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If the Value Added Tax (VAT) is considered to be a major improvement over the pre-existing Central excise duty at the national level and the sales tax system at the State level, then the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be a further significant breakthrough – the next logical step – towards a comprehensive indirect tax reform in the country.

        Keeping this overall objective in view, an announcement was made by Shri P. Chidambaram, the then Union Finance Minister in the Central Budget (2007-2008) to the effect that GST would be introduced from April 1, 2010 and that the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, on his request, would
work with the Central Government to prepare a road map for introduction of GST in India. After this announcement, the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers decided to set up a Joint Working Group (May 10, 2007), with the then Adviser to the Union Finance Minister and the Member-Secretary of Empowered Committee as Co-convenors and the concerned Joint Secretaries of the Department of Revenue of Union Finance Ministry and all Finance Secretaries of the States as its members. This Joint Working Group, after intensive internal discussions as well as interaction with experts and representatives of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, submitted its report to the Empowered Committee (November 19, 2007).

        This report was then discussed in detail in the meeting of Empowered Committee (November 28, 2007). On the basis of this discussion and written observations of the States, certain modifications were made and a final version of the views of Empowered Committee at that stage was prepared and was sent to the Government of India (April 30, 2008). The comments of the Government of India were received on December 12, 2008 and were duly considered by the Empowered Committee (December 16, 2008). It was decided that a Committee of Principal Secretaries/ Secretaries of Finance/Taxation and Commissioners of Trade Taxes of the States would be set up to consider these comments, and submit their views. These views were submitted and were accepted in principle by
the Empowered Committee (January 21, 2009). Consequent upon this in-principle acceptance, a Working Group, consisting of the concerned officials of the State Governments was formed who, in close association with senior representatives of the Government of India, submitted their recommendations in detail on the structure of GST. An important interaction has also recently taken place between Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Union Finance Minister and the Empowered Committee (October 19, 2009) on the related issue of compensation for loss of the States on account of phasing out of CST. The Empowered Committee has now taken a detailed view on the recommendations of the Working Group of officials and other related matters. This detailed view of the Empowered Committee on the structure of GST is now presented in terms of the First Discussion Paper, along with an Annexure on Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on GST, for discussions with industry, trade, agriculture and people at large.

        The Discussion Paper is divided into four sections. Since GST would be further improvement over the VAT, Section 1 begins with a brief reference to the process of introduction of VAT at the Centre and the States and also indicates the precise points where there is a need for further improvement. This section also shows how the GST can bring about this improvement. With this as the background for justification of GST, Section 2 then describes the process of preparation for GST. Thereafter, Section 3 presents in detail the comprehensive structure of the GST model. For illustrating this GST model further, there is in the end an Annexure on Frequently Asked Questions and Answers.

        This Discussion Paper has been the result of truly collective efforts on the basis of hardwork of all the concerned officials of the States, the officials of Empowered Committee Secretariat and the Adviser and officials of the Union Finance Ministry, the counsel and active participation of Finance Ministers and concerned Senior Ministers of the States at each stage, and the encouragement and advice of the Union Finance Minister.

        With the release of this First Discussion Paper and the Annexure on Frequently Asked Questions and Answers, we now sincerely invite interaction with the representatives of industry, trade, agriculture and common people. This interaction and campaign will immediately start at the national level and at the State levels. As a part of this interaction, we look forward to receiving the views of industry, trade, agriculture as well as consumers in a time-bound manner.

                                                    Asim Kumar Dasgupta


                                                 Empowered Committee of

                                                   State Finance Ministers


                                              Minister of Finance & Excise,

                                               Government of West Bengal

New Delhi,

November 10, 2009