GST the biggest tax reform in India founded on the notion of “one nation, one market, one tax” is finally here. The moment that the Indian government was waiting for a decade has finally arrived. The single biggest indirect tax regime has kicked into force, dismantling all the inter-state barriers with respect to trade. The GST rollout, with a single stroke, has converted India into a unified market of 1.3 billion citizens. Fundamentally, the $2.4-trillion economy is attempting to transform itself by doing away with the internal tariff barriers and subsuming central, state and local taxes into a unified GST.
The rollout has renewed the hope of India’s fiscal reform program regaining momentum and widening the economy. Then again, there are fears of disruption, embedded in what’s perceived as a rushed transition which may not assist the interests of the country.
Will the hopes triumph over uncertainty would be determined by how our government works towards making GST a “good and simple tax”. The idea behind implementing GST across the country in 29 states and 7 Union Territories is that it would offer a win-win situation for everyone. Manufacturers and traders would benefit from fewer tax filings, transparent rules, and easy bookkeeping; consumers would be paying less for the goods and services, and the government would generate more revenues as revenue leaks would be plugged. Ground realities, as we all know, vary. So, how has GST really impacted India? Let’s take a look.
GST: The Short-Term Impact
From the viewpoint of the consumer, they would now have pay more tax for most of the goods and services they consume. The majority of everyday consumables now draw the same or a slightly higher rate of tax. Furthermore, the GST implementation has a cost of compliance attached to it. It seems that this cost of compliance will be prohibitive and high for the small scale manufacturers and traders, who have also protested against the same. They may end up pricing their goods at higher rates.
What the Future Looks Like
Talking about the long-term benefits, it is expected that GST would not just mean a lower rate of taxes, but also minimum tax slabs. Countries where the Goods and Service Tax has helped in reforming the economy, apply only 2 or 3 rates – one being the mean rate, a lower rate for essential commodities, and a higher tax rate for the luxurious commodities. Currently, in India, we have 5 slabs, with as many as 3 rates – an integrated rate, a central rate, and a state rate. In addition to these, cess is also levied. The fear of losing out on revenue has kept the government from gambling on fewer or lower rates. This is very unlikely to see a shift anytime soon; though the government has said that rates may be revisited once the RNR (revenue neutral rate) is reached.
The impact of GST on macroeconomic indicators is likely to be very positive in the medium-term. Inflation would be reduced as the cascading (tax on tax) effect of taxes would be eliminated. The revenue from the taxes for the government is very likely to increase with an extended tax net, and the fiscal deficit is expected to remain under the checks. Moreover, exports would grow, while FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) would also increase. The industry leaders believe that the country would climb several ladders in the ease of doing business with the implementation of the most important tax reform ever in the history of the country.
On priority, it is up to the government to address the capacity building amongst the lesser-endowed participants, such as the small-scale manufacturers and traders. Ways have to be found for lowering the overall compliance cost, and necessary changes may have to be made for the good of the masses. GST will become good and simple, only when the entire country works as a whole towards making it successful.