In an interview with Sumit Jha, the unassuming Sarna said service tax notices issued to banks for free services would not be withdrawn but suggested the cases could be decided by a common adjudicator.
After a successful roll-out of the goods and services tax (GST), the soft-spoken Vanaja Sarna will hang up her boots later this month. The chairperson of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) says the government is open to a further rationalisation of rates and believes a centralised Authority for Advance Ruling (AAR) would benefit assessees with a presence in multiple states. In an interview with Sumit Jha, the unassuming Sarna said service tax notices issued to banks for free services would not be withdrawn but suggested the cases could be decided by a common adjudicator. Excerpts:
CBIC has said no GST would be applicable on free services provided by banks but many of them have been serviced service tax notices…
Once a show-cause notice is issued, banks must respond because the matter has now gone to a different forum. The department can, however, help by appointing a common adjudicator to deal with all the notices.
A few rulings by the AAR have been criticised for lack of legal rigour and revenue bias especially the one that ruled duty-free shops would attract GST. Does the department have a solution?
A unified AAR at the central level is something that needs to be looked at but I can’t confirm if the GST Council will take it up anytime soon. But it is an issue of concern when you have so many authorities passing such orders. An AAR ruling applies only to the concerned petitioner but a ruling does have persuasive or precedent value and that can make it difficult for another authority to pass a different order. The question is whether there should there be a common authority to take a uniform decision.
Is the GST revenue collection trend satisfactory?
One can never be satisfied about revenues but I would say it’s good as we haven’t had any major pitfalls. In fact, post Rs 88,000-89,000 crore collections in January and February, we are moving forward nicely. Other than the fact that we peaked in March at Rs 1.03 lakh crore — a year-ending feature — reaching Rs 94,000 crore in April is good progress.
With more enforcement — e-way bill, audit, scrutiny of returns and transitional credit verification — and an increasing tax base, revenues should remain buoyant.
Does the government have a revenue collection target which could trigger further rate rationalisation?
I think there is scope for that and that the government is thinking on those lines even though we did rationalise rates for over 200 items in Guwahati last year.
But this will require a consistent balancing act considering we are a revenue-collecting authority and need to achieve our target. We need to think through any rate cuts though we remain flexible. We do not have a specific revenue target but will decide based on collections in the rest of the year.
Given that GST is IT-led and generates considerable data, has enforcement been easier?
We were going slow till January but have since stepped up action. We have detected some important cases of evasion including misuse of input tax credit and use of fake invoices. The Directorate General of GST Intelligence (DGGSTI) has found intelligence leading to arrests in several cases. We are hoping these cases and arrests will act as deterrents. But there will always be those who would look for ways to remain outside the tax net. The good part is that there is a lot of digitised information and this is being used by the Directorate General of Analytics and Risk Management (DGARM).
Is it easier to bring real estate into GST compared to petroleum? Are we going to see the next GST Council meet taking up these matters?
Bringing in any of these items in the GST fold will undoubtedly reduce prices, curb evasion and ultimately benefit consumers. The question of timing is the most important one, which the council would examine.
Will GST audit forms be connected to income-tax returns of the assessees?
This will be done by DGARM after looking at the data holistically. Besides, we will share data with the IT department and our analysis wing would use this for suspicious cases.
Are the problems related to refunds sanction over?
I am hoping that by the first week of July, pending refund claims received till April 30 are mitigated. After the two special drives, the refunds are where we want them. Of Rs 41,000 crore pending refunds, nearly Rs 38,000 crore has been cleared. I have urged the department in my weekly letter to continue with the refunds drive.
You have had an eventful tenure…
When I entered this office on April 1 last year, the challenge was to ensure a smooth roll-out of the GST. We hand-held taxpayers, trained 70,000 officials, organised seva kendras. Refunding exporters was also a challenge. Now, we hope traders will embrace GST, not merely accept it. This department has more than 55,000 employees which keeps you on your toes.