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Stamp Duty dilemma: Investing in MF, ULIP, NPS, PF and other instruments may become costly

Amitava Chakrabarty
Budget 2019, Stamp Duty on financial securities transactions, Stamp Duty, Finance Bill 2019, Budget speech, Piyush Goyal, Mutual Fund, MF, ULIP, NPS, Provident Fund, PF, FMPs

Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, while presenting the Budget 2019 in Lok Sabha, said, Our government had promised last year that we will carry out reforms in Stamp Duty levied and collected on financial securities transactions. I am proposing, through the Finance Bill, necessary amendments in this regard. The amendments proposed would usher in a very streamlined system. Stamp Duties would be levied on one instrument relating to one transaction and get collected at one place through the Stock Exchanges. The duty so collected will be shared with the State Governments seamlessly on the basis of domicile of buying client.

Further, the Finance Bill 2019 says, Clauses 11 to 21 of the Bill seek to amend the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 for levy and administration of stamp duty on securities market instruments by the States at one place through one agency, viz., through Stock Exchanges or its Clearing Corporation or Depositories on one instrument, and for appropriately sharing the same with respective State Governments based on State of domicile of the ultimate buying client.

At present investors need to pay Securities Transaction Tax (STT) on every transaction be it sell or purchase or transfer of securities done through stock exchange platforms. Stamp Duty is well known in property transactions, but the question is, how will it impact securities transactions?

Explaining the stamp duty, Uttam Bagri, chairman of the Bombay Stock Exchange Brokers forum, the country s largest brokers forum, said, Currently stamp duty is a state subject, and is collected by some states, mostly as fixed amount depending on value of securities transaction. The Central government is now trying to implement it at the national level and the duty will be levied proportionately as percentage of the value of securities transaction, which would increase the amount of duty than the fixed cap that is practiced in some states.

However, according to the Indian Stamp Act, 1899, stamp duty is levied on every financial instrument at the time of issue at primary market. So, both equity and debt instruments would come under the Act at the time of issue for the first time or making transactions with the depository of the company.

Talking about the impact of the stamp duty, Bagri said, Currently STT is already there at national level and the levy of stamp duty also at national level would simply increase the cost of securities transactions and put additional burden on investors.

So, when implemented, stamp duty would make expensive investments in NFOs or primary issues either through direct investments as well as investments through indirect routes like Mutual Funds (MFs) and other investment products having equity exposure, like Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIP), National Pension System or NPS (earlier New Pension Scheme) and even Provident Fund (PF). Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs) may also become expensive as they invest in debt instruments through primary markets, where paying stamp duty is a must.

Questioning its need, Bagri argued that stamp duty on transactions of financial securities should be abolished and states can simply be given a share of the STT. We have requested the government to review the decision, he said.

Sameer Gogia, Director, Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP, said, Stamp Duty till now is a state subject and the proposal is to implement it at national level from April 1, 2019. Although it will also be implemented at national level, but it will be separate from STT.

Stating advantage of standardisation of Stamp Duty, Gogia said, The entire process will be streamlined and uniform Stamp Duty will be collected now, unlike different rates at different states.

As stock exchanges predominantly deal with secondary transactions of only listed companies, Gogia believes that depositories and not stock exchanges are better suited to collect stamp duties.

Talking on disadvantage of implementing stamp duty at national level, he said, It will create an additional burden on investors of the states, where stamp duty was not levied earlier.

Questioning the legality of implementing stamp duty at national level, Rajesh Baheti, President, Association of National Exchange Member of India, said, We have referred the matter to a law firm to check if the proposal is valid in the eyes of law or not. He further said that, We shall be in a position to give comments only after getting the reply.

Terming it a outdated law, Malhar Majumder, a Financial Planner and Partner Positive Vibes Consulting and Advisory, said, There is a wide variance in stamp duty from states to states and any rationalisation is welcome. But the question is, is there any need for such an old and outdated Act?

Organisations are taxed for profit they earn and income of people are also taxed. So, is there any justification of levying tax on transfer of capital from investors, on which income tax has already been levied, to the organisation, profit of which is also taxed? asked Majumder, adding, If the stamp duty itself is not abolished, what is the harm in providing arbitrage opportunity that exists due to disparity in amount of duty among states?

So, experts believe stamp duty is an obsolete thing, which creates undue burden on investors and should be abolished, rather than making all investors liable to pay the duty by implementing it at national level.