What’s free, after all?
Apropos of the news report “Net neutrality: Free data door shut, litigation door ajar” (FE, February 8), in a major blow to mobile operators, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has barred operators from offering differential data tariffs through select tie-ups with content providers, which it has labelled as ‘discriminatory’. On the face of it, while it appears that the decision goes primarily against services such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Bharti Airtel’s yet to be operationalised Airtel Zero, it could have far-reaching consequences. The decision essentially bars mobile operators to offer any data services for which tariff varies on the basis of either website, application, platform or type of content being accessed. The regulation also bars operators from entering into arrangements by which instead of providing differential tariff, content providers do the same through a refund to the consumer. Going forward, not only mobile operators and policy-makers, but even the common man who is the end-user of these services would like to know as to what’s free and what’s not?
Shweta Bansal, Bangalore
Going beyond TRPU
Apropos of the edit “Balancing tax policy” (FE, February 4), the government’s decision to set up the Tax Policy Research Unit (TPRU) along with Tax Policy Council (TPC) is historical. It is indeed a revolutionary institutional arrangement set in place to tackle the crucial issues of tax policy making. The recommendations of the Tax Administration Reform Commission, which have been accepted by the government, emanate from the vast practical experience of Parthasarthy Shome in the field of taxation. The recommendation draws heavily upon the best international practices. It is also true that in the fast-changing global economic environment, newer approach towards policy making, more so in the sensitive area like taxation, is the need of the hour. Involvement of experts—that too from different fields; ranging from tax professionals, to economic analysts, to operational researchers, to sociologists—should axiomatically improve the quality of tax policies. That said, perhaps it is not necessarily true that the sheer absence of such institutional machinery like TPRU or TPC resulted in the much-hated retrospective amendments of 2012. It needs to be appreciated that tax policy decisions are taken after hugely elaborate deliberations and can there be any doubt that the “retrospective amendment” decision reflected not only the wisdom of the secretaries comprising the “budget team” and the finance minister of the day but, impliedly, also of the Cabinet. The blame can perhaps be not put entirely upon the CBDT. The truth is that India’s tax structure, by design, has become unwieldy and grown far too complex. Nothing short of thorough overhauling can assure taxpayers and investors’ confidence. Hopefully, TPRU and TPC would make the difference and enable achieving what has miserably missed all these years. The creation of TPRU and TPC would relieve the CBDT and CBEC of ‘policy work’—almost entirely—and enable to these two boards to focus, as they are expected, on improving the quality of tax administration, enhancing revenue collection and providing much better tax-payer services.
TR Rustagi, Delhi