GST on langar items: SGPC a divided house over refund plan
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GST on langar items: SGPC a divided house over refund plan

Many say it should have been a direct waiver as getting reimbursements through central scheme will be cumbersome; others oppose replacing term ‘langar’ with ‘sewa bhoj’

punjab Updated: Jun 11, 2018 11:16 IST
Surjit Singh
Surjit Singh
Hindustan Times, Amritsar
GST,Punjab news,Golden Temple
Devotees preparing chapattis in the langar hall at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. (HT File)

While some sections of the Sikh community are expressing resentment against the Centre’s ‘Sewa Bhoj Yojana’, under which the Goods and Service Tax (GST) charged on the purchase of langar (community kitchen) items will be refunded, the Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) continue to hail the move.

Many are of the view that the Centre should have given direct waiver as getting reimbursements through the scheme will be cumbersome for the gurdwara management.

The Centre had issued directions in this regard after getting sanction for special financial assistance under the scheme from the President on June 1.

Under the scheme, Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST) and the Centre’s share of Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) paid on purchase of specific items by charitable religious institutions for distributing free food to the public will be reimbursed as financial assistance.

However, the community, which is known for organising langars, has not responded positively to the announcement. But the SGPC, the apex gurdwara body, and other institutions which are controlled by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a BJP ally, are praising hail the scheme.

Some SGPC members associated with SAD have strongly opposed the Centre’s move and asked those at the helm in the gurdwara bodies to review their decision to welcome the scheme.

Karnail Singh Panjoli, SGPC member from the Rajpura segment, said “The concept of ‘langar’ cannot be replaced with the term ‘sewa bhoj’. The concept of langar is multi-dimensional.”

“Langar is not only the practice of serving food free of cost, but it also symbolises the principle of ‘vand chhako’ (eating food by sharing), humility and equality. Doing sewa (preparation, serving food and cleaning utensils) in langar is believed to be sacred in Sikhism. Langar is organised by foregoing tenth share of one’s income. So the Centre’s move is not as per the tenets of Sikhism and it should be withdrawn,” he said.

SGPC member Kiranjot Kaur, who is vocal on Sikh issues, said the reality of the Centre’s move is different from what is being projected.

There is nothing like waiving GST in the scheme, she said, adding that she has written a letter to SGPC president Gobind Singh Longwal in this regard.

“Technically speaking, the scheme is only for two years. Unlike other taxes, GST on langar items will not be refunded but the financial assistance will be given in the form of charity by the Union ministry of cultural affairs. For seeking this assistance, one will have to be registered on a portal named Darpan,” she claimed.

“Besides, recommendation of a panel will be mandatory for the registration. Details of the registered body will be online and some other terms and conditions will also have to be fulfilled. With this, the government may find way to intervene in lagar arrangements,” she added.

Prithipal Singh Kapoor, a noted Sikh scholar, said, “The Centre’s move is just eyewash. One will have to go through a cumbersome process to avail refunding for money spent on charity work. The SGPC will need to appoint extra staff to get the money refunded from the government.”

SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal said, “Try to understand the advantages of the scheme. This is for the first time in the history of independent India that a government has introduced such scheme of refunding the money.”

He had thanked Prime Minister Narendara Modi for the scheme during a meeting in New Delhi.

Akal Takht jathedar Gurbachan Singh has also welcomed the move twice. First, he hailed the move on the day when the announcement was made. Then he again issued a press release on June 7 to congratulate the community as their demand had been met.

“I appeal to some people in the community to shun negative views on this good work,” he said.

First Published: Jun 11, 2018 11:16 IST