Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an indirect tax (or consumption tax) levied in India on the supply of goods and services. GST is levied at every step in the production process, but is meant to be refunded to all parties in the various stages of production other than the final consumer.
Goods and services are divided into five tax slabs for collection of tax – 0%, 3%, 5%, 12%,18% and 28%. However, Petroleum products, alcoholic drinks, electricity, are not taxed under GST and instead are taxed separately by the individual state governments, as per the previous tax regime. There is a special rate of 0.25% on rough precious and semi-precious stones and 3% on gold.In addition a cess of 22% or other rates on top of 28% GST applies on few items like aerated drinks, luxury cars and tobacco products. Pre-GST, the statutory tax rate for most goods was about 26.5%, Post-GST, most goods are expected to be in the 18% tax range.
The tax came into effect from July 1, 2017 through the implementation of One Hundred and First Amendment of the Constitution of India by the Indian government. The tax replaced existing multiple cascading taxes levied by the central and state governments.
The tax rates, rules and regulations are governed by the GST Council which consists of the finance ministers of centre and all the states. GST is meant to replace a slew of indirect taxes with a unified tax and is therefore expected to reshape the country’s 2.4 trillion dollar economy, but not without criticism. Trucks’ travel time in interstate movement dropped by 20%, because of no interstate check posts.
The reform of India’s indirect tax regime was started in 1985 by Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Finance Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, with the introduction of the Modified Value Added Tax (MODVAT). Subsequently, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, initiated early discussions on a Value Added Tax (VAT) at the state level. A single common “Goods and Services Tax (GST)” was proposed and given a go-ahead in 1999 during a meeting between the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his economic advisory panel, which included three former RBI governors IG Patel, Bimal Jalan and C Rangarajan. Vajpayee set up a committee headed by the Finance Minister of West Bengal, Asim Dasgupta to design a GST model.
The Ravi Dasgupta committee which was also tasked with putting in place the back-end technology and logistics (later came to be known as the GST Network, or GSTN, in 2017). it later came out for rolling out a uniform taxation regime in the country. In 2002, the Vajpayee government formed a task force under Vijay Kelkar to recommend tax reforms. In 2005, the Kelkar committee recommended rolling out GST as suggested by the 12th Finance Commission.
After the defeat of the BJP-led NDA government in the 2004 Lok Sabha election and the election of a Congress-led UPA government, the new Finance Minister P Chidambaram in February 2006 continued work on the same and proposed a GST rollout by 1 April 2010. However, in 2011, with the Trinamool Congress routing CPI(M) out of power in West Bengal, Asim Dasgupta resigned as the head of the GST committee. Dasgupta admitted in an interview that 80% of the task had been done.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government was elected into power. With the consequential dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, the GST Bill – approved by the standing committee for reintroduction – lapsed. Seven months after the formation of the Modi government, the new Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced the GST Bill in the Lok Sabha, where the BJP had a majority. In February 2015, Jaitley set another deadline of 1 April 2017 to implement GST. In May 2016, the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution Amendment Bill, paving way for GST. However, the Opposition, led by the Congress, demanded that the GST Bill be again sent back for review to the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha due to disagreements on several statements in the Bill relating to taxation. Finally in August 2016, the Amendment Bill was passed. Over the next 15 to 20 days, 18 states ratified the Constitution amendment Bill and the President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to it.
A 21-member selected committee was formed to look into the proposed GST laws. After GST Council approved the Central Goods and Services Tax Bill 2017 (The CGST Bill), the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Bill 2017 (The IGST Bill), the Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Bill 2017 (The UTGST Bill), the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to the States) Bill 2017 (The Compensation Bill), these Bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on 29 March 2017. The Rajya Sabha passed these Bills on 6 April 2017 and were then enacted as Acts on 12 April 2017. Thereafter, State Legislatures of different States have passed respective State Goods and Services Tax Bills. After the enactment of various GST laws, Goods and Services Tax was launched all over India with effect from 1 July 2017. The Jammu and Kashmir state legislature passed its GST act on 7 July 2017, thereby ensuring that the entire nation is brought under an unified indirect taxation system. There was to be no GST on the sale and purchase of securities. That continues to be governed by Securities Transaction Tax (STT).