The Parliament on Thursday passed four GST-related bills, paving the way for the new indirect tax to be implemented nationwide.
The bills were supported by the Rajya Sabha without any amendments, and follows after the Lower House passed them last week. They will now be presented before the President for his consent, following which, states will pass another legislation, readying the country for a uniform Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The four bills are the Central Goods and Services Tax Bill (CGST), the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Bill (IGST) the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Bill and the Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Bill (UTGST).
The CGST will give powers to the Centre to charge a tax after levies of excise, service tax and additional customs duty is subsumed. The IGST will be a tax to be levied by the Centre on inter-state movement of goods and services.
Besides, GST compensation law allows for imposition of cess on certain luxury goods like tobacco, high-end cars and aerated drinks to create a fund for compensating states for any loss of revenue in the first five years after implementing the new indirect tax.
The UTGST is for UTs like Chandigarh and Daman and Diu which do not have assemblies.
The State GST or SGST law that will allow them to levy sales tax after levies like VAT are subsumed.
“The broad approach of every member has been to support the legislation. Even the Constitutional Amendment Bill was supported overwhelmingly,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said while summing up the debate at the Upper House.
“Not only did both the Houses of Parliament support the GST bills, all the states have arrived at a consensus,” he added.
Consensus in Parliament , but doubts remain
In the backdrop of a reconciliatory mood, Rajya Sabha members showed consensus that the new indirect tax is the biggest reform since Independence and is the need of the hour. But still, concerns were raised about the sweeping powers of the GST council, the GST network and the GST rates. Allegations were also levelled against BJP trying to steal all credit of implementing this landmark tax reform.
CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury was among the many MPs who raised the issue of the overarching power that the GST council. “The proposals before GST council should also come before the Parliament,” he said. In the new tax regime, this council will be the highest decision making body; this led to many Opposition members claiming that this provision takes away from the Parliament’s authority.
Highlighting the federal structure of the Council, Jaitley said 32 representatives from the Centre and states are finalising the GST rules.
“We have had 14 meetings at the GST Council...and arrived at a consensus on all issues,” he said, adding there has been no voting on any issue.
“Mr Jaitley is only giving final touches to a reform that was set rolling many years ago by his predecessors,” said Congress MP Jairam Ramesh.
Congress’ Kapil Sibal and CPI’s D Raja raised concerns about data privacy under a private company in-charge of the IT backbone of GST or the GST-N.
While the shareholding of the company managing the GSTN will be such that Centre and states own 24.5% each and the balance 51% will be privately held, the board will be controlled by the government.
There will be IT firewalls and penal provisions for any leak of information, Jaitley clarified.
Some of the lawmakers raised objections to draconian provisions of arrest for fraud but Jaitley said small businesses will not be covered by the harsh provisions.
While every offence of tax evasion will be compoundable, there will be no arrest for frauds up to Rs 2 crore. For offences between Rs 2 crore and Rs 5 crore, it is going to be bailable. For offences over Rs 5 crore, it is going to be non-bailable.
More than a decade in the making, GST is expected to shore up government revenue and spur economic growth by 1-2 percentage points. Though the government and it officials have gone on record to state that the tax burden will be reduced, experts point out that GST will stoke inflationary trends in the initial years.
The rates in the four-slab structure of GST will be 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. The CGST, IGST and SGST provide for a maximum tax of 20% each. Taken any of the two taxes together, the bills provide a maximum tax burden at 40%, this, however is as an enabling provision for financial emergencies.
Businesses in the Northeastern and hill states with annual turnover below Rs 10 lakh would be out of the GST net, while the threshold for the exemption in the rest of India would be an annual turnover of Rs 20 lakh.
The GST will merge all the indirect central government levies like sales tax, service tax, excise duty, additional customs duty (Countervailing Duty), special additional duty of customs, surcharges and cesses.