Direct tax receipts may be a spoiler for fiscal maths

Growth in advance tax collections slowed to 11 per cent in the first half of the financial year, against 14 per cent a year ago, posing a challenge to the government’s tax collection target for the year. This may, in turn, disturb the fiscal maths in these difficult times when the economy is in need of additional expenditure.

Fiscal consolidation is facing challenges from the non-tax revenue side due to lower than expected receipts from spectrum. Besides, the income declaration scheme is likely to yield only Rs 7,000-8,000 crore in its third instalment, due by September 30, against Rs 15,000 crore in the first two. Up to 50 per cent of the taxes and penalties were to be paid in the third instalment, but assessees paid more in the first two instalments.

Within advance taxes, growth in corporation tax collections also fell, reflecting that India Inc is yet to come out of the woods. Pulled down by the slowing economy, goods and services tax (GST) implementation, banking sector woes, and muted demand, advance corporation tax revenues grew by 7.5 per cent, compared to well over 8 per cent in the corresponding period last year.

Growth in personal income advance tax was also lower at 35 per cent, against more than 40 per cent in the second half of the last year.

Advance tax means paying tax as and when the money is earned rather than at the end of the fiscal year.
Government officials said that the revenue collection target might need to be revised downward with the economic outlook looking muted in the second half.

“Advance tax collections have been particularly bad in the corporate sector. The slowing economy is posing to be a big challenge. The collection target for the fiscal year may come under stress if the economy does not pick up pace quickly,” said an official.

On Tuesday, the Asian Development Bank announced the revised the economic growth projections for India to 7 per cent for 2017-18 from 7.4 per cent. On Wednesday, India Ratings cut the projection to 6.7 per cent from the earlier projections of 7.4 per cent. The poor performance of the banking, oil and exploration industries is learnt to have impacted corporate tax collections.

“The GST roll-out also hit direct tax collections as production was stalled due to de-stocking amid transition ambiguity,” said another official. Whatever has affected GDP has also affected advance tax collection, he added. Direct tax collections, net of refunds, grew by around 15 per cent in the first half of 2017-18 (up to mid-September 2017), in which corporate tax collection grew by 12 per cent and personal income tax by 17 per cent.

Though direct tax collection growth is higher than 11 per cent in April-September of 2016-17, it was on account of lower refund outgo this time. 

The crucial issue is that the growth is behind the direct tax collection target of Rs 9.8 lakh crore, which is 15.7 per cent rise for the fiscal year, and the second half may give subdued tax revenues. 

Growth in the second half may be depressed further on account of upward revisions in tax returns due to demonetisation and the two income declaration schemes last year. Besides, the income-tax rate on income between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh was cut to 5 per cent in the current year from 10 per cent.

Another official said: “We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for a stimulus package to promote spending, which will perk up the economy and, in turn, tax collection. We hope there is no reduction in direct tax collections.”

He added that if the state of economy remained the same for the rest of the year, the direct tax collection target might need to be revised downwards. Gross domestic product growth slumped to a three-year low of 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal year.

NITI Aayog Vice Chairperson Rajiv Kumar on Wednesday also advocated relaxing the fiscal deficit target for the fiscal year by infusing an extra fiscal stimulus to create space for higher capital spending.

The country’s fiscal deficit at July-end touched 92.4 per cent of the Budget, compared to 73.7 per cent of GDP in the previous fiscal year. For 2017-18, the government aims to bring down the fiscal deficit to 3.2 per cent of GDP. Last financial year, it had met the deficit target of 3.5 per cent.

“There are two disadvantages this year. The tax revision due to demonetisation won’t be there, and the scheme (income disclosure scheme) money would be subdued,” said the official. In the second half of the previous fiscal year, organisations and individuals revised upwards their returns after demonetisation, which added to the revenue. At least 30,000 such cases, in which income for the previous years had been revised by either showing a significant jump in “cash in hand” or by filing a return for the first time after demonetisation, are under scrutiny.

Besides, the two income declaration schemes (IDS) last year added to the collections. At least Rs 15,000 crore came to the government from the IDS declarations as tax and penalty up to March last year. “Although the third instalment of the Income Declaration Scheme (50 per cent of tax and penalty) is due by September 30, a very small amount is expected. A large chunk of people paid the full amount last year only around demonetisation, in cash or otherwise,”  said  a third official.

The absence of such a scheme in the second half will adversely impact tax growth this year. The income-tax department’s strategy for the fiscal year includes litigation management, disposing of high-value cases, scaling up searches and seizures, strengthening systems and investigation teams, and tying up with global data-mining companies for information gathering. Indirect tax collection from the goods and services tax will be another challenge.

From the Centre’s collections, it will need to pay a devolution of 42 per cent to states, in addition to a compensation, in case, states face any shortfall. The GST yielded a lower amount of Rs 90,669 crore in August, compared to Rs 94,063 crore collected in July.

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