The government on Wednesday unveiled the draft of a brand new direct tax law, which will replace the four-decade Income-Tax Act, "... to improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system by eliminating distortions in the tax structure, introducing moderate levels of taxation and expanding the tax base", said finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. The tax code makes radical changes in all areas of taxation: it lowers the incidence of tax on corporate and individual incomes but reintroduces wealth tax and capital gains tax, albeit at lower levels. It also proposes to bring a uniform pattern of taxation on all long-term savings in the form of EET—exempt at the stage of contribution, exempt during accumulation and taxed during withdrawal. Releasing the draft direct taxes code, Mr Mukherjee said if a reasonable level of discussion happens on the code, a bill could be placed in the winter session of Parliament. The government is hoping to implement the new code from 2011. Home minister P Chidambaram, who during his tenure as finance minister had initiated work on the Code and was intensely involved with its drafting, said this was a brand new Code written from scratch. Mr Chidambaram also said the underlying philosophy behind the Code is the philosophy of the government, which is wedded to a well-regulated free market system. The code proposes to exempt income up to Rs 1,60,000 a year from tax. Income up to Rs 10 lakh will be taxed at 10%, 10-25 lakh at 20% and beyond Rs 25 lakh at 30%. Currently, there is no tax till Rs 1,60,000 of income in a year. However, there is a 10% tax on income between Rs 1,60,000 and Rs 3 lakh, 20% between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, and 30% beyond Rs 5 lakh. But under the new tax law, an individual’s gross salary would also include perquisites such as value of rent-free accommodation, medical reimbursements and leave travel encashment. Taxpayers will also not be able to claim tax benefit on interest repayment on housing loans. However, the benefit would be available if the house is rented. All savings schemes would also come under EET, implying that they would face tax at the time of withdrawal. However, tax exemption would be available to the Public Provident Fund and other pension fund schemes on withdrawals of amounts accumulated up to March 31, 2011. The Code further proposes abolition of STT. Capital gains on shares and securities has been proposed to be taxed as income, added to other income after indexation with base year 2000. “The capital gains regime is proposed to be simplified by eliminating the distinction between long-term and short-term capital assets,” Vikas Vasal, executive director, KPMG. Wealth tax provisions are proposed to be overhauled. Net wealth, which would include all wealth of an individual in excess of Rs 50 crore, will be chargeable to wealth tax at the rate of 0.25%. One of the key changes suggested by the Code includes giving supremacy to the Indian tax law in case of a dispute between provisions of a tax treaty and the Code, and introduction of a general anti-avoidance rule to combat tax avoidance. This would help the tax authorities deal with cases such as Hutch-Vodafone, where if they infer that a tax treaty was being abused for tax benefits, those case be denied. Besdies, a massive overhaul is suggested for corporate taxation besides slashing the corporate tax rate to 25%. The new rate would not have any surcharge or cess unlike present. Moreover, the current profit-linked tax incentives for businesses will be replaced with investment-linked incentives. To put it simply, a company would be able to enjoy tax benefit only to the extent it invests. But, all the tax exemptions such as those available to Special Economic Zones would be given time to adjust to new regime. A minimum alternate tax on assets of companies is being proposed as it provides incentive for efficiency at the rate of 2%. It also proposes rationalisation of tax provisions for amalgamations and demerger so that tax remains neutral when businesses reorganise. Dividend distributed by companies would be taxed at the rate of 15%. In move that would have major impact on foreign companies or companies that have made investments in foreign countries, the code is proposing to treat a company as an Indian resident even if it is partly controlled in India. Presently, a company is treated an as Indian resident and taxed, only if full control of that company lies here. the measure is primarily aimed at preventing escape of any income from taxation. “The thrust of the code is to improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system by eliminating distortions in the tax structure, introducing moderate levels of taxation and expanding the tax base,” Mr Mukherjee said.