India’s Economic Substance Rule 

Posted On - 21 June, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva


India’s economic substance rules are part of a global movement towards ensuring that companies have substantial economic activities in the jurisdictions where they claim tax residency. These rules aim to prevent profit shifting and tax base erosion by multinational enterprises (MNEs). This note provides an overview of the economic substance requirements in India, their implications for businesses, and the broader context within international tax regulations.

Overview of Economic Substance Rules

Economic substance rules require entities to demonstrate that they have significant physical presence, management, and operational activities in the jurisdiction where they are registered or claim tax benefits. These rules are designed to combat tax avoidance strategies that exploit differences in tax rates and regulations between countries.

India’s Approach to Economic Substance

India has incorporated economic substance requirements as part of its broader efforts to align with international tax standards, particularly those advocated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) under the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative. Key aspects of India’s economic substance rules include:

Place of Effective Management (POEM): Introduced through the Finance Act, 2015, and effective from the assessment year 2017-18, POEM determines the tax residency of a foreign company based on where its key management and commercial decisions are made. This aims to ensure that companies cannot avoid Indian taxation simply by being incorporated abroad.

General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR): Effective from April 1, 2017, GAAR allows Indian tax authorities to deny tax benefits if an arrangement is found to be entered into with the primary purpose of obtaining tax benefits and lacks commercial substance.

Significant Economic Presence (SEP): Introduced by the Finance Act, 2018, SEP expands the scope of ‘business connection’ in India, ensuring that digital companies and other businesses with significant economic presence in India are subject to Indian tax regulations, even if they have no physical presence in the country.

Key Provisions and Requirements

  1. Place of Effective Management (POEM)

  •  Definition  : POEM is defined as the place where key management and commercial decisions necessary for the conduct of the business as a whole are, in substance, made.
  •  Criteria  : Factors considered include the location of board meetings, executive management, and where operational decisions are made.
  • Impact  : Companies managed from India are deemed residents and taxed on their global income.

  2. General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR)

  • Purpose: GAAR empowers tax authorities to scrutinize transactions and arrangements to deny tax benefits if they lack commercial substance.
  • Indicators of Lack of Substance: Round-tripping of funds, entities not having significant business activities, and arrangements leading to misuse or abuse of tax laws.
  • Implications: Encourages companies to engage in genuine business activities rather than solely focusing on tax benefits.

  3. Significant Economic Presence (SEP)

  • Definition: SEP criteria include a threshold for revenues generated from India and a user base in India, even without a physical presence.
  • Digital Economy Focus : Particularly relevant for digital and tech companies, ensuring they pay taxes where economic activities and value creation occur.
  • Revenue Thresholds : Revenue and user thresholds for SEP applicability are periodically reviewed and set by the government.

Compliance and Enforcement

Compliance with economic substance rules requires companies to maintain detailed records demonstrating substantial activities in their claimed jurisdiction. Key compliance steps include:

Documentation: Companies must document their decision-making processes, the location of key executives, and details of their operational activities.

Reporting Requirements: Regular reporting to Indian tax authorities on the economic substance of operations, particularly for multinational enterprises.

Penalties for Non-Compliance: Significant penalties and interest charges for failing to comply with economic substance requirements, including potential reclassification of tax residency and denial of tax benefits.

Implications for Businesses

Increased Scrutiny: Multinational enterprises with operations in India need to ensure compliance with POEM, GAAR, and SEP provisions to avoid adverse tax implications.

Operational Adjustments: Companies may need to re-evaluate their business structures, management locations, and decision-making processes to align with economic substance requirements.

Tax Planning: Effective tax planning strategies must incorporate compliance with economic substance rules, balancing tax efficiency with regulatory adherence.

International Coordination: Companies must navigate the interplay between India’s economic substance rules and similar regulations in other jurisdictions, ensuring a coherent global compliance strategy.

Broader International Context

India’s economic substance rules are part of a global trend influenced by the OECD’s BEPS project and the European Union’s (EU) directives on tax avoidance. Key international developments include:

OECD BEPS Actions: Particularly Actions 5 (Countering Harmful Tax Practices) and 6 (Preventing Treaty Abuse), which advocate for substantial economic activities in tax jurisdictions.

EU Economic Substance Requirements: Introduced through various anti-tax avoidance directives, requiring substantial activities for entities in low or zero-tax jurisdictions.

Global Coordination: Increased international cooperation and information exchange to combat tax avoidance and ensure that profits are taxed where economic activities occur.


India’s economic substance rules are a crucial element of its tax regulatory framework, aimed at ensuring that companies engage in genuine business activities and contribute fairly to the tax system. These rules align with global efforts to curb tax avoidance and ensure a level playing field for businesses operating across borders.

For businesses, compliance with these rules necessitates careful planning, documentation, and a clear understanding of the operational and managerial aspects of their Indian and global activities. As India continues to refine its tax regulations in line with international standards, companies must remain proactive in their approach to compliance, balancing tax efficiency with adherence to the evolving legal landscape. This ensures not only compliance with Indian tax laws but also contributes to a fair and transparent global tax environment.

King Stubb & Kasiva,
Advocates & Attorneys

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