If passed in monsoon session, big leg-up for reforms
While the country may not have a full-fledged goods and services (GST) tax in place even next year—petroleum, potable alcohol, real estate and electricity will remain out of its ambit—the good news is that it is almost certain there could be a working GST legislation by April since, as the Kolkata meet showed, apart from the Congress and the AIADMK, most states support it.
Since the draft GST Act is silent about the 1% levy over the GST, this suggests manufacturing states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat that were clamoring for the levy may be willing to forgo it, possibly because the Centre has promised 100% compensation for the first few years anyway—that’s also probably why finance minister Jaitley has said he’s willing to give up the levy, a key demand of the Congress party.
As for the dual control issue, the deliberations suggest those with revenues of under Rs 1.5 crore a year may be taxed by the states—that’s a significant victory for the states. It is unfortunate that the draft Act 2016 does not mention the revenue-neutral-rate since, while the Congress demand to put an 18% cap in the legislation is untenable, a reasonable revenue-neutral-rate would have addressed its concerns as well—a panel headed by the chief economic advisor had, in any case, recommended a rate of 14.5-15.5%.
Nevertheless, much ground has been covered. For example, although the Act doesn’t specify the rate for a composition levy, except to say it will not be less than 1%, experts believe the final rate will be closer to 3% for firms that have an aggregate turnover of less than Rs 50 lakh.
A composite levy is critical because it will spare small businessmen from harassment by tax officials. The prescribed threshold for levying the GST of Rs 10 lakh appears low in comparison with the Rs 1.5 crore floor for central excise duties, but keep in mind the service tax threshold is a mere Rs 10 lakh and that for most state levies it is Rs 5 lakh. Understandably, states are not keen to raise the threshold apprehending this would lose them VAT revenues.
In earlier discussions, the floor being talked about was closer to Rs 25 lakh, so it is possible the threshold could go up. Deciding that GST will be levied on the transaction value is a good idea since it doesn’t tax any discounts offered by a seller—how the transaction value is to be determined, though, could be a bone of contention.
Industry would have been hoping for more ease of compliance in the sense of uniform rates and less exemptions—hopefully, the exemptions list will be kept to the minimum—some sections like e-commerce will be uncomfortable with the provision that they deduct tax at source from vendors that sell on their platforms.
It could be an onerous task given they deal with thousands of sellers and perhaps the empowered committee could look for a simpler way to collect the tax from the vendors. Once the system goes fully digital, however, it might not be that difficult. After a few years, when revenue buoyancy is evident, it will be critical to bring sectors like oil and real estate into GST’s ambit since the deadweight loss of excise duties paid in these areas runs into thousands of crores each year.