GST In Peril

arun jaitley

Government is required to implement the GST by September 16, or there would be no tax law altogether after that since the validity of the recently passed GST bill lapses by then

By Asit Manohar

Even as the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on December 11th accepted that the last possible day to pass GST is September 16, many are discussing of what would happen in a worst case scenario, if government were to miss even this deadline? Jaitley was optimistic that the new tax regime would be implemented by September 1. But there are good reasons to doubt if even this is achievable, for reasons of trust between the Centre and the states and uncertainty over the spillover effects of demonetization.

Demonetization has destroyed the states’ trust in the Centre, said Kerala’s articulate finance minister, Thomas Isaac. Isaac, while representing a Communist-led government, has been an enthusiastic champion of the proposed indirect tax reform. His sentiments are shared by Bengal’s finance minister and chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers on GST, Amit Mitra. Their views matter in the GST Council, which has to vet and approve the revised draft laws for central, state and integrated GST. Whether the council would be able to reach an agreement at its meeting in late December remains to be seen. The other element of uncertainty stems from the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. Demonetization’s fallout will have a bearing on GST rollout.

The Centre has to compensate the states for any shortfall in revenue, the referral base year being 2015-16 when growth and revenue collections were buoyant. If demonetization results in a prolonged slowdown in the economy, revenue growth would take a hit. But the states would still need to be compensated on the basis of revenue projections from a high-yield base year. If the Centre’s own tax kitty, from which states have to be compensated, suffers a hit, there either would be a reduced amount left for central expenditure or the government would have to suffer a higher-than-planned fiscal deficit. Neither option is desirable in the years running up to the next general elections. One can hope and pray that demonetization would not lower growth much, or one can push back the GST rollout date to 2019.

The government is required to implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by September 16, or there would be no tax law altogether after that since the validity of the recently passed GST bill lapses by then, point out experts.

The Parliamentary logjam, with the opposition being relentless in its attack on demonetization, has impacted government’s planned timeline on GST.

“If the GST doesn’t come into force by September 16, there is one view that existing specified tax legislations would cease to have effect. Hence, the government is working towards ensuring that GST is implemented before 16th September. It needs to be seen that if the same is not achieved whether the Government has an alternative plan,” said Dharmesh Panchal, India West Indirect Tax leader, PwC.

Experts say that the government may not be in a position to levy any indirect taxes as the current taxes would cease to exist while its replacement GST would not have come into force.

“It is imperative that the GST is implemented at the earliest, else post mid-Sept 2017 there would be an issue that in absence of legislative backing, taxes could not be levied. The issues arising from demonetization should be short lived, and in the long term it should act as an enabler for the GST regime with more and more business becoming part of the formal supply chain, thereby helping government achieve the twin objectives of bringing in more transparency and increase the overall tax base,“ said Vikas Vasal, partner, Grant Thornton India.

Although there could be a way around this, say industry trackers.

Theoretically, point out experts, there are two ways if the government is unable to implement GST by Sept 16. It will have to go back to Parliament for status quo ante or seek a presidential extension. In both cases the government will have to prove beyond doubt that there is a “genuine problem” in implementing the GST.

“This (two ways to postpone GST) is just an interpretation of how the GST rules read. This is just in theory,“ a tax lawyer emphasised.

Industry trackers also point out that many companies especially the smaller ones are still not ready for GST.

“Companies, mainly medium and small ones, are tackling the impact their businesses have faced due to demonetisation. Even the biggest of the companies have put GST on their low priority list. Everyone is expecting that it (GST) would be postponed,“ said a senior tax expert.

Industry trackers point out that many medium and small industries may not be able to comply with the GST even by next year. “Mid and small size companies in sectors like transport, logistics, chemical manufacturing, salt manu facturing, iron and steel manufacturing are finding it hard to comply with GST,“ the tax expert pointed out.

Many big companies and conglomerates were helping vendors, suppliers and distributors to be GST ready before the demonetisation, say experts. Some of these large companies have also provided specialised chartered accountants and technology experts to their vendors, distributors and suppliers.

However, many small companies that do not directly deal with big companies may have to handle the tax complexity and technology part all by themselves.

“The dilemma the government faces is that whether to go ahead with GST and deal with the further impact on the economic growth or postpone the GST and tackle the blushes,“ a tax law expert said.