GST Panel : Report of Select Committee of Rajya Sabha

On 22-7-2015, the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha presented its report on GST. The major recommendations are listed below. The entire report may be downloaded from the link at the end of this post.

Recommendations/Observations at a Glance

  1. Clause 9 – The Committee feels that since imposition of GST on the supplies of goods and services in the course of inter-State trade would not lead to cascading of taxes, the Clause may be adopted with no change.
  1. Clause 12 – After having deliberated on the issue of finances of local bodies, the Committee strongly feels that the revenues of local bodies need to be sustained and protected for ensuring that standards of local governance are maintained. The Committee, thus, strongly recommends that the State Governments take adequate measures to ensure that adequate revenues flow to the local bodies, and their resources are not adversely affected. The Committee noted that Article 243H and 243X contain provisions for State Legislatures to authorize Panchayats and Municipalities to collect and appropriate taxes in the State list. The Committee further noted that Article 243I and 243Y provide for setting up of State Finance Commissions to make recommendations regarding devolution of funds to local bodies. The Committee noted that the above provisions notwithstanding, local bodies find managing their resource requirements quite challenging. In light of above, with respect to Article 279A 4(e), the Committee strongly recommends that the word ‘band’ used in the proposed Article may be defined in GST laws. The Committee recommends the following definition of ‘band’:

“Band” : Range of GST rates over the floor rate within which Central Goods and Service Tax (CGST) or State Goods and Services Tax (SGST) may be levied on any specified goods or services or any specified class of goods or services by the Central or a particular State Government as the case may be.

With respect to Article 279A(5), taking note of the provision that inclusion of petroleum products into GST can take place only on recommendation of GST Council which could happen only with the consent of both the Centre and the States, the Committee recommended that the clause be adopted with no change. The Committee is aware that while discharging the functions conferred by this article, the Goods and Services Tax Council shall be guided by the need for a harmonised structure of goods and services tax and for the development of a harmonised national market for goods and services. In view of the clarifications submitted by the Department of Revenue and Legislative Department, the Committee finds no merit in disturbing the voting pattern proposed in the Bill, as the same has been worked out on a formula where no one is at an disadvantageous or dominating position be it Centre or States. Moreover, under clause 2 Parliament and the Legislature of every State shall have power to make laws with respect to GST simultaneously.

In the GST Council, all the decisions have to be taken collectively by the Centre and States and in order to take decision on any issue 75% votes are necessary. So, in order to strike a fine balance Centre vote share has been kept at 1/3rd and that of the States at 2/3rd. In that backdrop, the Committee recommends  that these amendments may not be necessary since our Constitution is a federal Constitution and so, it is necessary to make the provisions providing for a manner that disallow the dominance of one over the other. Keeping this in view, the voting formula has been worked out. Hence, the clause may be adopted with no change. The Committee, having noted the point mentioned by the Department of Revenue that the GST Council shall decide only the ‘modalities’ to resolve disputes, did not agree  to recommend inclusion of Article 279B as was proposed in Constitution(115th Amendment) Bill, 2011.

  1. Clause 13 – The term ‘supply’ would be defined in the various GST laws relating to CGST and SGST. Hence, the Committee feels that it would not be appropriate to insert the definition of supply in this clause. This clause has been adopted with no change.
  1. Clause 14 – Endorsing the view of the Department, the Committee feels that ‘services’ has been so defined in order to give it wide amplitude so that all supplies that are not goods can potentially be covered within the ambit of services and no activity remains outside the taxable net. This would also minimize disputes. Further, having noted the points mentioned by the Department of Revenue regarding inclusion of petroleum products under GST, the clause may be adopted with no change.
  1. Clause 15 & Clause 16 -These clauses have been adopted with no change.
  2. Clause 17- 2.108 Regarding the aforesaid Entry, the Committee is of the view that Entry 92C was inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-Eighth Amendment) Act, 2003 to empower the Union to impose service tax on certain services read with article 268A of the Constitution.

Notwithstanding, the service tax levied under the Finance Act, 1994 were continuing as such. The amendment was carried out in the Constitution but the provision was never brought into force. Since Parliament has enacted the said constitutional provision and as such the provision stands as the part of Constitution; and therefore, unless it is omitted by a Constitution Amendment Act by Parliament, it will continue to sit in the Constitution. On the need for formal repeal, the Law Commission, in its One Hundred and Forty-eighth Report on “Repeal of Certain Pre-1947 Central Acts”, has observed that “the statues, unlike human beings, do not die a natural death, with the possible exception of statute whose life is pre-determined by the Legislature at the time of their enactment. A statute, unless it is expressly enacted for a temporary period, survives until it is killed by repeal. To this extent, statutes enjoy immortality.” Therefore, it is necessary to omit the said provision to ward of any future doubts about GST.

The Committee is of the view that the entry in the list II- State List empowers the State Government to make laws in respect of the subjects mentioned therein. The Committee is also of the considered view that taxes on electricity and water have been treated separately from taxes on other goods and services in the Constitution. Entry 53 of the List II (State List) deals with taxes on sale or consumption of electricity, and this entry is not being touched by the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014. The Committee also noted the rationale for the provisions relating to alcohol for human consumption and tobacco as provided by the Department of Revenue. Hence, the clause may be adopted with no change.

  1. Clause 18- 2.139 The Committee feels that the provision of 1% additional tax in its present form is likely to lead to cascading of taxes. Therefore, the Committee strongly recommends that in the concerned GST law, an explanation should be given that for the purpose of Clause 18, the word ‘supply’ would mean:

Supply: “All forms of supply made for a consideration”.

  1. Clause 19 – 2.158 In view of the clarifications given by the Legislative Department, the Committee feels that there is no justification for substitution of the word ‘may’ with ‘shall’. Having regard to the concerns expressed by the various States and some of the Members of the Committee in their submissions made before the Select Committee, the Committee recommends amendment in clause 19. The  amended clause 19 should read as follows:

“19. Parliament may, by law, on the recommendation of the Goods and Services Tax Council, provide for compensation to the States for the loss of revenue arising on account of implementation of the Goods and Services Tax for a period of five years.”

  1. Clause 20 & Clause 21 : This clause has been adopted with no change.
  2. The Committee feels that the concerns expressed by all the Members of the Committee related to local bodies and Municipalities are not unwarranted. Based on the years of experience and being witnessed to their work in their respective constituencies they were of the view that their interest needs to be protected. The same view was also endorsed by nearly all the stakeholders who have either submitted their memorandum or appeared before the Committee on the Bill. But, at the same time we may not forget that the Constitution of India clearly defines the ambit under which the Centre and each of the State has to function. Any encroachment into the State List would disturb the whole system and could strain the Centre-State relations.

The Committee feels that although the issues raised by the Members to protect and preserve the interest of local bodies are valid, it would not be appropriate for the Committee to advise, recommend and guide the State Governments what they have to do with regard to the interests of the local bodies. As per the provisions of the Bill, while the Parliament would pass law relating to CGST, every State Government has to pass a similar law relating to SGST. Hence, while drafting the SGST, the role of the drafters and the concerned State Governments becomes all the more important as they have a duty to protect the revenue sources of the Panchayats, Municipalities, etc, enshrined under Constitution of India. The Committee also feels that here the role of the GST Council is also very important, because while recommending to the Centre and State Governments for subsuming of the taxes, cesses and surcharges levied by the Union, the States and the local bodies in the goods and services tax under article 279 (4) (a), it may also ensure protection of revenue sources of local bodies under provisions of article 279 (4) (c) and (h).

In the light of the above, the Committee feels that in a cooperative federalism, each unit of it interacts cooperatively and collectively resolves their problems by taking appropriate action at their end. On the same analogy, Government at the helm of the affairs is duty bound both morally and constitutionally to protect the interest of local bodies by giving them suitable space of functioning and power to levy and generate taxes for their day today functioning. Having full faith in our Constitution from where each tier of the Government draws its powers, the Committee believes that all the State Governments would enact laws on the basis of Model GST Laws recommended by the GST Council and while making such laws States would abide by the constitutional provisions relating to Panchayats and Municipalities.

Concerned about the very existence and survival of local bodies, the Committee feels that Local government is a State subject figuring as item 5 in List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. Article 243 G of the Indian Constitution enshrines the basic principle for devolution of power to the local bodies. In the nation’s journey towards becoming an economic power, local bodies play an important part in enabling infrastructure availability to the citizens. Local bodies are institutions of the local self governance, which look after the administration of an area or small community such as villages, towns, or cities. The local bodies in India are broadly classified into two categories. The local bodies constituted for local planning, development and administration in the rural areas are referred as Rural Local Bodies (Panchayats) and the local bodies, which are constituted for local planning, development and administration in the urban areas are referred as Urban Local Bodies (Municipalities) and the Constitution of India gives protection to them through various articles, so while drafting the SGST laws due consideration should also be given to this fact. In that backdrop, the Committee strongly recommends that while drafting the SGST laws due consideration to the third tier of the Government as has been guaranteed by the Constitution be given and provisions of devolution of taxes to the local bodies be made.

The Committee is perturbed to know that State Finance Commissions (SFC) in some of the States are either non-existent or even when exist their recommendations were not accepted by the respective State Governments. The Committee understands that each tier of the Government draws it powers through the Constitution and there is a clear demarcation of fields through List I, II and III within which each tier has to function. Any encroachment by any of them would paralyze the whole system and defeat the very foundation of our Constitution.

Hence, the Committee while not venturing into the domain of the State List desires that for the betterment of our States in general and country in particular it would be prudent to abide by the recommendations of the SFCs.

  1. Endorsing the view envisaged by Fourteen Finance Commission, the Committee feels it would be wise to keep the GST Compensation Fund out of the purview of the Bill as has been done in the present case, because it is a temporary component and that too only for five years.
  1. The Committee feels that each and every State is being represented in the GST Council by their Revenue/Finance/Taxation Minister. Be it a small State or a big State, in the GST Council, all of them enjoy equal status and power to cast one vote. In the event of difference, it can very well be presumed that the GST Council will try to evolve consensus on contentious issues before going for casting of votes, as all the States are members of the Council. Thus, modality to resolve any differences internally lies with the Council. If any Dispute Settlement Authority is created separately it will certainly hamper the functioning of the GST Council in general and Legislatures (Parliament and States) in particular. Thus, it would be judicious not to have a separate and distinct authority having far reaching powers and which could preempt and supersede the powers of Parliament and State Legislatures in the long run.

The Committee also feels that when concept of Empowered Committee (EC) was coined for the first time, it may not have been presumed how it would function, whether it would serve the purpose for which it would be created, how States would be represented/heard, how issues would be taken up and resolved, etc. But experience has shown that the faith with which the concept of EC was coined has actually delivered. Empowered Committee headed by one among the State Finance/ Revenue Ministers of all States deliberate meticulously on each of the issues raised by its Members and with the passage of time it had taken the shape of arbitration centre where disputes related to them or between two or many States are raised, deliberated and settled amicably without any arbitration charges or fees borne by the disputant States. It would not be over exaggeration of facts if the Committee would say that on the one hand EC had worked as a forum where any issue of State importance could be raised and on the other hand it had gained the confidence of States in solving their problems and allaying their fears. Such confidence building measure had been initiated by the EC that it could well be termed as a forum where disputes are settled broadly with consensus.

  1. The Committee feels that it would be too early to presume as to whether the price levels will go down or up in the post GST era. What has to be seen and watched by the Government with eyes open is whether the benefit, if any, arises would certainly be passed on to the consumers or not. Hence, the Committee feels that at the most if price stability is achieved it would serve the very purpose of GST in the entire country as inflation, nowadays has not left even a single field untouched.
  1. The Committee feels GSTN shall play a crucial role in implementation of GST as it shall provide the IT infrastructure for implementation of GST. It noted that Non Government shareholding of GSTN is dominated by private banks. This is not desirable because of two reasons . Firstly, public sector banks have more than 70% share in total credit lending in the country. Secondly, GSTN’s work is of strategic importance to the country and the firm would be a repository of a lot of sensitive data on business entities across the country. In light of above, the Committee strongly recommends that Government may take immediate steps to ensure Non Government financial institution shareholding be limited to public sector banks or public sector financial institutions.

Endorsing the views of the SBI, the Committee having same feeling as the bank recommends that the best practices followed internationally may be followed and if possible banking services may be kept outside GST. Furthermore, if this is not possible then, interest, trading in securities and foreign currency and services to retail customers should not be liable to GST and suitable provision should be there to avail of CenVAT credit of input services taken to provide activities involved in such services. Further, single registration coupled with IGST provision should be made available to enable CenVAT credit for consumers of banking services. The Committee is of the considered opinion that if the GST rate is more than the service tax rate of 14%, the increase in the tax rate will further increase the cost of banking services. This results into cost of doing business to be much higher in India as compared to other competing countries. Therefore, the Committee recommends that to be internationally competitive, the GST rate for banking industry should be minimum.

  1. The Committee feels that although the GST Council has been entrusted with the task of fixing the rate including floor rates with bands in mutual consent with other State Governments who are part and parcel of the Council. But implementation of GST in other countries has shown GST rate is a very important factor in earning the trust of the consumers. If the GST rate is kept high, it will surely erode the confidence of the consumers badly and may lead to high inflation. Therefore, the Committee is of the considered view that while fixing the rate, the GST Council may opt for a broad base and moderate rate as it is an essential feature of a good tax system and as far as possible multiplicity of tax rates may be avoided.

Non-Interference in the State Governments powers stated in Concurrent List

  1. In that backdrop, the Committee recommends that all out effort should be made to improve upon the IT preparedness of the States, so that the apprehensions related to its level of preparedness may gets addressed. For its smooth implementation, the Committee immediately recommends implementation of comprehensive training programmes at all levels to allay the fears of consumers, stakeholders, organisations, etc. A message should go loud and clear to all that we as a country are ready to adopt tax reform of unparallel nature. The Committee also recommends that for having no discernible blemishes in the implementation of GST, it is imperative that not only IT preparedness is at very high level but also prerequisites like IT infrastructure, unified tax credit clearing mechanism, etc may be put in place for its implementation.
  1. Having heard the views of the main stakeholders i.e. State Governments/UTs, the Committee feels that States are like the arteries of the India and if the arteries find themselves choked the whole body will fall. Hence, for the sake of our survival, what needs to be done is to protect and preserve our arteries. Based on that analogy, the Committee feels that although the apprehensions brought to the notice of the Committee are not unwarranted but due care have been taken constitutionally to overcome any constraints come in their way. All these initiatives ushered by the Government of India having been evolved and brought in the form of current Bill are based on the views expressed in the Empowered Committee meetings. To allay the fear of all State Governments in general and manufacturing  states in particular, safeguards like 1% additional tax on supply of goods, compensation to States/UTs for losses in the revenue, States have been given the voting weightage of 2/3rd , decision in GST Council to be arrived at by the majority of not less than 3/4th , etc on the recommendation of the GST Council have been provided. More so, all this has been done constitutionally so that there may not be any doubt in the minds of the States/UTs.

Therefore, the Committee feels due consideration has been given by the Government of India to the aforesaid apprehensions raised by the States/UTs while coming forward with this comprehensive Constitutional Amendment Bill. The Committee feels that apprehensions cast over the introduction of goods and services taxes are early hiccups and with the introduction of it, the States/UTs would realise that they have many more options available to them to generate and augment their revenue source. Survival of the Union is on the States, the Committee close by saying that would the body (Centre) survive if arteries get choked, so vibrancy of the States comes first for the survival of the Centre.

GST – Report of Select Committee of Rajya Sabha [DOWNLOAD HERE]

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