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LAHORE: Amid opposition protest on Friday Punjab Assembly passed the provincial budget for the next fiscal year by approving the finance bill 2020-21 with majority.

The session started two hours five minutes late under the chair of speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervez Elahi. Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar was also present in the House. Finance Bill 2020-21 was presented in the House for approval by finance minister Punjab Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht.

The treasurer benches maintained the quorum despite opposition walk out and passed Baba Guru Nanak University Nankana Sahib Bill 2020, Kohsar University, Muree Bill 2020, The Companies Profit (Workers Participation) (Amendment Bill) 2019, The Punjab Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (Amendment) Bill 2019, The Punjab Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2020 and The Punjab Village, Panchayat and Neighbour Hood Councils (Amendment) Bill 2020 with majority.

The Punjab Assembly also unanimously passed a resolution after Sindh Assembly recommending that wherever the name of Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is written "Khatam-un-Nabiyeen" (meaning that Prophet Muhammad SAW was last of the Prophets sent by Allah) would be written along with it. The resolution was moved in the house by treasury benches MPA Neelam Ashraf and Moavia Azam Tariq.

The main features of the Finance Bill 2020-21 are rate on health insurance and doctors' consultancy fees and hospitals will be made zero from the current rate of 16% and 5% respectively. Tax rate on more than 20 services including small hotels, guest houses, marriage halls, laws, caterers, IT services, tour operators will be brought down from 16% to 5%.

The current rate of stamp duty rate will be brought down from 5% to 1% during the next fiscal year which will help in promoting the construction industry and create new job opportunities. No new tax/levy is proposed, however, existing structures of the levies have been proposed to be made people-centric while the interests of the government for creation and generation of necessary revenue streams have also been watched.

As per the Finance Bill, despite grave monetary challenges to the government exchequer in revenue collection, sufficient relief in the reduction of stamp duty under the Stamp Act was given to the general public due to Corona during the last quarter of the financial year 2019-20 which is being extended for the financial year 2020-21.

The proposed step is to provide relief to the general public through reduction in the rate of stamp duty in urban areas and to extend relief to the construction industry. Further, upon insertion of the definition of urban area in the Stamp Act, 1899, through the Punjab Finance Act, 2017, which includes an area developed by a development authority, housing authority, statutory body, cooperative housing society or a real estate company or developer. The existing clause of Article 63-A (ii) has become redundant and requires to be omitted from the Schedule I of the Stamp Act, 1899.

The proposals for the Finance Bill 2020-21 shall provide the government increase in revenue and fiscal space. In current situation of Covid-19 pandemic some measures have been proposed to create ease for taxpayers. Discount of 10% in property tax for maintenance has been proposed to align the taxation with market rates.

As per Finance Bill, rate of entertainment duty on cinemas is proposed to decrease from 20% to 05% to revive the sinking industry. Similarly, relief in payment of property tax and motor vehicle tax under the Punjab Urban Immovable Property Tax Act, 1958, and the Punjab Motor Vehicles Taxation Act 1958, has been proposed by extending the rebate periods.

As per Finance Bill, some of the measures are specific to FY 2020-21 in the backdrop of Corona situation. However, it has been endeavoured that a balance may be created between relief and revenue generation for the government. The object of the proposals is to add revenue to the kitty of the government and at the same time relief and ease for the taxpayers.

Based on operational experience of PRA during the last fiscal year, certain amendments have been proposed to further streamline the procedures under the Punjab Sales Tax on Services Act 2012 and enhance the facilitation for the taxpayers. Apart from certain changes in penalties, all changes are to facilitate businesses during the prevalent coronavirus situation and take steps towards documentation of economy. Electronic invoicing initiatives are being extended to maximum number of service sectors. Rates have been reduced for restaurant sector/beauty parlours on transactions conducted through debit/credit card. The rates have also been reduced for the sectors hit by corona pandemic such as hotels, caterers, marriage halls, etc. In order to promote the use of information technology and empower the technology-based entrepreneurship, the rate for this sector has been reduced from 16% to 5%. The tax rate on manpower recruitment services has also been reduced to 5% specifically for the services of which the value has been fixed by bureau of emigration and overseas employment.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020