The recent exclusion of Mauritius and Singapore from a white list of geographies exempted from India’s angel tax provisions has sparked concerns among venture capitalists. This move, aimed at preventing money laundering, could potentially worsen the ongoing funding winter in the startup sector.
While the Indian government has provided exemptions for investments from several countries, the omission of Mauritius and Singapore is worrisome due to their significant contribution to foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indian startups.
The Angel Tax Regime:
Implemented in 2012 to prevent abuse and money laundering, the angel tax regime subjects a startup’s fundraising to taxation if the funding round exceeds the fair value of shares, as determined by a merchant banker. The recent notification by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) stated that investments from 21 countries, including the US, UK, and Japan, would be exempt from angel tax. However, the exclusion of Singapore, Mauritius, and the Cayman Islands, which are major sources of FDI, has raised concerns among investors.
Impact on Funding Winter:
Venture capitalists fear that the exclusion of Mauritius and Singapore from the angel tax exemption list could exacerbate the ongoing funding winter in the startup sector. The lack of clarity surrounding these jurisdictions may deter investors from committing capital, as they would face a 25% tax on their investments. Even investors from exempted countries often route their investments through Mauritius, Singapore, or other locations as part of their Asia strategy. Consequently, this exclusion could potentially prolong the funding winter and hinder the growth of Indian startups.
The finance ministry has recommended exempting some institutions from the angel tax, such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. Entities with direct or indirect government ownership of 75% or more were also proposed to be exempt. These measures aimed to provide relief to new-age companies navigating a challenging capital market. However, the exclusion of Mauritius and Singapore remains a concern, prompting industry players to seek additional protective measures and engage with the CBDT and the government to facilitate tax-free investments from these regions.
While some industry players support the exclusion of Mauritius and Singapore, citing concerns about these jurisdictions as pooling destinations and highlighting the need to adhere to different tax systems, others emphasize the importance of fostering genuine investment flows into the country. Each tax system and geographical location possesses its unique characteristics, requiring stakeholders to navigate diverse rules. Balancing regulatory requirements with the facilitation of foreign investment is crucial to ensure a conducive environment for startups.
So all in all, the exclusion of Mauritius and Singapore from the angel tax exemption list has raised concerns among venture capitalists and investors in the Indian startup ecosystem. This move could potentially extend the funding winter, making investors hesitant to commit capital under the risk of taxation. As the industry engages with the government and regulatory bodies to seek protective measures, finding a balance between preventing abuse and fostering investment flows will be crucial. Sustaining a favorable startup funding environment is vital for nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship in India.