Goods and Services Tax: Salient features

The present essay looks at the salient features of the proposed GST and how it is different from the current system of taxation of goods and services. The information herein is drawn from the official paper on GST on the website of the Central Board of Excise & Customs, which has played a vital role in the formulation of the GST model. The paper can be accessed at http://cbec.gov.in/deptt_offcr/status-gst-15052015.pdf.

I shall proceed as follows:

  • The journey to GST
  • What is GST: how is it different?
  • GST by states and centre on the same taxable value;
  • Input tax credit of GST in inter-state transactions;
  • Differential treatment for alcohol, tobacco, petroleum products;
  • Additional levy by states on interstate supply of goods;
  • Operational mechanism
  • Uniform rate across states?

The journey to GST

(i) Amendment of Constitution

The 100th Constitution Amendment Bill, which aims to change the taxing powers of the states and union to enable GST, has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is now with a Parliamentary committee for scrutiny. It is a long journey for an amendment of this nature to actually be made, as laid down in Article 368 of the Constitution1. After passing by both houses of Parliament, the Bill has to be ratified by at least half the states before it becomes law. This is required because the lists in the Seventh Schedule are being amended, which changes the balance of power in the federation of states. (The federal structure of the Indian nation is declared in the very first Article of the Constitution, which opens with Article 1 saying, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”)

(ii) GST law to be enacted by centre and each state

As will be seen below, an important feature of GST will be that tax paid on inter-state transactions will be available as input tax credit. For this purpose the taxing statutes of each state would have to incorporate this provision, as it will not work without complete synchronisation. Therefore the next step after the Constitutional amendment will be that the GST Council (explained below) will provide draft enactments to the states and centre and these will have to be passed by each of the states and by Parliament respectively.

What is GST: how the levy will be different?

GST is Goods and Services Tax:

  • a dual tax to be levied on the same taxable event by both the states and the union government2.
  • The taxable event will be ‘supply’ of goods or services3.
  • The states will levy the tax on such supplies of goods / services made within the state, while the union will levy the tax on inter-state supplies, but the state will collect it as in the present case of CST.
  • Thus on each ‘supply’ of goods / services, there will be a state tax as well as a central tax. These will be called state GST and central GST respectively.
  • There will be a single document for tax purposes, and a single return filed with a central registry, from which the information will be split between the centre and the relevant states.

The differences in the levy from the current scenario will be as follows.

At present:

(i) Currently the centre alone can tax ‘services’. When service tax was introduced in 1994, this was an item not mentioned anywhere in Lists 1, 2 or 3 of the Seventh Schedule and was therefore covered under the residual entry number 97 in List I (union list). An item 92C has subsequently been inserted in List I, but not been operationalized.

(ii) Currently, different stages in the progression of goods in the supply chain are levied to different taxes, and there is no input tax relief for most of these, so that the price of goods gets correspondingly inflated. The taxes on goods include excise duty, VAT / CST, purchase tax (if applicable), entry tax (in various forms and names), and state cesses and surcharges. While a manufacturer’s invoice does reflect both excise duty and VAT / CST even now, this is only because both are indirect taxes and are collected from the customer. However they are sequentially collected, excise duty on manufacture and then VAT / CST on sale, and are charged on different values (as elaborated elsewhere in this paper). It can also be seen that VAT / CST is not charged on transfer of goods that is not a sale, like stock transfer; and excise duty is not charged on sale transactions but is charged only on manufacture.

(iii) Because manufacture, sale and service are at present taxed differently, there is much ambiguity and litigation over legal concepts of what constitutes

  • Manufacture
  • Sale
  • Service [as distinct from deemed sale under Article 366(29A) of the Constitution4]

In future (during GST regime):

(i) In GST it is proposed to delete entry 92C (“tax on services”) from List I so that the states as well as the centre can tax services. Also, both centre and states are to be explicitly empowered to levy goods and services tax, which is defined as a tax on the supply of goods or services or both. Thus the Constitution, upon amendment, will support levy of tax on services as well as goods by the states as well as the centre.

(ii) GST will replace a multiplicity of taxes on goods, like excise duty on indigenous manufacture and on imports, VAT, CST, purchase tax, entry tax, and various cesses and surcharges. It will also replace entertainment tax (other than by local bodies), luxury tax, taxes on advertisements and taxes on lottery, racing and gambling. Furthermore, GST will be available as input tax credit.

(iii) The single tax on ‘supply’ will render redundant the decades-old debates on what constitutes manufacture, what constitutes sale, and how to tax composite transactions of service and sale. A greater degree of clarity regarding taxability, and a corresponding reduction in uncertainty will result.

GST: chargeable by states and centre on the same taxable value

The levy of GST will be simultaneously made on the same transaction by the states and centre. Consequently, the taxable value will be the same for the purpose of both state & central GST. This is different from the present scenario in the following ways:

At present:

Even today, a manufacturer’s commercial invoice reflects both central excise duty and state VAT on the same goods. This is because both are indirect taxes and are collected from the customer. Conceptually, however, at present the centre taxes ‘manufacture’, and thereafter the state taxes ‘sale’ of the goods. The result is that the central excise duty is imposed first on the goods, and the state tax comes after that, on a value that is price plus central excise duty. If the goods are priced at Rs 100, and excise duty is 10% and VAT is 14%, the present scenario is that the invoice will read as follows:

Goods Rs. 100.00
C. Excise duty @ 10% Rs. 10.00
Sub-total Rs. 110.00
VAT @ 14% Rs. 15.40

In future (during GST regime):

When the same transaction of ‘supply’ is being taxed by both centre and states, the taxes are levied simultaneously on the same value. The rate of GST in the above transaction will be 24%, split as 10% central GST and 14% state GST. The transaction will then be taxed as follows:

Goods Rs. 100.00
C.GST @ 10% Rs. 10.00
S.GST @ 14% Rs. 14.00

Thus there will be a reduction in the amount of VAT (to be known as SGST) payable if the rate remains the same. (The same result could have been achieved by changing the method of valuation in VAT / CST law, but there was no incentive for the states to do this or agree to it, as it involves reduction in their revenue.)

GST will provide input tax relief in inter-state transactions

The major gain from GST will be extension of input tax relief to inter-state sale of goods.

At present:

At present, there is a pan-India input tax relief mechanism for only the central taxes on goods and services, in the form of Cenvat credit. As for the state taxes, each state charges VAT on sale of goods within the state and provides input VAT credits for taxes paid within the state. Inter-state sales are subject to CST, levied by the centre but collected by the states. No credits are available for such inter-state transactions. The obvious reason for the absence of tax credits in inter-state sales is loss of revenue that would ensue by allowing tax paid to another state to be reduced from tax payable.

In future (during GST regime):

The breakthrough achieved by the GST model is the central clearing house to mediate inter-state credits, with central compensation built into the system. CST will be replaced by integrated GST (IGST), which the originating state will charge on the sale. IGST can be taken as a credit in the destination state. Its use will be to pay IGST, CGST or SGST, in that order of preference. The transaction will be electronically routed through the central clearing house, which will also track the use of IGST to pay SGST and will compensate the state to that extent. In other words, the loss caused to the destination state by tax paid in another state being adjusted against tax payable to the destination state will be made up by the centre. The rationale for this is to encourage growth of the market, which in turn is expected to spur production and increase revenue. This system of input tax credit in inter-state sales is a major salutary feature of the proposed GST model.

Differential treatment for alcohol, tobacco and petroleum products

(i) Alcoholic liquor for human consumption has been excluded from the purview of GST. The definition of goods and services tax in the proposed clause (12A) to be inserted in Article 366 of the Constitution is “tax on the supply of goods or services or both (except tax on the supply of alcoholic liquor for human consumption).” The manufacture and sale of the product will continue to be taxed by states.

(ii) Tobacco and tobacco products will be subject to central excise duty in addition to GST. While not excluded from GST, it is retained in entry 84 of List I (union list) also.

(iii) Petroleum products are excluded from GST for the present, and will continue to be taxed in the present mode – central excise duty on manufacture and VAT / CST on sale. However, the proposed Constitutional amendment requires the GST Council to fix the date by which these products will be brought into the purview of GST. This is in clause (5) of the proposed Article 279A.

Additional 1% for originating state on interstate supply of goods – non-VATable In addition to GST, an amount of 1% on inter-state supply of goods will be charged by the centre and assigned to the originating state, as per section 18 of the Constitution amendment bill. What is the originating state will be determined in terms of the rules for place of supply, which will be framed by Parliament in terms of the same section. This tax of 1% on inter-state supply of goods will not be available as input tax credit. The tax will be levied for an initial period of two years and may be extended on the recommendation of the GST Council (see below).

Operational mechanism

At the level of centre-state coordination on policy and implementation, the proposed Article 279A in the Constitutional amendment provides for the creation of a GST Council consisting of the union and state Finance Ministers and other designated functionaries, who will take decisions by majority vote in the manner provided. The role of the Council will be to make recommendations to the centre and the states on, inter alia, exemptions including threshold exemption, rates of tax, date of tax to be levied on petroleum products, special provisions for specified states.

However, the manner of operation of the levy on the ground is far from clear. Perhaps the GST Council will decide issues like, who will have jurisdiction to audit the assesse, what will be the enforcement mechanism for cases of evasion, what will be the mechanism to prevent input tax fraud, and so on.

Uniform rates of GST across states?

Part of the vision of the government in bringing GST is that it will transform India into one integrated market and greatly enhance the ease of doing business. To this end, uniform rates of GST across states are considered desirable, as a measure of simplification. However the states are understandably reluctant to surrender their discretion to tax; as a compromise it is understood that the GST Council will give them a range within which they can raise or lower the rates.

There is a school of thought that is opposed to uniform rates on the ground that such a provision will be eventually detrimental to business. The states use rates of tax and exemptions from tax as an incentive to attract business. In this sense there is competition among the states, and business benefits. In case of uniformity, the tax rates are a fait accompli that will have to be faced by the potential investor without alternative recourse.

Content provided by:

Radha Arun
Consultants to Udyog Software (India) Ltd.
Email: radha.arjuni@gmail.com

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1 Article 368 of the Constitution can be perused at http://indiankanoon.org/doc/594125/.

2 In terms of the proposed Article 246A of the Constitution, Parliament as well as the legislatures of every state shall have power to make laws with respect to goods and services tax imposed by the Union or by such state.

3 In terms of the proposed clause (12A) to be inserted in Article 366 of the Constitution, ‘goods and services tax’ means tax on the supply of goods or services or both (except tax on the supply of alcoholic liquor for human consumption).

4 Article 366(29A) of the Constitution was inserted in the pre-service tax period, to deem certain transactions as sale. The transactions included works contract, catering, hire purchase, aspects of which are now subject to service tax.

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