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Budget '17: Encourage digital economy to make tax system globally competitive

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MUMBAI: Various industry sectors are of course expecting the budget to ease stress in the business environment with tax rebates, restructuring of slabs or incentives. The advertising and communication industry is seeking some incentive announcements to further popularise the digital initiatives of the government. In the backdrop of demonetisation, every addressable transaction may be charged which may ideally move in the direction of becoming a zero-tax nation.

Pulp Strategy Communications Founder & MD Ambika Sharma says, "The upcoming budget announcement I hope will focus on providing incentives such as better tax slabs to ‘Make in India’ companies in the technology space. A relaxation in the corporate tax rate will give a great boost to the startups in the tech sector in India, and will encourage tech companies to contribute more actively to the vision of ‘Digital India’."

She recommends that "Provisions must also be made for carry forwarding losses to be set off against any future income."

Sharma feels, "The growth in smartphone penetration and better internet connectivity means that more consumers are now leveraging the online channels of media consumption. However, players in the segment currently have to deal with different taxation slabs, leading to multi-layered problems such as effective tax rates, dual tax levies, and multiplicity of indirect taxes. This calls for a standardisation of tax and implementation on online media in the latest budget. Implementation of the tax should be standardized and made simpler with all players following a standard structure with no ambiguity."

Vertoz Media CEO and founder Ashish Shah says, “There is hope that there will be some incentive announcements to further popularise the digital initiatives of the government. Being a pure AdTech firm, we are very optimistic on the government’s vision of ‘Digital India’. We expect to see a growth oriented budget."

"The government has been encouraging entrepreneurship among the younger generation with its flagship initiative - ‘Startup India’ and keep up the momentum this time as well. More entrepreneurs in the ecosystem will drive sustainable economic growth and generate more job opportunities,” Shah added.

Dentsu Aegis Network chairman & CEO - South Asia said, "A Union Budget that is growth oriented and puts more money in the pocket of the common man will benefit the advertising industry. Research has shown that, as a rule of thumb, every percentage point added to the GDP growth adds 1.5 – 2 per cent points to the advertising Industry growth. So, I hope that there is a growth oriented budget, which in turn spurs economic growth all around in India, particularly in the rural areas."

He is forthcoming on the fact that "the advertising industry doesn’t really mind paying legitimate taxes. It is actually the on-ground implementation and the complexities of the taxation system that causes huge amounts of productive time to be wasted in unproductive red-tape. In that context, any simplification of the taxation processes, both in the direct and in the indirect tax areas will be welcome. Even GST, which was supposed to simplify indirect taxation, is likely to inadvertently make it much more tedious for the services sector. The Government needs to address this urgently. Service tax on advertising is already very high at 15 per cent, including surcharges. I hope, particularly given the slowdown caused due to demonetisation, the finance minister will consider not taking it up any further and reducing it if possible.”

Chrome Data Analytics & Media MD Pankaj Krishna says, "Post-demonetisation, the government would be looking at increasing demand, hence we can expect people-friendly measures being introduced in this budget. There will also be a focus on more spends on infra, utilizing the gains from demonetisation. The prime minister’s laudable schemes, including smart cities and digital India should stand to gain more fund allocation. Rural connectivity too will be in focus, given the govt.’s push towards cashless transactions."

Krishna feels, "This is an ideal time to see a cut in corporate tax, given the unprecedented collections for banks, to the tune of Rs 14 lakh crore. Personal taxes too should see a cut and a more simplified structure. The exchequer would generate it from charging a percentage per transaction, since these will be addressable transactions. Ideally, this will be a move in the direction of becoming a zero-tax nation."

moneycontrol editor Santosh Nairbelieves, "Due to the buoyant tax collections -- both direct and indirect, the numbers for the current fiscal are likely to be healthy. Most economists expect the fiscal deficit target of 3.5 per cent to be maintained."

He feels, "The big challenge for the FM is going forward is to forecast revenues and spending without a clear handle on the impact of demonetisation."

"To help create more jobs without adding to its own wage bill," he opines, "the government is likely to announce incentives for start-ups by way of friendly tax structures and fewer approvals to set up a business."

Viacom18 group CEO & CII media and entertainment committee chairman Sudhanshu Vats is expectant of a high-impact budget, as he says, “This budget will be a ‘transformational’ budget. The government has already showcased its commitment to alter the status quo by changing the classification of expenditure, subsuming the rail budget and advancing the date of the announcement."

He says, "I have always maintained that as an industry, we have a lot to gain from an economy that is buoyant in the aggregate sense. This year’s budget will enable just that – a revitalized economy that’s raring to go. Demonetisation is sure to expand the tax base in the medium term. I am certain that the government will use this added fire-power in a prudent manner. Hopefully, we’ll get to hear policy measures that encourage the digital economy, make India’s tax system globally competitive and put more money in the hands of Indians. As the saying goes, ‘the best is yet to come’.”

SABGROUP CEO Manav Dhanda says, “From a media industry perspective, I feel that a change in the definition of industrial undertaking for the services industry as well as a push to define the GST roadmap would be sector-positive. There is a landmark attempt in the budget to simplify the tax administration, which should herald a friendlier tax regime."

"Not increasing the service tax," he said, "is a positive, particularly for the advertising and media sector." "The general expectation will be that service tax may go up in anticipation of higher GST rates. Controlling the fiscal deficit and several steps to invigorate the rural economy and rural consumption are positive signals. A rural consumption revival will help the economy and the advertising and media sector tremendously," he feels.

There will an expectation based on what the finance minister said in the past, that the corporate tax rate would come down, Dhanda said.

In balance, there seems an expectation of a mixed bag budget with a positive bias.

"Digitisation, in my opinion," he said, "is the most important factor for the broadcast sector -- change in excise duty changes proposed for set-top-boxes might help in the last mile infrastructure of Digital Addressable System (DAS)."

"The proposal for a more conducive excise duty regime for STBs and other ‘entertainment-access devices’ would be welcome," he said.

Jack in the Box Worldwide president Kaizad Pardiwalla says,"I hope this budget is a growth-oriented budget, one that incentivises consumption. If GST comes in that will also aid India Inc. and will hopefully see an upswing in media spends. Digitalisation is and should remain a priority for the government as it is leading to an opening up of the economy and driving profitable growth."

Contiloe COO Anup Vijai says, “I think there will a reduction in the overall tax rate. And also, GST was supposed to be implemented come 1 April, but now they are talking about 1 July. So we are expecting a road map around that. Right now, the GST slab rates have come up."

"Going forward," he said, "we are expecting the rates of movie tickets to go down say by 15 to 20 per cent in the state of Maharashtra where we have a very high entertainment tax. Moreover, high rates of entertainment tax and lack of uniformity in tax rates across different states, is adding on. A uniform taxation across product categories will benefit the entertainment sector on the whole,” he added.

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