While govt plans large hike in exemption limit, the real need is to start invoice-matching to improve compliance
With GST collections falling for the second month in a row after crossing `1 lakh crore in September, and monthly collections now at `96,783 crore for April-December—that’s 11% lower than the budget target of `1.1 lakh crore per month in FY19—it is clear there will be a big slippage in GST collections, by around `80,000-100,000 crore assuming a reasonable step-up in revenues over the next three months. At 7.6% over the same period last year, the growth in GST revenues is even below that of nominal GDP. Whether growth picks up now is unclear since the last cut in GST rates will get reflected in the numbers for the next few months. While higher collections for direct taxes—direct taxes grew 16.7% over April-September 2018 compared to the corresponding period the year before, against the budget target of 11.5% for FY19—will make up for part of the shortage in GST revenues, it is almost certain the fiscal deficit will slip unless there is a cut in expenditure since there is a shortfall in some other revenues as well.
While, in retrospect, it appears as if the budget targets were unnecessarily stiff, it is important to keep in mind that, when the estimates were made, it was assumed that there would be increased buoyancy due to invoice-matching since the government had planned to implement the detailed filing of invoices; that, however, got postponed after the GST system was unable to take the load initially and, later, the government decided to go slow as the protests gathered pace. While there are sharply divergent numbers on GST evasion—one Lok Sabha reply puts this at `12,767 crore for April to November and another at `38,896 crore for April to October—there is no way of knowing how much of the evasion has been captured.
Sadly, at a time when the government should be putting in all efforts to strengthen the GST intelligence and surveillance system—including the use of smart analytics—as prime minister Narendra Modi said the other day, the plan is to increase the reporting threshold for GST from an annual turnover of `20 lakh right now to `75 lakh. According to the data presented before the group of state finance ministers who were asked to examine the threshold issue, while roughly a fourth of the 1.2 crore firms registered under GST have a turnover of `20 lakh to `1 crore, they account for just 5% of GST collections. While this is being used to justify the increase in the exemption limit, as FE has pointed out before, this applies to most taxes—in the case of income taxes, 65% of returns filed for FY17 were by those who earned less than `5 lakh a year, they accounted for just 38% of the income declared; in terms of actual tax collections, it will be much lower since the tax rate is just 10%.
Instead of increasing the threshold, a better idea would be to let firms with a turnover of, say, `75 lakh file a simple form with just the name of the firm, GST number, annual revenue and tax paid once every six months. Since larger firms, with a turnover of more than `75 lakh file invoices for both their sales as well as purchases, if these smaller firms are dealing with them, their invoices will in any case be available, making it easy to catch lack of compliance there as well. In election season, however, the Central government is probably more keen on eliminating any anti-GST sentiment and, so, prefers hiking the exemption threshold.