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GST rollercoaster: How the new tax regime fared in India these last 6 months

The creation of the GST regime involved merging all indirect taxes into one and also making a conscious effort to not hurt any sector that falls under its ambit.

December 31, 2017 / 11:23 AM IST

Among the myriad developments that took place in the year gone by, if there is one that stands out in a league of its own, it is the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

The new tax system came to force on July 1 and has since been one of the most talked about subjects across the country. Although it was one of the most awaited decisions by the government over the last couple of years, the manner in which it was rolled out gave rise to a heated debate.

The tax reform was first proposed by former President Pranab Mukherjee, who was then a Rajya Sabha member, way back in the 1980s. However, the first formal proposal was made by the P Chidambaram-led finance ministry in the 2006 budget and work on the formulation of reforms started under the current BJP-led government last year.

The creation of the GST regime involved merging all indirect taxes into one and also making a conscious effort to not hurt any sector that falls under its ambit. Of course, this naturally did not go as planned right away and when the first list of products on which GST would be applicable was published in July, it attracted a lot of flak from most sections of society.

The first list of products under GST included phone bills, cigarettes, personal care products, insurance premiums and hotel stays, among others. They were taxed at 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent or 28 percent. But what attracted the most attention at the time was a 12 percent GST imposed on sanitary napkins. Medical professionals and women from across the country protested the decision and "Sex is a choice, periods are not" became a popular slogan.

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Come September, the GST debate gathered more steam when handicraft workers across the country cried foul after a GST of 28 percent was imposed on all handicraft products. The tax on them before the advent of GST was just 12 percent. When the workers complained that there was no way they could procure raw materials with this kind of tax rate in place and keep their business profitable at the same time.

Another issue that the regime faced in the initial few months after its arrival was low compliance. But what was new was the reason for this lack of compliance -- confusion. No one seemed to know how to go about filing their taxes under the new regime, not even qualified chartered accountants with years of experience in handling tax-related matters. And because the of this confusion, the government's tax revenue for October fell to as low as Rs 86,346 crore.

The impact of GST on small and medium sized businesses and exporters  finally convinced the government that a rationalisation of rates was in order. In October, the GST Council revised the rates on 27 products and set up a group of ministers to look into issues faced by these businesses.

When even this did not seem to pacify the growing discontent among the public with respect to the new regime, the Council slashed rates on as many as 178 products the following month, significantly bringing down the tax burden on various sectors. Restaurants became cheaper to go to and so did hotels, while daily consumption items like chewing gum, chocolates and beauty products became significantly cheaper.

 

In addition to this, the government also extended the deadlines for filing tax returns so that taxpayers are able to file their returns on time and without any confusion. Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia also held the 'GST masterclass' series to clear some of the doubts people had about GST. Finance minister Arun Jaitley also hinted that the two slabs of 18 percent and 12 percent will be merged into one and the number of products under the 28 percent bracket will be brought down.

Experts have predicted that these problems are short-lived and said that implementation issues in GST were inevitable. They maintained that the new reforms will bear fruit in the future and that rolling it out was in the interest of the development of our country.
first published: Dec 31, 2017 11:23 am

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