A year ago, India began a fresh journey into the indirect tax world, by entering into a new era of GST ‘one nation, one tax’. It has been a path-breaking reform, subsuming a number of federal and state taxes and paving the way for a uniform system of taxation. India became a common market, the removal of cascading made the goods more competitive in the international market and the availability of seamless credit on most goods and services has removed inefficiencies from the supply chains of most commodities.
GST has brought in a new era of fiscal federalism where the Centre and states share the powers to tax all goods and services, and all decisions taken in the GST Council are by consensus, after debate and discussion. Switching to GST has also resulted in bringing India at par with global laws, which adds to the ease of doing business in India and has increased profitability and efficiency, which, in turn, has attracted foreign investments.
GST is a work in progress, and to make the reform truly effective, central and state governments need to streamline law, procedures and compliances. The major challenge is that the compliance portal of GST, i.e. GSTN, is yet to achieve its true potential. Given the magnitude of the change, GSTN is still in the process of automating returns and has not been able to achieve the ability to match invoices from a credit perspective. This has led the government to propose simplification of the returns and, in the coming year, GST will move to a single return and credits being taken on the basis of invoice details uploaded by the vendor.
The structure has five rates for goods and services—0%, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, which must be further rationalised to make them simple so that the benefit from GST is maximised. This would also help in bringing the Indian taxation regime closer to international standards and resolve issues around interpretation and classification of goods and services, and hence reduce probability of disputes. Under GST, services industry has had to change its business processes on account of increase in compliances due to decentralised registrations as against the ease of single registration prevalent earlier.
The most praiseworthy aspect, however, has been the proactive and consultative way with which the government has taken corrective actions, be it administrative simplification or changes in rates. Yet there is a long way to go. Apart from having a simple return and stronger GSTN portal, the law needs changes to bring it nearer an ideal GST. The credit scheme has to be broadened, rates need to be rationalised, and the multiple rate structure needs to converge to, at best, a two-rate structure. The tax base has to be widened to tax select petroleum products and real estate in the future. The provisions of TCS, TDS and reverse charge on supplies from unregistered dealers, among other things, need to be re-looked at, to keep the law simple. Making GST refund mechanism simpler and streamlined is also the need of the hour to facilitate the exporters, thereby enhancing ease of doing business in India.
While a lot has been done, a lot more needs to be achieved in the years to come. The foundation has been laid, the industry has aligned its business processes to GST and the revenue is showing an upward trend. It’s time to bring in the changes in law and procedures and make India truly a model GST jurisdiction.