Sebi bats for tax breaks to attract pension money to market

Terming tax benefits necessary to attract pension money to the capital markets, Sebi has

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sought a clarity on taxation policy to be applied to retirement- focused funds to tap this huge pool of capital.

The total size of pension market in India is estimated to have stood at over Rs 1.5 lakh crore in 2010, while it is expected to rise to over Rs 2 lakh crore by 2015 and further to close to Rs 3 lakh crore in 2020 and more than Rs 4 lakh crore by 2025.

This includes individual retirement money, provident fund and other small savings and is based on a study conducted by a government-appointed expert panel.

However, the share of this vast capital pool is almost negligible in the equity markets, although a lot of foreign pension funds including from the US and Canada regularly invest in Indian markets.

Talking about steps required to attract pension money to markets, Sebi Chairman U K Sinha said a favourable taxation framework is crucial for achieving this goal.

"There are two angles here, one is that EPFO (Employee Provident Fund Organisation) money is not coming to the market and the trustees of the EPFO have refused to invest 15% into equities which Finance Ministry has also allowed.

"That is something beyond Sebi's scope of working," Sinha told PTI in an interview.

"The second issue is if others (fund houses) launch pension products, will such products get same tax treatment? The first draft of Direct Tax Code provided for that, but today there is an uncertainty that if a mutual fund launches a pension product, will it qualify for tax exemptions," he said.

"Right now, the answer is, it will not (get tax benefits)," Sinha said, while adding that an assurance of tax benefit is required for pension funds, irrespective of route taken to launch a pension product.

"This was the principle which DTC had enunciated (in its first draft), but that has to be enacted," he said.

Asked on the way out to resolve the issue, Sinha said, "Here, I want to say two things -- one is, we have to continue a dialogue with EPFO and its trustees so that they start investing in equity markets, and the second is, for others to offer pension products, the clarity on tax treatment is very very important."

In the past, Sebi has asked asset management companies or mutual fund houses to launch pension products, so that retirement money can be brought into the capital market.

In September, Parliament cleared a path-breaking pension bill, which, among other things, allows foreign direct investment in the country's pension sector.

Overseas investors can hold up to 26% stake in domestic pension funds pursuant to passage of this bill, which also seeks to extend pension cover to more citizens and provide subscribers a wide choice to invest their funds, depending on their risk appetite.

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