Dr. Sanjiv Agarwal, FCA, FCS
Base on First Discussion Paper on GST, despite the 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.
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.
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.