Finance secretary Hasmukh Adhia’s missive to the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), asking why the performance of its field formations have been inferior to their counterparts in the states under the goods and services tax (GST) regime, has put the former in a bind. A large section of the CBIC’s 4,000 ranges has sent detailed responses to Adhia’s assessment, mostly stating why the comparison was unfair.
One such response, comparing the field-level data sent by the CBIC’s Hyderabad zone to the CBIC’s member-budget highlighted that a state-level tax official has jurisdiction over a larger taxpayer base than one at the Centre, implying the former was bound to report higher revenue figures. But Adhia’s point was hardly the revenue collected per official, but the month-on-month growth in collections. Also, he had pointed out that a larger percentage of taxpayers under the states’ jurisdiction are filing the returns, compared with those under the Centre.
The Hyderabad zone has, however, informed that a superintendent-level central official heading a range is assisted by a single inspector and lacks any ministerial staff. On the other hand, an equivalent state official has 14-20 staff members at his/her disposal, which includes executive as well as ministerial support staff. Additionally, a central official in charge of a range in the Hyderabad zone has no access to vehicle while two to three vehicles are available to his/her state-official counterpart.
Officials said that the general situation across the CBIC ranges was similar to Hyderabad zone in terms of manpower and other facilities. “Availability of a much larger pool of manpower and vehicles also make a huge difference in dealing with cases of tax evasion, which again makes a difference in revenue collection growth,” another official said.
Speaking to FE on condition of anonymity, an official from the CBIC set-up listed other reasons for the relative under-performance of the central staff. States, he said, traditionally had better systems to identify non-filers and track them closely. Non-filers’ list was available to the central staff only from May 2018 while the states had prior knowledge of the potential evaders.
According to the division of administrative controls over GST taxpayers, 90% of taxpayers with annual revenue below Rs 1.5 crore come under the state government’s jurisdiction while 10% of them are with the central government. The remaining taxpayers are equally divided between the Centre and states. The division has shifted a large number of dealers to the Centre’s pool and it is still grappling with these sections of taxpayers whose track record they have little direct knowledge of. In the pre-GST regime, the Centre handled manufacturers with turnover above Rs 1.5 crore and service providers with turnover above Rs 10 lakh; sales tax was not administered by it.
The finance secretary’s directive is seen against the backdrop of lower-than-expected buoyancy in GST collections. The number of filers improved from 63% of the taxpayer base in February to 69% in March and 72% in April, but the revenue is not growing fast enough to meet the the Centre’s budget targets and most states still need compensation.