The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to direct the finance ministry to extend the goods and services tax (GST) amnesty scheme till the Covid -19 pandemic exists in India, saying it was “a policy decision exclusively within the domain of the government”.
A Bench led by justice DY Chadrachud rejected one Bilaspur-based trader Satyakam Arya’s plea to direct the central government and the GST Council to extend the amnesty scheme and give more time to small businesses and MSMEs to file their returns.
“In our view, these reliefs…pertain in the realm of policy decisions. It would be inappropriate for this court to entertain a petition of this nature, such as extension of the amnesty scheme; a cap on the late fee to be collected; exemption of late fee paid for a period between March 25, 2020, and June 30, 2020, and refund of the amount already collected towards late fee.”
The amnesty scheme was itself a “policy intervention” by the government and that “the terms on which the amnesty scheme was executed in the realm of a policy decision”, the Bench said, adding that “how can a court interfere with this under Article 32? These are even otherwise concessions granted as per a policy decision. These are not matters of rights. We cannot issue a mandamus to the government in an amnesty scheme.”
Arya told the apex court that the notification issued by the GST Council on June 24 last year had given time till September 30, 2020, for filing of returns between July 2017 and July 2020 and had capped the late fee at `500. For any subsequent delay, a late fee of Rs 50 per day had been prescribed as penalty, he said, while asking for an extension of the scheme by two months, besides reimbursement of the late fee already collected.
“Except for some essential services and activities, the rest of India’s $2.9-trillion economy remained shuttered during the lockdown period. Economic activity came to a grinding halt in the country,” the trader said in its petition filed through counsel Aviral Saxena stated.
Citing the ministry of statistics and programme implementation data, it said that the Indian economy contracted by 23.9% in April-June quarter of this fiscal. “(This is) one of the worst decline ever recorded since India started compiling GDP statistics on a quarterly basis in 1996. During the first quarter of 2020, private consumption – accounting for 59% of India’s GDP – declined by 27%, while investment by the private businesses fell by 47%,” according to the petition.
It urged the court to secure the right to livelihood of lakhs of traders and businessman whose rights are being greatly jeopardised by the levy of late fine imposed due to the delay in filing of the GST return and also non-extension of the GST Amnesty scheme which could not have been availed due to the nationwide lockdown for most of the year.