It has only been a week since I wrote a post on the need to change the investment narrative in India and just 3 days after that, I received a slew of notices from the income tax department asking for ludicrous details on the investments made by Artha India Ventures. Furthermore, a couple of our founders warned us that more notices were on their way since they had gotten them too. This witch hunt is nothing but a death knell for angel investors. Former-IAS Venkatesh Shukla said it best “civil services officers were the “worst” people to decide policies for start-ups”.
In one of the notices that we received, we were asked for proof for 20+ points that included literally everything but my medical records (although I should submit them too, just in case). One of the items of the information sought included personal bank account statements of the director of the entity that we had invested through. Since the current directors are all family members, getting this information was not a problem, but can you imagine the embarrassment we would have had to face if we had prominent people as our independent directors? To sum it up, the evidence being sought is nothing but a ruse in forcing us to settle with the officer.
I would love to challenge this harassment in a court of law, but our legal system is already creaking under the weight of crores of cases, adding another one would hardly serve any purpose. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister need to be cognizant of the difficulties of doing business in India as well as raising seed and angel funding for Indian start-ups. Such fact-finding missions will certainly drive away the much-needed financial support for the start-up industry in India.
Thankfully these notices (as of now) are not being sent to VC/PE funds, so the investors putting in money through funds are safe from this kind of harassment. However, I do continue to believe that we require a robust angel investment ecosystem to start producing 3,000-4,000 seed funded start-ups that will expand out of India by 2030. One of the solutions would be SEBI or a competent authority providing accreditation to certain individuals/entities to be angel investors, a topic I have been discussing on various forums for the past 2-3 years.
This accreditation would put an angel investor on par with VC/PE funds that are allowed to assess the risks of investing in unlisted companies and decide the value they are willing to pay to buy a stake in them. Start-ups that would raise money from accredited investors would only be required to submit the investor’s accreditation certificates (which SEBI can also list on their website) to the income tax officer during the enquiry. If any of the investors on the list do not have accreditation, it would open the start-up and that whole round’s investors to income tax enquiries. The message would be loud and clear i.e. no accreditation is equal to IT investigation. Therefore, this would form a self-policing system wherein start-ups would avoid raising money from non-accredited investors and investors would not like to invest alongside non-accredited investors, thereby pushing every angel investor to get themselves accredited.
The PMO and FMO offices need to step in to stop the mess being created by the income tax department’s officers, from spreading further, or (I shudder to say) we will be an India of 1990 and not 2020.