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India’s Largest Municipal Bond Programme Launched

Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu has launched India’s largest municipal bond programme.

Salient Highlights

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) became the first municipal corporation in the country to tap money through municipal bonds in 14 years. The AA+ rated PMC’s municipal bonds raised Rs 200 crore at 7.59 per cent rate at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

This is the first-ever mobilisation of debt capital by a municipal corporation on the BSE BOND platform. This will also be the first issuance since the publication of ‘Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipalities Regulations, 2015’ by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

The 10-year bonds will be used by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for a Rs 2,300-crore water project. The scheme is aimed at providing water 24×7 for all residents of Pune.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was assisted by the US Department of Treasury to create a debt policy. PMC has also planned to prepare a case study based on its experience and share it with other urban bodies to help them raise money from the bond markets.

Since the bonds do not have any guarantee from the state government, an escrow account has been created to deposit the funds for the comfort of investors.

Municipality Bonds

Municipality bonds can be issued by the city corporations to fund developmental projects. Institutional investors, as well as the public, can buy these bonds. The corporations can use the revenues earned from the developmental projects like Metro rail network to repay the interest and principal on these bonds. These municipal bonds have now been permitted for public offering by SEBI.

Municipal bonds have been in existence in India from the year 1997. Cities such as Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Nashik and Madurai have already issued them. These bonds will help the city corporations to directly raise funds without the help of grants from the state governments or agencies such as World Bank.

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GST: Anti-profiteering Panel to be set up

The GST Council headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley comprising of state finance ministers as members have decided to set up a five-member anti-profiteering authority to decide on levying the penalty if businesses do not pass on the benefit of price reduction to consumers under GST regime. The GST Council has also approved the anti-profiteering rules.

Salient Highlights

The anti-profiteering committee would be headed by a retired secretary-level officer. The authority would ask the businesses to pass on the benefit of price reduction on a proportionate basis to consumers. Apart from the chairman, the other members of the committee will be joint secretary-level officers who have been commissioners in central excise and service tax either at the Centre or states.

The government will constitute a search-cum-selection committee for finalising the members of the anti-profiteering authority.

In cases where consumers cannot be identified, the amount would be credited to the consumer welfare fund.

The committee would be given powers to take Suo Motu action, besides acting on complaints of profiteering. The complaints of profiteering will initially come to the Standing Committee constituting of tax officials from states and the Centre. Then the complaint will be forwarded to the  Directorate of Safeguards (DGS) for investigation, which will take about 2-3 months to complete the inquiry. After the investigation, the report would be submitted to the anti-profiteering authority which will take a decision on the penalty.

The anti-profiteering authority will have a sunset date of two years and will decide on the penalty to be levied.

Section 171 of the Central GST Act provides that reduction in tax rate has to be passed on to the customers by way of commensurate reduction in prices.

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Black Money: Automatic Information Sharing with Switzerland from 2019

Switzerland has ratified automatic exchange of financial account information with India and 40 other countries. This will facilitate Switzerland to share information about suspected black money with India and other 40 nations.

According to the Swiss Federal Council, the implementation of the exchange sharing agreement has been planned for 2018 and hence the first set of data is likely to be exchanged in 2019. The Swiss Federal Council is a top governing body of Switzerland. The exact date of automatic information exchange would be notified by the Swiss Federal Council soon as there were no procedural delays for the implementation.

However, the Swiss banks have started seeking new safeguards so as to protect the details of their clients against misuse that could expose them to crimes such as kidnapping or blackmail. So, the Swiss Council had stated that they will prepare a situation report before the first exchange of data. As per thr process, it will be ascertained whether the states and territories concerned have put in place a standard, especially those concerning confidentiality and data security. It will be assessed whether the democratic processes in these states and territories are robust or not and whether corruption is high or not etc.

Background

Switzerland has long been perceived as one of the safest havens for black money stashed abroad by Indians. The participation of Switzerland which is the world’s largest home for overseas wealth in the information sharing agreement would be a major boost in ending tax avoidance.

As a step towards fighting black money stashed abroad, ‘Joint Declaration‘ for implementation of Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) was signed between India and Switzerland on November 2016. Switzerland agreed for the introduction of the AEOI (Automatic Exchange of information) on tax matters under the guidance of G20, OECD and other global organisations.

AEOI, based on Common Reporting Standards, when implemented fully would put in place a system wherein bulk taxpayer information will be sent periodically from the source country of income to the country of residence of taxpayer. It would enable India to get access to information virtually from almost all the countries in the world including offshore financial centres.

Switzerland has said the AEOI will be implemented based on the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (MCAA) on the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information (AEOI). The MCAA is based on the international standard for the exchange of information developed by the OECD. India, on its part has promised to safeguard the confidentiality of the data received.

India joined the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement on Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information on 3rd June, 2015. According to the OECD, MCAA is a multilateral framework agreement that provides a standardised and efficient mechanism to facilitate the automatic exchange of information and avoids the need for the conclusion of several bilateral agreements.

Black money is that amount of money which is liable for taxation, but on which tax is not paid or evaded. It is usually received in cash from underground economic activity and, as such, is not taxed.

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