Five years stronger
Today, we mark the completion of 5 years since the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced in our country. It was first discussed in the report of Kelkar Task Force on indirect taxes in 2003 and hence took 13 long years in the making. Since 2017, GST naturally, has faced teething problems. But more than the teething problems, it has emerged strongly after facing the turbulence of Covid-19 global pandemic and its fall-out. It is to the credit of the GST Council that the Centre and the States held each other's hands together to not just face the crisis but to lift our economy on to recovery. It is this working together that has made India stand out now as the fastest growing economy, as projected by many, this year and the next.
Several countries moved to the GST regime long before India did in 2017. But, the mechanism of the GST Council itself is unique to India. The quasi-federal nature of Indian polity wherein both the Centre and States enjoy independent powers of taxation demanded a unique solution. States of different sizes and in different stages of development with their legacy tax systems had to be brought together under the GST. States were also in different stages in the use of technology for revenue collection. The GST Council, the Constitutional body, and a GST solution unique to India (dual GST) were the answers found to such a demand. With a few exceptions, taxes both of the Centre and the States were subsumed in the GST. Seventeen different laws were merged and a single taxation was brought in through the GST.
For India, the GST Council has played a crucial role in forging a National consensus on key issues of GST-rates, exemptions, business processes and movement of ITC etc.
Over 63.9 lakh taxpayers migrated into the GST in July 2017. This number has more than doubled to over 1.38 crore taxpayers as of June 2022. Over 41.53 lakh taxpayers and 67 thousand transporters are enrolled on the e-way portal, on an average generating per month 7.81 crore e-way bills. Since the launch of the system, a total of 292 crore e-way bills have been generated of which 42% are for the inter-State transport of goods. This year 31st May saw the highest single day generation of 31,56,013 e-way bills.
The average monthly collections have increased from Rs 1.04 lakh crore in 2020-21 to Rs 1.24 lakh crore in ’21-22. In the first 2 months of this year the average collections are Rs. 1.55 lakh crore. It is a reasonable and fair expectation that this steady increasing trend will continue. GST has eliminated the tax arbitrage that existed among Indian states under the CST/VAT regime. An intrusive control system, then, involving border check posts and physical verification of goods-laden-trucks played havoc resulting in loss of time and fuel. As a result the logistics chain for movement of cargo, even within the country, could not acquire scale and efficiency. Logistics costs were estimated to contribute as much as 15% to the cost of goods. With no such arbitrage under the IGST and with the e-way bills, the logistics supply chain efficiencies have increased manifold. With our focus on multi-modal transport and now with PM Gati Shakti these gains are only sure to multiply.
In the pre-GST regime, on most of the items, the combined Centre and States rates were more than 31%. However, under the GST, the rates of over 400 goods and 80 services have been reduced. The highest 28% rate is restricted to sin and luxury items. Out of a total of 230 items which were in the 28% slab close to 200 items have been shifted to lower slabs.
Special attention has been paid to the needs of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The objective continues to be that their tax and compliance burden be kept low. Equally, it was important to ensure that they remain integrated with the supply chain for the purpose of ITC. In this context, there were two impor- tant steps that were taken up: the enhancement of the threshold exemption limit from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh for goods and the introduction of the Quarterly Returns and Monthly Payments (QRMP) scheme which has the potential to benefit 89% of the taxpayers.
Since inception, the administration of GST continues to be IT based and fully automated. The creation of GSTN, a professionally managed technology company to run the platform was a step in the right direction. Constant review and upgrading of the hardware and software capacities have helped in keeping the system nimble.
The system of automated IGST refunds by Customs and refund of accumulated input tax credit (ITC) to exporters by the GST authorities has made the neutralisation of input taxes on export goods and services seamless and hassle-free.
It is noteworthy that most litigations on GST matters have centred around issues such as ITC, powers available to the GST officers on aspects of enforcement such as issuing of summons, arrest of persons, attachment of property for recoveries etc. Even in the much highlighted recent judgement of the Hon. Supreme Court in the case of Mohit Minerals vs UoI, the Court has not set aside or altered the fundamental features of the GST.
Asim Dasgupta, Finance Minister of West Bengal for 24 years, was the Chairperson of the Empowered Group of State Finance Ministers from 2000-2010. The first formulation of the GST laws were made in 2009. In an interview given to a business newspaper on 2 July 2017, he highlighted the significant features of the GST, which remain intact to this day: “The States never had the power to levy Service Tax. States have been asking from the very beginning for the power to levy Service Tax, and not simply [get] a share of it. With GST that has been brought in.”
He further added, “The Empowered Committee has been taking a firm stand on the autonomy of the States. The GST Council, incidentally, is a recommendatory body to Parliament for Central GST and to Assemblies for the State GST. Technically, the legislature may or may not accept it. So, this power of the legislature has not been taken away.”
Importantly, Dasgupta says, “As far as the rates are concerned, States and the Centre together are accepting a kind of single tax for both. So, in a sense, there is a partial sacrifice of States and the Centre in the interest of cooperative federa- lism. GST is giving additional powers to the State in terms of service tax. Half of State domestic product is services.”
Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on the completion of 2 years of GST said in his blog, “…GST proved to be both consumer and assessee friendly.” Thanks to the positivity shown by the taxpayers and the assessee’s embracing technology, GST, indeed has made India a single market.
The writer is Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs-PIB