Background

The Kelkar Task Force on implementation of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, 2003 had pointed out that although the indirect tax policy in India has been steadily progressing in the direction of VAT principle since 1986, the existing system of taxation of goods and services still suffers from many problems. The tax base is fragmented between the Centre and the States. Services, which make up half of the GDP, are not taxed appropriately. In many situations, the existing tax structure has cascading effects. These problems lead to low tax-GDP ratio, besides causing various distortions in the economy. In this context, the Kelkar Task Force had suggested a comprehensive Goods and Services Tax (GST) based on VAT principle.

Value-added tax (VAT) is a modern and progressive system of sales tax. It brings in the system of self-assessment giving rise to transparency and mutual trust. It is charged and collected by dealers on the price paid by the customer. The empowered committee released a White Paper on VAT on 17th January 2005. This was the uniform basis the States agreed to adopt to avoid competition between States. VAT replaced sales tax on 4th January 2005. The Empowered Committee, constituted by Government of India, provided the basic framework for uniform VAT laws in the states but the States have a liberty to set their own valuations for the VAT levied in their own territory.

The effort to introduce the new tax regime was reflected, for the first time, in 2006-2007 Union Budget Speech. The then Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram remarked that there is a large consensus that the country must move towards a national level GST that must be shared between the center and the states. He proposed 1st April 2010 as the date for introducing GST. The present rates for service tax and CENVAT, that is most proximate to the global GST rate, and the continuous steps towards phasing out of Central Sales Tax (CST), clearly hints at the endeavor on the part of Government of India. Subsequently the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers agreed to work with the Central Government to prepare a roadmap for introducing a national level GST with effect from 1st April 2010. In May 2007 Empowered Committee (EC) of State Finance Ministers in consultation with the Central Government, constituted a Joint Working Group (JWG), to recommend the GST model. The mandate of the Working Group was as follows:

  • GST should be so designed that it should be revenue neutral to the Centre and the States.
    Interests of the Special Category, North-Eastern States and Union Territories are to be especially kept in mind.
  • Interests of the Special Category, North-Eastern States and Union Territories are to be especially kept in mind.
  • The Group will examine different models and ensure that the power of levy, collection and appropriation of revenue must be vested with the Centre and the States by examining the pros and cons.
  • The various models would have to ensure that double taxation is avoided.
  • The suggested models should take into account the problems faced during Inter-State transactions and possible revenue loss.
  • Focus on treatment of zero-rated goods and services and Non-VAT items.
  • The interests of the Centre, States, Trade, Industry, Agriculture and Services to be adequately represented.

Within 7 months of its constitution that is in November 2007, JWG presented its report on the GST to the Empowered Committee. The Committee has accepted the report on GST submitted by the Joint Working Group. The Committee has sent its recommendations to the Government of India in the form of ‘A Model and Roadmap for Goods and Services Tax in India’ dated April 30, 2008, which includes outline of the GST design proposed. The views of Empowered Committee are being examined in the Ministry of Finance for a suitable response to the Committee so that further working out details is facilitated.

The First Discussion Paper on Goods and Services Tax in India by the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers was released on November 10, 2009.

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