Infra Cos Under Taxman’s Lens

Several infrastructure companies that are building highways have come under the tax department’s scouting for misinterpretation of the word “annuity” in the goods and services tax (GST) framework. The tax department had said that annuity is outside the gamut of the GST framework. By this the government meant that the toll paid as annuity or in bulk will also be exempt.

Now, many constructions and infrastructure companies also receive annuity payment from the government after a successful bid, and these too are referred to as “annuity” in the financial statements and business parlance.

As per the tax authorities, GST is applicable on this amount, and the tax department has started demanding it from the construction companies.

Last month, the government had come out with a clarification which distinguished between two annuities. The circular issued by the finance ministry provided that the exemption would be available only when this amount is paid for usage of the road and not when such an annuity is paid by the highway authority to the construction company.

Following the clarification, many tax officials have started questioning infrastructure and construction companies. Many companies have been asked to pay the GST due on these amounts.

Tax experts say that this could lead to legal problems. “The clarification is against in recommendation of the GST Council, which had recommended the exemption for the amount paid by the high way authorities to the contractors, and hence, judicial intervention is necessary.” Said Abhishek A Rastogi, partner at Khaitan & Co, a law firm.

“Consideration for construction of road service may be paid partially upfront and partially in deferred annual payments (and may be called annuities). Said entry 23A does not apply to services falling under heading 9954,” the government’s clarification read.

While the exemption intends to capture annuity toll charges on a lump sum amount, the intent was to give benefit to the contractors, said tax experts.

Industry trackers said that some of the infrastructure and construction companies are already reeling under financial pressure. Some of them had not factored in the GST in their cost and this could impact some of their operations. S-ET

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