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Introduction

INTRODUCTION TO FIRST DISCUSSION PAPER ON GOODS AND SERVICE TAX  BY EMPOWERED COMMITTEE HEADED BY DR ASIM DAS GUPTA

 

1. Introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) at the Central and the State level has been considered to be a major step – an important breakthrough – in the sphere of indirect tax reforms in India. If the VAT is 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 indeed be a further significant improvement – the next logical step – towards a comprehensive indirect tax reforms in the country.

 

1.2         Keeping this objective in view, an announcement was made by the then Union Finance Minister in the Central Budget (2007-08) to the effect that GST would be introduced with effect 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 Member-Secretary of the Empowered Committee as its Co-convenors and concerned four 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 got itself divided into three Sub-Groups and had several rounds of internal discussions as well as interaction with experts and representatives of Chambers of Commerce & Industry. On the basis of these discussions and interaction, the Sub-Groups submitted their reports which were then integrated and consolidated into the report of Joint Working Group (November 19, 2007).

 

1.3    This report was discussed in detail in the meeting of the Empowered Committee on November 28, 2007, and the States were also requested to communicate their observations on the report in writing. On the basis of these discussions in the Empowered Committee and the written observations, certain modifications were considered necessary and were discussed with the Co-convenors and the representatives of the Department of Revenue of Union Finance Ministry. With the modifications duly made, a final version of the views of Empowered Committee on the model and road map for the GST was prepared (April 30, 2008). These views of Empowered Committee were then sent to the Government of India, and the comments of Government of India were received on December 12, 2008. These comments were duly considered by the Empowered Committee (December 16, 2008), and 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). As a follow-up of this in-principle acceptance, a Working Group consisting of the concerned officials of the State Governments was formed who, in association with senior representatives of 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 is now presented in terms of the First Discussion Paper, along with an Annexure on Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on GST, for discussion with industry, trade, agriculture and people at large. Since the GST at the Centre and States would be a further improvement over the VAT, a brief recalling of the process of introduction of VAT in India is worthwhile.

 

Value Added Tax at the Central and the State level

1.4    Prior to the introduction of VAT in the Centre and in the States, there was a burden  of multiple taxation in the pre-existing Central excise duty and the State sales tax systems. Before any commodity was produced, inputs were first taxed, and then after the commodity got produced with input tax load, output was taxed again. This was causing a burden of multiple taxation (i.e. “tax on tax”) with a cascading effect. Moreover, in the sales tax structure, when there was also a system of multi-point sales taxation at subsequent levels of distributive trade, then along with input tax load, burden of sales tax paid on purchase at each level was also added, thus aggravating the cascading effect further.

 

1.5    When VAT is introduced in place of Central excise duty, a set-off is given, i.e., a deduction is made from the overall tax burden for input tax.  In the case of VAT in place of sales tax system, a set-off is given from tax burden not only for input tax paid but also for tax paid on previous purchases.  With VAT, the problem of “tax on tax” and related burden of cascading effect is thus removed.  Furthermore, since the benefit of set-off can be obtained only if tax is duly paid on inputs (in the case of Central VAT), and on both inputs and on previous purchases (in the case of State VAT), there is a built-in check in the VAT structure on tax compliance in the Centre as well as in the States, with expected results in terms of improvement in transparency and reduction in tax evasion.  For these beneficial effects, VAT has now been introduced in more than 150 countries, including several federal countries. In Asia, it has now been introduced in almost all the countries.

 

1.6    In India, VAT was introduced at the Central level for a selected number of commodities in terms of
MODVAT with effect from March 1, 1986, and in a
step-by-step manner for all commodities in terms of CENVAT in 2002-03. Subsequently, after Constitutional Amendment empowering the Centre to levy taxes on services, these service taxes were also added to CENVAT in 2004-05. Although the growth of tax revenue from the Central excise has not always been specially high, the revenue growth of combined CENVAT and service taxes has been significant.

 

1.7    Introduction of VAT in the States has been a more challenging exercise in a federal country like India, where each State, in terms of Constitutional provision, is sovereign in levying and collecting State taxes. Before introduction of VAT, in the sales tax regime, apart from the problem of multiple taxation and burden of adverse cascading effect of taxes as already mentioned, there was also no harmony in the rates of sales tax on different commodities among the States. Not only were the rates of sales tax numerous (often more than ten in several States), and different from one another for the same commodity in different States, but there was also an unhealthy competition among the States in terms of sales tax rates – so-called “rate war” – often resulting in, revenue-wise, a counter-productive situation.

 

1.8         It is in this background that attempts were made by the States to introduce a harmonious VAT in the States, keeping at the same time in mind the issue of sovereignty of the States regarding the State tax matters.  The first preliminary discussion on State-level VAT took place in a meeting of Chief Ministers convened by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the then Union Finance Minister in 1995. In this meeting, the basic issues on VAT were discussed in general terms and this was followed up by periodic interactions of State Finance Ministers. Thereafter, in a significant meeting of all the
Chief Ministers, convened on November 16, 1999 by
Shri Yashwant Sinha, the then Union Finance Minister, two important decisions, among others, were taken.  First, before the introduction of State-level VAT, the unhealthy sales tax “rate war” among the States would have to end, and sales tax rates would need to be harmonised by implementing uniform floor rates of sales tax for different categories of commodities with effect from January 1, 2000. Secondly, on the basis of achievement of the first objective, steps would be taken by the States for introduction of State-level VAT after adequate preparation. For implementing these decisions, a Standing Committee of State Finance Ministers was formed which was then made an Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers.

 

1.9    Thereafter, the Empowered Committee has met regularly. All the decisions were taken on the basis of consensus. On the strength of these repeated discussions and collective efforts, involving the Ministers and the concerned officials, it was possible within a period of about a year and a half to achieve nearly 98 per cent success in the first objective, namely, harmonisation of sales tax structure through implementation of uniform floor rates of sales tax.

 

1.10  After reaching this stage, steps were initiated
for systematic preparation for introduction of State-level VAT.  In order again to avoid any unhealthy competition among the States which may lead to distortions in manufacturing and trade, attempts have been made from the very beginning to harmonise the VAT design in the States, keeping also in view the distinctive features of each State and the need for federal flexibility. This has been done by the States collectively agreeing, through discussions in the Empowered Committee, to certain common points of convergence regarding VAT, and allowing at the same time certain flexibility to accommodate the local characteristics of the States. In the course of these discussions, references to the Tenth Five Year Plan Report of the Advisory Group on Tax Policies & Tax Administration (2001) and the report of Kelkar (Chairman) Task Force were helpful.

 

1.11  Along with these measures, steps were taken for necessary training, computerization and interaction with trade and industry. While these preparatory steps were taken, the Empowered Committee got a significant support from Shri P. Chidambaram, the then Union Finance Minister, when he responded positively in providing Central financial support to the States in
the event of loss of revenue in transitional years of implementation of VAT.

 

1.12  As a consequence of all these steps, the States started implementing VAT beginning April 1, 2005.  After overcoming the initial difficulties, all the States and Union Territories have now implemented VAT. The Empowered Committee has been monitoring closely the process of implementation of State-level VAT, and deviations from the agreed VAT rates has been contained to less than 3 per cent of the total list of commodities.  Responses of industry and also of trade have been indeed encouraging.  The rate of growth of tax revenue has nearly doubled from the average annual rate of growth in the pre-VAT five year period after the introduction of VAT.

 

Justification of GST

1.13  Despite this success with VAT, there are still certain shortcomings in the structure of VAT both at the Central and at the State level. The shortcoming in CENVAT of the Government of India lies in non-inclusion of several Central taxes in the overall framework of CENVAT, such as additional customs duty, surcharges, etc., and thus keeping the benefits of comprehensive input tax and service tax set-off out of reach for manufacturers/dealers. Moreover, no step has yet been taken to capture the value-added chain in the distribution trade below the manufacturing level in the existing scheme of CENVAT. The introduction of GST at the Central level will not only include comprehensively more indirect Central taxes and integrate goods and service taxes for the purpose of set-off relief, but may also lead to revenue gain for the Centre through widening of the dealer base by capturing value addition in the distributive trade and increased compliance.

 

1.14  In the existing State-level VAT structure there are also certain shortcomings as follows. There are, for instance, even now, several taxes which are in the nature of indirect tax on goods and services, such as luxury tax, entertainment tax, etc., and yet not subsumed in the VAT.  Moreover, in the present State-level VAT scheme, CENVAT load on the goods remains included in the value of goods to be taxed under State VAT, and contributing to that extent a cascading effect on account of CENVAT element. This CENVAT load needs to be removed. Furthermore, any commodity, in general, is produced on the basis of physical inputs as well as services, and there should be integration of VAT on goods with tax on services at the State level as well, and at the same time there should also be removal of cascading effect of service tax. In the GST, both the cascading effects of CENVAT and service tax are removed with set-off, and a continuous chain of set-off from the original producer’s point and service provider’s point upto the retailer’s level is established which reduces the burden of all cascading effects. This is the essence of GST, and this is why GST is not simply VAT plus service tax but an improvement over the previous system of VAT and disjointed service tax. However, for this GST to be introduced at the State-level, it is essential that the States should be given the power of levy of taxation of all services. This power of levy of service taxes has so long been only with the Centre.
A Constitutional Amendment will be made for giving this power also to the States. Moreover, with the introduction of GST, burden of Central Sales Tax (CST) will also be removed. The GST at the State-level is, therefore, justified for (a) additional power of levy of taxation of services for the States, (b) system of comprehensive set-off relief, including set-off for cascading burden of CENVAT and service taxes,
(c) subsuming of several taxes in the GST and
(d) removal of burden of CST. Because of the removal of cascading effect, the burden of tax under GST on goods will, in general, fall.

 

1.15  The GST at the Central and at the State level will thus give more relief to industry, trade, agriculture and consumers through a more comprehensive and wider coverage of input tax set-off and service tax set-off, subsuming of several taxes in the GST and phasing
out of CST. With the GST being properly formulated
by appropriate calibration of rates and adequate compensation where necessary, there may also be
revenue/ resource gain for both the Centre and the States, primarily through widening of tax base and possibility of a significant improvement in tax compliance. In other words, the GST may usher in the possibility of a collective gain for industry, trade, agriculture and common consumers as well as for the Central Government and the State Governments. The GST may, indeed, lead to the possibility of collectively positive-sum game.