India can't have single rate GST, 3-slab structure possible, says CEA Subramanian
The GST Council may consider reduction in tax rates on host of items with low revenue implications as part of the tax rationalisation exercise in its next meeting on July 21.
The items, which could be considered for cutting of tax rates might include sanitary napkins, handicrafts and handloom goods, besides certain services.
Several industry bodies and stakeholders have been demanding duty cut on items, especially those linked to general health and employment generation in the unorganised sector.
“The Council will take up the issue of rationalisation of taxes on various commodities in view of demand raised by stakeholders. It would focus mainly on those items that are of general consumption, and have low revenue implication,” an official said.
Most handloom and handicraft products, as well as sanitary napkins are currently taxed at 12 per cent, while there are demands to exempt them from the levy.
Under the goods and services tax (GST) regime, there are four rates – 5 per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent.
Rolled out on July 1, 2017, GST had subsumed over a dozen local levies and transformed India into a single market with seamless flow of goods.
The all powerful GST Council had, in its meeting in January 2018, decided to slash the GST rate on 54 services and 29 items.
In its November 2017 meeting, the council had removed 178 items from the highest 28 per cent category, while cutting tax on all restaurants outside starred-hotels to 5 per cent.
In the first year of GST in 2017-18, the government earned Rs 7.41 lakh crore from the tax since its roll out in July. The average monthly collection was Rs 89,885 crore. In the current financial year, the collections in April touched a record Rs 1.03 lakh crore, followed by Rs 94,016 crore in May and Rs 95,610 crore in June.
Union minister Arun Jaitley had exuded confidence that higher revenue collections will enhance the capacity of the government to rationalise tax rates going forward.
Meanwhile, ruling out a single rate GST, chief economic advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian on Wednesday pitched for a three-rate structure going forward as revenues stabilise.
He said the goods and services tax (GST) is a “work in progress” and there is a need for further simplification of rates with fewer exemptions and simpler policies.
“In India, we can never have one rate. I had recommended a standard rate and one for demerit good, one for low rate. I think, in India, the debate should be about ‘why can’t we have three’, rather than ‘why not one’,” Subramanian said at an NCAER event here.
Under the GST regime, there are four rates – 5 per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent. Luxury and demerit goods are subject to cess on top of the highest slab.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi advocated the single rate GST structure. Subramanian said since GST is a regressive tax, it won’t be “fair” to have a single rate structure unless there are instruments to protect the poor who get hurt by rising costs.
“I think over time we will see simplification. For example, once the revenue stabilises, 28 per cent can (be rationalised)...but the broader point I want to make is that why can't we have three (tax slabs). That's what we should ask for,” said Subramanian.
Union minister Arun Jaitley too had dismissed the idea of a single rate GST as “flawed” saying that it can only work in a country where the entire population has ‘similar and high’ capacity to spend.
Subramanian said that GST implementation “has not been too bad” in the first year of difficult implementation. “My own view is the more you rely on carrot, and less you rely on sticks, you facilitate formalisation of economy. That’s what I like about GST. It is not heavy handed. Its a kind of self policing,” he said.
The CEA headed panel had in its report way back in 2015 had recommended a range for revenue-neutral rate (RNR) of 15-15.5 per cent for the proposed GST, with a preference for the lower one.
It also suggested a range of ‘standard’ tax rate of 17-18 per cent for bulk of goods and services, while recommending 12 per cent for ‘low rate goods’ and 40 per cent for demerit goods like luxury car, aerated beverages, pan masala and tobacco. For precious metal, it recommended a range of 2-6 per cent.