Not many years ago we made a tryst with destination tax, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but we hope substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when businesspersons and consumers spend a sleepless night, India will awake to a new tax regime. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in our economic history, when we step out from the old to the new, when a century ends, and when the tax payers of a nation, long oppressed, hope to find a new dawn. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her tax payers and to the still larger cause of tax justice.
At the dawn of this century—2005 to be exact—India started on her quest of GST and the intervening years are filled with disappointments and dashed hopes. Through good and ill fortune alike, she never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the goal which gave her ambition. We end today a period of self-inflicted ill fortune and India unveils a new though imperfect tax regime.
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that we hope for. Are we humble enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Endured the pains
A new tax regime brings responsibility. The responsibility rests upon Parliament and the legislatures, sovereign bodies representing the sovereign people of India. Before the advent of GST we have endured all the pains of blind opposition and our hearts are heavy with the memory of the lost years. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, we have put the past behind us and it is the future that beckons to us now. The course of GST is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges made in Parliament and the one that we shall take today. The service of tax payers means the service of the millions who suffer multiplicity of taxes. It means levying a single, reasonable tax and collecting it fairly, avoiding harassment.
And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to the idea of GST.
Death has been said to be a certainty; so is taxation; and so also is tax harassment in this world that can no longer be tolerated as fair or just. To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with trust and hope in this great adventure. This is no time for hubris or haughtiness, no time for excuses or blaming others. We have to build a fair system of taxation where all producers and service providers may carry on their businesses.
A fateful moment
The appointed day has come—perhaps sooner than when we will be fully ready—and India stands forth again, after many stumbles and struggle, wary, uncertain, dissatisfied but hopeful. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we bring a true GST as well as petroleum and electricity and alcohol under GST. The turning point is in the near future, and our destiny will be written by us, a destiny that we will achieve or not, and others will write about.
It is a fateful moment for us in government, for all of India and for the states. A new tax regime rises, a promise made in 2005 has to be redeemed, a vision long cherished has to materialise. May the new regime never become oppressive and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that hope, even though clouds of unpreparedness surround us, and many people have forewarned us about the dyarchy and difficult questions encompass us. But a new regime brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them with a spirit of humility and willingness to correct errors.
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We have often been unworthy opponents and have strayed from reason, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember the cause and bear the responsibility in their hearts. We should never allow that cause to be blown out, however tempting it may be to collect revenue by means fair or foul. Our next thoughts must be of the original proponents and the scholars, who without praise or reward, have espoused the cause of GST even unto ridicule.
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring a true GST and create a common market to the producers and consumers of India; to fight and end tax discrimination and harassment and oppression; to build up a competitive and dynamic economy, and to create determinative and adjudicatory institutions which will ensure justice and fairness to every producer and consumer.
One Nation, One Tax
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make the GST regime a truly One Nation, One Tax regime that it was intended to be. We are inheritors of a sound economy, on the verge of higher growth, and we have to live up to the high standard of a few years ago. All of us, whatever position we hold, are equally responsible with equal rights, obligations. We cannot encourage high tax rates or high handed tax administration, for no nation can have a vibrant economy whose tax laws and tax administration are narrow in thought or application. To the states and the people of India we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering a fair and just tax regime. And to the Indian tax payer, the large, medium, small and micro businesses, and the individual households, we convey our eternal gratitude and we bind ourselves afresh to their service.