ministry that if MSOs were to pay service tax, what would constitute the 'value' of the service on which the tax is to be levied? Would it be on the subscription money that local cable operators pass on to MSOs for pay channels? Or, for the network charge?

And, anybody who thinks that reading and (correctly) interpreting a written government communication is easy; he / she can use the notification issued on the service tax, reproduced here, as a test case. It's quite confusing and only after several reading, along with a bunch of several other explanations and clarifications, does the correct meaning come out.

The government notification on service tax

NOTIFICATION NO 25/2004-Service Tax, Dated: 10 September, 2004.

In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of section 93 of the Finance Act, 1994 (32 of 1994), the Central Government, being satisfied that it is necessary in the public interest so to do, hereby exempts that portion of the value of following taxable services, namely-

(a) services provided to a customer, by a commissioning and installation agency in relation to erection;

(b) services provided to any person, by a sub-broker in connection with the sale and purchase of securities listed on a recognised stock exchange;

(c) services provided to any person by a multisystem operator in relation to cable services;

(d) services provided to a client by a commercial concern in relation to the following business auxiliary services namely,-

(i) procurement of goods or services, which are inputs for the client;

(ii) production of goods on behalf of the client;

(iii) provision of service on behalf of the client; or

(iv) a service incidental or auxiliary to any activity specified in (i) to (iii) above;

(e) services provided to a customer by any body corporate or commercial concern, other than a banking company or a financial institution including a non-banking financial company, in relation to banking and other financial services;

(f) services provided to a customer by a banking company or a financial institution including a non-banking financial company in relation to financial services namely lending; issue of pay order, demand draft, cheque, letter of credit and bill of exchange; providing bank guarantee, over draft facility, bill discounting facility, safe deposit locker, safe vaults; operation of bank accounts;

(g) services provided to any person by a tour operator, other than a tour operator engaged in the business of operating tours in a tourist vehicle covered by a permit granted under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 or rules made hereunder, in relation to a tour; and

(h) service provided to a policy holder, by an insurer carrying on life insurance business in relation to the risk cover in life insurance, from the whole of service tax leviable thereon under section 66 of the said Act, which is received by the service provider prior to the 10th day of September, 2004.

[F. No. B2/8/2004-TRU]

(V. Sivasubramanian)

Deputy Secretary to the Government of India.

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