Mohan Lavi

A productive journey

Mohan R Lavi | Updated on October 31, 2018

But the GST Council still has more work ahead

On October 28, the Finance Ministry came out with a press release — ‘Goods and Services Tax Council – the journey so far’. The release highlighted some pretty impressive statistics.

Till date, the GST Council has taken 918 decisions related to GST laws, rules, rates, compensation and taxation threshold. More than 96 per cent of the decisions have already been implemented through 294 Notifications issued by the Central Government and the remaining are under various stages of implementation. Almost an equal number of corresponding SGST Notifications have been issued by each State.

The GST Council Members, under the chairmanship of the Finance Minister, have spent long hours discussing the broad contours as well as the nitty-gritty of the new GST regime in a harmonious and collaborative spirit. Till now, 30 GST Council meetings have taken place.

Detailed agenda notes were prepared before every GST Council meeting and discussed in the preparatory officer’s meeting to enable the council members to fully appreciate the issues under consideration.

The detailed agenda notes for the 30 GST Council meetings ran into 4,730 pages. The discussions in the GST Council were very detailed, reflecting the collective wisdom of the council and this has been captured exhaustively in the minutes of the 30 council meetings running into 1,394 pages.

The press release concludes by stating that the working of the GST Council has ushered in a new phase of cooperative federalism.

The press release has obviously been issued to sensitise the taxpayer about how much hard work has gone into the framing of the GST laws — a fact that has to be appreciated. However, one expected a press release from the Finance Ministry on GST to devote a few lines to revenues as well.

What about revenues?

Every month, a new figure that fluctuates between ₹90,000 crore and ₹1 lakh crore on an average is mentioned as revenues. Just giving out this number doesn’t help. Those concerned with GST would like to know how these numbers match up against the targeted revenues. It is widely believed that ₹1.10 lakh crore per month was the GST revenue target.

If this is indeed correct, the taxpayer would be worried that government would try to make good the shortfall either by raising GST rates or by enforcing collection. The former is an ill-advised move in a pre-election year while the latter is a no-no because the officers enforcing collection would not know how much to collect as GST laws are still evolving. If both these avenues are eliminated, the government would have no option but to tap further into other sources such as income tax to make up for the shortfall in GST revenues. With more than two dozen participants, the decisions taken by the GST Council could certainly not have been unanimous. The council should also summarise any objections that State government representatives or others may have had to the decisions taken by it. This would convince State governments that their demands are being given a fair chance of being heard and voted on democratically.

There is still work to be done on GST. Some tax rates are yet to be streamlined, bringing fuel under GST has to be deliberated, and many rules such as anti-profiteering need to be made more clear. Despite all the impressive statistics, the journey has only begun for the GST Council.

The writer is a chartered accountant.

Published on October 31, 2018

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