How will DESH boost Indian manufacturing?

The government plans to table the Development of Enterprise and Service Hubs (DESH) Bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament, which will overhaul the special economic zones (SEZ) legislation. Mint explains its significance.

Why replace the existing SEZ Act?

The World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement panel has ruled that India’s export-related schemes, including the SEZ Scheme, were inconsistent with WTO rules, since it directly linked tax benefits to exports. Countries aren’t allowed to directly subsidize exports as it can distort market prices. They also started losing their allure after the introduction of minimum alternate tax and a sunset clause to remove tax sops. SEZ units used to enjoy 100% income tax exemption on export income for the first five years, 50% for the next five years, and 50% of the ploughed back export profit for another five years.

How is the DESH legislation different?

The DESH legislation goes beyond promoting exports and has a much wider objective of boosting domestic manufacturing and job creation through ‘development hubs’. These hubs will no longer be required to be net foreign exchange positive cumulatively in five years (ie, export more than they import) as mandated in the SEZ regime, and will be allowed to sell in the domestic area more easily. The hubs will, therefore, be WTO-compliant. DESH legislation also provides for an online single-window portal for the grant of time-bound approvals for establishing and operating the hubs.

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Will there be any tax benefits at these hubs?

It’s not clear yet. However, the draft Bill does state that states and the Center will be allowed to give further incentives in the form of tax rebates, incentives, exemptions, and duty drawbacks. Subsidy schemes may be offered for goods and services at these hubs. The States and the Center may take fresh measures to speed up clearances and simplify compliance.

Will it be easier to sell in the domestic market?

Yes. Companies can sell in the domestic market with duties only to be paid on the imported inputs and raw materials instead of the final product. In the current SEZ regime, duty is paid on the final product when a product is sold in the domestic market. Besides, there is no payment requirement in forex, mandatory in the case of SEZs. However, the government may impose an equalization levy on goods or services supplied to the domestic market to bring taxes at par with those provided by units outside

What role will states play in DESH?

A larger role, definitely. In the SEZ regime, most decisions were made by the commerce department at the Centre. Now, states will be able to participate and even directly send recommendations for development hubs to a central board for approval. Besides, state boards would be set up to oversee the functioning of the hubs. They would have the powers to approve imports or procurement of goods, and monitor the utilization of goods or services, warehousing, and trading in the development hub.

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