Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) Chairman Bibek Debroy on Monday said India should have a single rate GST and taxation regime devoid of exemptions. He said the tax collection of the Centre and states combined is just 15 per cent of GDP, while the demand for government spending on public infrastructure is much higher.
“On GST, it is my submission, therefore, there should be a single rate. I don’t think we will ever get it…,” Debroy said at an event here. If the differential tax rates for products of ‘elitist nature’ and those of mass consumption are done away with, it would lessen litigation, he added. “As a polity, we need to recognise that the GST really should be the same regardless of the product. If progressivity is to be introduced, it is best done by direct taxes, not GST, or indirect taxes,” Debroy noted. Debroy also clarified that his speech should not be construed as a recommendation of the PMEAC.
The estimate of the GST revenue neutral rate (RNR) made by the Department of Economic Affairs before the GST rollout was 17 per cent, but the average GST rate at present is 11.5 per cent, he added. “We must be willing to pay tax or we must be willing to settle for reduced delivery of public goods and services,” he said, adding the revenue foregone because of exemptions by the government is 5-5.5 per cent of GDP. “So, the moot question is, should the exemptions at all be there,” he said.
He also said that while tax evasion is illegal, tax avoidance by using exemption clauses to reduce the tax burden is legitimate. “Do we need these tax exemptions? The more tax exemptions I have, the more complicated it becomes… Why can’t we have a simple tax structure devoid of all exemptions? We must at some point agree we will move to a completely exemption-less system,” Debroy added. He also suggested that the ‘artificial difference’ between corporate taxes and personal income taxes (PIT) should be removed. “A lot of unincorporated business pays taxes under personal income taxes. This (removing difference) will also reduce administrative compliance,” he added.