Wednesday May 22, 2019
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GST Bill: Time for Congress to question its means and ends

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By Gaurav Sharma

Photo credit: youtube.com
Photo credit: youtube.com

The current ruckus created in the Parliament over the introduction of the Goods and Service Tax Bill(GST), has resulted in a stalemate between the NDA government and opposition parties threatening a whitewash monsoon session this year.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley blamed the impasse on the “obstinacy of two Congress leaders”, alluding to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Jaitley alleged that the Congress’ demands for resignations of Sushma Swaraj, and two other ministers, was a pretext for stalling the GST bill. However, the Congress refused to backtrack from its stance and continued to shout its motto, “no resignation, no House”.

Meanwhile, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and other MP’s from the Samajwadi Party(SP) attacked Jaitley for his inability to push through the bill.

Why has the bill created such a mindless, bitter standoff so as to stall the functioning of Parliament, brazenly splurging precious taxpayer money in a sea of inactivity? Is it mere coincidence that the passage of the bill in the Upper House gratuitously timed itself with serious charges being leveled against top politicos?

This requires an understanding of the Goods & Services Tax.

GST is a tax initiative which aims to bring all indirect taxes under a single tax structure, whereby all goods and services are charged under a national sales tax. It is the backbone of the indirect tax reforms that the Indian government has been aiming to bring forth since 2010, when the then finance minister P Chidambaram proposed it in his budget speech.

GST is part of a constitutional amendment bill for which means it has to be passed by both the Houses of the Parliament.

Under the proposed harmonised taxation system, only the Central government would be able to levy an integrated GST on the interstate transfer of goods and services and imports. Rates of tax, supply principles, special state provisions and levy period for additional tax would be determined (recommended) by a GST Council.

How will it help the economy?

Although the provisions of the bill are not strictly conforming to an ideal GST regime, the tax would bring a sea change in the way business is conducted in the country and the way economy revolves.

It will iron out the kinks in the current indirect tax structure, broaden the tax base (thereby filling the government coffers), increase compliance and prevent the gory practice of double taxation.

Economic distortions which further make life difficult for businesses running at a pan-India level, will be wiped clean, providing much-needed ease-of-doing-business for corporates. Manufacturing activity would start rising and tax compliance would become simpler.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley boisterously described the GST as the biggest tax reform in India and went to say that it would add a substantial 2 per cent to the growth rate of the country.

Issues pertaining GST

The GST has its fair share of  contentious issues. First of all, the provisions of the bill declare an additional tax of 1 per cent (for 2 years) on inter-state trade or commerce by the Centre, thereby precluding the visualized aim of taxing value addition and not trade.

Furthermore, the exclusion of alcohol and petroleum from the ambit of the GST Bill puts question marks on the resolve of the government to ushering forth a strong taxation regime.

Some states have voiced concerns over potential revenue losses in light of the change in tax infrastructure. Still, in the long run, one can expect prices to fall and delivery of goods and services to become more efficient, bringing much cheer to the inflation saddled shoulders of the consumer.

Indian products, both in domestic and international, can be expected to become more competitive due to the fall in price. A surge in exports would cut India’s current account deficit (CAD) significantly, which can have a cascading effect on the strength of the rupee.

It would not be too far-fetched to imagine a vast improvement in India’s standing in the global markets, if the GST is implemented swiftly, without any red-tapism.

Present Status

GST has not only caused a scuffle between politicians but has agitated the corporate groups. Most of the corporate honchos blame the Opposition for delaying the implementation of GST.

More than 61 per cent of the respondents of an ET poll felt that the delay would be a setback, a pushback to the economic recovery. Majority felt a complete economic recovery would be difficult to accomplish by April 2016, the deadline set for the passage of the bill.

If the opposition comprising of 68 Congress, 10 Left, 11 AIADMK MPs continue to battle tooth and nail against the bill, their credibility as pro-reform political parties will be questioned.

While the Rajya Sabha requires the sanction of at least two-thirds majority to pass the bill, the prospective opposition alliance would fail the bill by seven votes in the house of 245 members.

Considering the fact that barely 2 days remain for the end of the monsoon session, it is highly unlikely that the government would be able to introduce the bill. The opposition in its political zealousness has resorted to a desperate measure of log jamming the Parliament.

Protesting against a pro-market, pro-economy legislation, shows the degraded levels to which our politicians have stooped to, without giving a hoot to the slick democratic machinery of the country.

Our politicians swear by the Constitution, it is time they start abiding by it.

Next Story

Is NYAY Going To Be A Game Changer for Congress?

The concerns about funds being used for harmful purposes cannot be ruled out. It is due to these challenges many policymakers suggest that instead of making welfare payments to poor households in the form of unrestricted cash transfers the government should focus on in-kind transfers.

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Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress state units given more power for 2019 battle- wikimedia commons

By Amit Kapoor & Manisha Kapoor 

The idea of launching Nyuntam Aay Yojana, a cash transfer scheme that intends to provide Rs 72,000 per year to the poorest 20 per cent Indian families, by the Congress Party if it comes to power, has stirred a debate among the policymakers about whether the move is economically viable or is just a tactic by the Congress Party to garner votes in the upcoming general elections.

The discussions are foreseeable, provided that this intervention to ensure basic income to the poor households will cost the country somewhere between 1.5 per cent to 3.4 per cent of GDP, a number higher than the government’s expenditure on healthcare and education. The implementation of NYAY means an additional cost between Rs 3.6 lakh crore to Rs 7.2 lakh crore per year.

To put things in perspective, the expenditure of the proposed scheme is 2.2 times the budget of all centrally sponsored schemes. The party claims that they have worked out all the fiscal calculations before launching the scheme. However, this will be a major dent in India’s budget expenditure and will explode the fiscal deficit from the current 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

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An impact evaluation study by UNICEF in Sub-Saharan Africa showed that with the exception of temporary price rise during payment period, cash transfers has no impact on the prices. Pixabay

Apart from fiscal prudence, the other immediate concern surrounding the scheme is the identification of beneficiaries and the database that will be used for this. There is no official income database available with the government at the individual level and since most of the poor work in unorganised rural areas, there is no direct way of verifying their incomes such as through a payroll or income tax.

The proponents of the approach state that a good starting point could be Socio Economic Caste Census of 2011 if one goes by multi-dimensional aspect of poverty. However, one can’t ignore the fact that even if the scheme defines poverty by assets and not income for quick exclusion rules, the data is outdated. A scheme targeted at reducing poverty can’t use data that is seven-eight years old. Even if one ignores that, it should be noted that there are major methodological issues with how data was collected. This is reflected in the discrepancies that exist in the data collected through SECC and other governmental data. A fresh survey for the identification process will lead to possibilities of corruption as in other targeted schemes. For instance, various studies have shown that many people who are not below poverty line have BPL cards.

One should also keep in mind that there exist significant disparities across Indian states and districts in terms of income levels and affordability of basic needs such as education, healthcare etc. Therefore, the same amount that means a lot to a person living in a low-income state or a state that has good access to public facilities such as public hospitals, schools etc would not be enough for a person trying to make a living in a high-income region. As a result, a prerequisite for such a scheme is a detailed regional level survey on income characteristics of Indian states and districts.

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To put things in perspective, the expenditure of the proposed scheme is 2.2 times the budget of all centrally sponsored schemes. The party claims that they have worked out all the fiscal calculations before launching the scheme. Pixabay

Another major concern surrounding the scheme is its inflationary implications. It is argued that the act of transferring cash to the target population will boost their purchasing power, which would lead to an increase in demand for goods and services and, thus, push prices upwards. Advocates of the approach have tried to argue that studies around the world present a lot of evidence to the contrary.

An impact evaluation study by UNICEF in Sub-Saharan Africa showed that with the exception of temporary price rise during payment period, cash transfers has no impact on the prices. However, these evidences should be considered with a pinch of salt. They rest on the assumption that the money will be spent on useful goods, that will help the local economy in becoming more productive. Though this will not be the case always.

Also Read: Food Unites People Across The Globe

The concerns about funds being used for harmful purposes cannot be ruled out. It is due to these challenges many policymakers suggest that instead of making welfare payments to poor households in the form of unrestricted cash transfers the government should focus on in-kind transfers. This idea is supported by claim that in-kind transfers will help by encouraging the consumption of right things, such as healthy food.

Given India’s concerns about rising unemployment rates, jobless growth and the fact that we need to have effective utilization of our young population to gain a competitive edge over other economies, the promoters are trying to project that NYAY can prove to be a game changer. However, for the Indian economy, a better alternative would be to strengthen the existing public services landscape by removing social, political and personal barriers, along with carrying out structural reforms that leads to creation of more productive jobs. (IANS)