History was created on July 1, 2017, when the country witnessed the biggest indirect tax reform, Goods and Services Tax (GST) come into existence, after a topsy-turvy journey of over 10 years. GST is not just a tax reform, but a reform for Indian business that will change the way businesses were done in the country so far. While some companies are still struggling to gear-up their ERP systems to make them tax compliant, some have already announced a price-drop on their products and services. As far as the common man is concerned, GST will have a far-reaching impact on the prices paid for goods and services that are consumed on a day-to-day basis. Let us try to understand what GST is all about, and how it is going to impact the common man.
GST is a destination-based tax, applicable on supply of all goods and services. India has adopted a dual GST model which has two components namely state GST (SGST) and central GST (CGST). Any supply of goods or service within a particular state will attract both SGST and CGST, whereas, any supply of goods or service from one state to another will attract integrated GST (IGST) which is the summation of both SGST and CGST.
GST provides for a four-tier rate structure for both goods and services, and seamless flow of tax-credits across goods and services. GST seems to be a mixed bag for the common man, with some necessities becoming cheaper and others likely to get slightly expensive. In the long run, GST will ultimately result in reduction of prices and have a favourable effect on most of the sectors, but on the basis of the experience in other countries, GST may result in an initial inflationary impact which will pinch the common man’s pocket for some time.
In order to understand the impact on the common man, let us categorise daily expenses into six buckets:
Food: Eating out or cooking at home has become relatively cheaper with reduction in tax rates on essential items and removal of cascading effect of tax on eateries and restaurant. For instance, most of the food items such as sugar, tea, edible oil, food grains, etc, will be charged a lower rate, of 5%. Essential items such as milk, curd, cereals, rice (unbranded) have been exempted from levy of GST. Today, eating out at a restaurant, a consumer pays both service tax and VAT on the invoice, apart from service charge collected additionally. Under GST, the rate of tax on the restaurant invoice could be either 5%, 12% or 18%, depending on whether the restaurant is under the composition scheme, non-air conditioned or air-conditioned, respectively.
Housing: Buying a new house under the GST regime is going to cost slightly higher in the short run. For under-construction property, the existing tax rates are broadly around 6% in most states, comprising service tax and VAT (other than a few where the VAT rate is higher). Under GST, the rate shall increase to 12%, with the ability of the builder to avail all input tax credits resulting in a reduction of his costs which may be passed on to buyers by commensurate reduction in prices. However, this may not be possible for the builder immediately, especially where the builder has already procured the construction material.
Transportation: Buying cars will burn smaller holes in customer’s pocket under GST regime as compared to erstwhile regime. Key market players have already announced price-cuts owing to benefit on account of increased credits and marginal reduction in tax rates. Also, travel in radio taxis will cost less, with the GST rate applicable being 5% as against 6% under the erstwhile regime.
Entertainment: GST is a boom for all who like to spend weekend outdoors, as effective from July 1, going to the movies will be more economical with entertainment tax —that was as high as 50% in some states—subsumed under GST.
Communication: However, GST may not be good news for people who like spending time on their handsets as it is going to pinch the pockets with the rate on most services including communication going up by 3%, from a 15% service tax to 18% GST.
Other daily household items: FMCG goods will witness a mixed impact under the GST regime. On the one hand, aerated drinks purchased from nearby shops will become more expensive, with the GST rate applicable being 28%, along with a 12% additional cess. Personal care products such as soaps, kajal, tooth-paste and hair oil will see a drop of almost 10% in the effective tax rate applicable.
To sum-up, GST delivers about a mixed bag to the common man. To ensure that industry does not increase the prices of their goods and services even if the tax rates are marginally going up, the government has incorporated an anti-profiteering clause in the law which mandates that the supplier pass on all benefits received either on account of reduced tax rates or increased credits to consumers by way of reduced prices.
GST is no-doubt a win-win situation, from India’s economic standpoint—it will place the country in the list of nations which have simplified tax regimes, thereby attracting foreign investments, as well as from the common man’s perspective with prices of products and services coming down in the long run. It will be interesting to see as to how the government manages to deliver on its promise of holistic economic growth and reduced inflation in the long run, courtesy of the ‘one nation, one tax’ regime.