The new regime may have just three major tax rates covering most of the items against four now – 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. The recast will seek to simplify the regime as well as lift revenue.
A group of ministers (GoM) headed by the Karnataka chief minister is likely to meet soon to finalise its recommendations that could be taken up at the next GST Council meeting.
“At the last GST Council meeting a presentation was given on various revenue scenarios… It is for states now to see how they wish to tackle the situation post July,” said a senior government official detailing the major items on the agenda.
The Centre compensates states for loss of revenue on account of the implementation of GST for five years–that ends next year. States have been worried about a significant drop in their revenues once this compensation ends.
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had recently indicated that the effective tax rate under GST had slipped from the original revenue neutral rate of 15.5% to 11.6% “knowingly or unknowingly” due to multiple rate cuts since GST rollout in July 2017.
Policymakers Back Review of Slabs
Policymakers in states and the Centre have backed a review of the slabs to address the revenue issue.
Options on the table include pruning the list of items, both goods and services, currently exempt from the tax. One option is to merge the 5% and 12% levies to create one rate, and creating a three-slab regime of the merged rate, 18% and 28%.
“Discussions have been centred around how this rationalisation needs to be achieved,” an official said, adding that all options including reworking the slabs are being examined.
With GST revenue collections rising in recent months, it is felt that a revamp can be considered.
The GoM will meet on Saturday to discuss details with its final recommendations to be taken up by the GST Council.
Apart from the four key slabs, 0.25% and 3% applies to jewellery and precious metals, respectively, besides a top-up compensation cess levied on select items such as automobiles. Many common use items have been exempted from GST, making it a complicated regime prone to classification disputes and leakages. GST is not levied on nearly 150 goods and over 80 services.
The 15th Finance Commission, headed by NK Singh, in its report had also made a case for GST structure rationalisation.
Tax experts say that with GST collections showing an encouraging trend in the past several months, this may be the right time to simplify the rate structure.
“There is a need for rate rationalisation in GST and the multiple exemptions need to go and rates need to converge to a two or three-rate structure,” said EY partner Bipin Sapra.
By pruning the exemption list, the GST base can be widened, which will not only increase revenue but also keep the overall rates at a reasonable level, Sapra said.
Rather than focusing on increasing the effective tax rate, the emphasis should be on further expanding the tax base by keeping levies moderate, said Pratik Jain of PwC. “Further, from a tax policy perspective, it’s important to remove barriers like restrictions on claiming input credits and applying GST based on price points, size of packing, capacity and so on,” he said.