Business Standard

Start with a new mindset, withdraw weak cases

Making GST work for government

Sukumar Mukhopadhyay 

Whenever the GST comes, certain preparations are needed for introducing it. Also, along with the Budget, other taxes need to be reformed and procedures spruced up to accommodate such changes. Regarding the GST, as the rate will be revenue neutral, as far as possible, at the current level of tax, what needs to be done is simplifying the substantive procedures to make it workable. The most important among them is the Cenvat rules. At present, this suffers from concepts of differentiating between raw materials, capital goods, etc. This has to be changed and one rule for all must be made. All goods are both raw materials and capital goods conceptually. Further, the input credit should be made absolutely smooth without conditions. So, conditional exemptions must be withdrawn.

Another important reform is to do away with the present law in excise and service tax that allows refund only if it is proved that the incidence of higher tax has not been passed on to the consumers. This law of barring unjust enrichment, if retained, will ruin the smooth flow of input credit essential for an all-India market that the GST is trying to bring about.

Customs will not be included in GST but it will be necessary to reform Customs tariff at the same time to improve the tax structure. The Customs tariff is now highly complicated with nearly 19 rates of duty and some specific rates . Then there are hundreds of exemptions with nearly 50 lists covering another nearly 2,000 items and more than 100 conditions that apply, though not all at a time. Tariff also requires certificates from any or more of 30 departments. I suggest that for improving the tariff we should have the system of "one chapter one rate" in as many chapters as possible. It may not be possible in chapters like 22, 27, 84, 85 , 87 and 90, which have variegated items but it's possible in other chapters. Even in these chapters many exemptions can be withdrawn. The 19 rates can be reduced to 100, 50, 30, 10, 7.5 and nil. If one single decision is taken that no exemption will be given for allowing the benefit of just five per cent or 2.5 per cent, a huge number of exemptions will go. If self-declaration is accepted in place of certificates from other department, many exemptions will be removed. In Customs also, the law of unjust enrichment should be abolished as it will not be there in the GST.

In the procedural and administrative field, there is a vast scope for improvement which is necessary to achieve a common market and a smooth tax system. That is in the field of litigation. The biggest problem for some years has been that the officers have been passing orders merely to earn more revenue without any concern for the merit of the cases. So the pending litigations have become so huge in number at all stages like tribunal, high court and Supreme Court that issues are pending for too long and even where the decisions are given, further appeals are filed in higher courts. So refunds have become practically impossible. Earlier, one could pay higher duty and clear goods in case of urgency. Now it is such that once the duty is paid, even if the appeal is allowed, the department goes to high court and Supreme Court.

The Central Board of Excise and Customs should start with a new mindset and get on with withdrawing cases from the appellate authority by reviewing the cases where the Revenue has no proper ground for fighting. For that two things are necessary. First the issues that are pending should be grouped and the board should issue a circular. If the circular says higher duty is not chargeable, then the cases should be withdrawn. Second, the departmental representatives should be given power to concede the points raised by the tax payers. A tax payer-friendly atmosphere must be created to make "make in India" possible.

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First Published: Sun, January 03 2016. 22:32 IST