The Lok Sabha on Monday cleared the four goods and services tax (GST) Bills, but not before a heated debate between the treasury benches and the Opposition over multiplicity of rates, ambit of the new tax system, nature of legislation, proposed anti-profiteering body and Parliament’s right over the new tax system.
All eyes are now on the subordinate rules, which will be taken up by the GST Council on March 31 and the specific tax rates, which will be recommended by a committee of officers next month for the new indirect tax system to be rolled out from July 1 as slated.
Soon after the Lower House cleared the Bills relating to Central GST, Union Territory GST, Integrated GST and Compensation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to all the countrymen over passage of the GST Bills. New Year, New Law, New Bharat.”
States will now have to pass their State GST Bills, which would be more or less the replica of the Central GST and Union Territory GST Bills.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended a decision by the GST Council to have four GST slabs and a cess over the peak rate, while Congress member Veerappa Moily said one nation, one tax under GST is a myth and there are virtually seven rates, including exemption, and cess.
The GST Council has approved four tax slabs – fiveper cent, 12per cent, 18per cent and 28per cent, besides a cess over the peak rate on sin and luxury goods.
Jaitley said in diverse categories of goods consumed by the poor and affluent classes, one can’t have a uniform GST rate. “The Congress had earlier argued for one rate with a cap of 18per cent. We, at that time, had also said this is not possible,” he said.
The finance minister said there will be a single rate for one commodity, pan-India.
However, Moily said multiple rates will defeat the objective of the GST. “That is why I cannot call this Bill, which you have brought today, a game-changer. I would not give it more credit than a small baby step forward... The one nation, one tax concept is a myth. There are too many rates, cesses.”
The Opposition also criticised the move to keep real estate sector, saying there is much tax evasion there. It also slammed the move of keeping petroleum zero-rated in GST.
To this, Jaitley said Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian and later Delhi Finance Minister (Manish Sisodia) wanted real estate sector to be in and he supported their ideas, but then the Council decided it will take a call within one year of implementation of the GST.
Interpretation of the Bills may mean that renting of commercial building, lease of land and equated monthly instalments on under-construction houses may still come under the GST, but clarity is needed on the rules.
On petroleum as well, Jaitley said the Council will take a decision to impose the GST on these products within a year of its roll-out. Till the Council takes that decision, petroleum will be part of GST, but zero-rated. This means the Centre will impose excise duty and the states value-added tax on these products.
Reminding Jaitley he is a member of the Rajya Sabha, Moily lambasted the move to categorise GST legislation as money Bills. “Rajya Sabha has been deliberately avoided... It is perhaps the biggest theft in federal finances.”
The finance minister, however, dared any member of the House to cite even a single instance since adoption of the Constitution where a Bill relating to taxation and its administration has not been categorised as a money Bill. Being money Bills, these legislation do not require approval from the Rajya Sabha.
To query by the Opposition members that when anti-profiteering body is there in the Competition Act, then what is the need of such a body, Jaitley said the institution under the Competition Commission of India is for an entirely different purpose - whether there is cartelisation, abuse of dominance etc. The anti-profiteering body in the GST will see that duty reductions do not lead to unjust profiteering, he said.
When Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal pointed out that GST Bills talked about an anti-profiteering body or an existing body, which can take up this function, Jaitley said a call will be taken by the Council.
Jaitley also appealed to the House to make such changes in the Bills, which keep the federal structure in mind, as the new taxation is a pooled exercise of the Centre and states.
When the Opposition asked where the GST Council derived the powers from, Jaitley said it got power from the Constitution, which was amended last year.
He said every year at the time of the Budget, Union finance minister and state finance ministers concerned will mention the rates. Rules will also be put before Parliament and as such their control is very much there, he said.
With regard to centralised registration to banks, Jaitley said the GST Council will take a final decision in this regard.
Jaitley defended a cess on sin and luxury goods over the peak rate of 28per cent, instead of higher tax to compensate states for revenue loss in the first five years of implementing the new indirect tax system, as the move will not lead to inflation. If the Council had decided to raise the tax rates instead, it would have required Rs 1.72 lakh crore of taxes for compensation to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore, he said.
Responding to concerns expressed by members on bringing agriculturists within the ambit of GST, he said the Bills have provided a definition of agriculturists for the purpose of exemption. He further said most of the agricultural produce would continue to be zero-rated and there should be “no confusion”.
Opposition parties accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of causing a loss of Rs 12 lakh crore by opposing the GST when not in power and then bringing in high and too many rates under the proposed regime.
Criticising various provisions in the proposed GST regime, Moily said it would be a “technological nightmare”. And, that the penal provisions were “far too draconian”.
Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia said, “The hard work put in by the GST Council members and officers bore fruit today in terms of four classic pieces of legislation passed by the Lok Sabha.”
The next steps now would be the rules that would be deliberated upon by the Council this month-end and specific tax rates that would be recommended by a committee of officers headed by Adhia next month.
M S Mani of Deloitte said,” The GST rules and rates should now be decided very quickly, so that business can be prepared.”
Pratik Jain of PwC said the government should perhaps note the concerns raised by Opposition, particularly those relating to the impact of multiple rate structure and the possible impact on sectors, which are to be excluded from the GST like agriculture and petroleum.