GST rates are revenue negative; rejigging slabs will take time: John Joseph

Topics GST | GST slab | CBIC

Many large companies stayed away from the Sabka Vishwas legacy dispute resolution scheme for pre-goods and services tax (GST) excise duty and service tax as they are confident of winning cases against the government, says John Joseph. He was acting chairman of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) at the time of Budget presentation. Joseph tells Dilasha Seth that GST rates are revenue negative at the moment and are being re-looked at by a group of ministers, but implementation may take some time. Edited excerpts:

What made the government impose the 5 per cent health cess on gross value of imports rather than basic customs duty? Will it not significantly increase medical cost?

I don’t think so. It is just a 5 per cent increase. It is not very high. Medical equipment is being manufactured in India whereas most of the imported ones come from China. The cess will encourage domestic production, besides helping the government give free treatment to people under Ayushman Bharat. A lot of money is required to create medical infrastructure and hence a cess on the basic customs duty would have given us just 0.5 per cent additional duty. But we need high quantum of revenues. Therefore, we decided to impose it on the gross value of imports.

How much additional revenue is the government expected to collect on account of customs duty hikes on a range of items announced in the Budget?

We have not hiked customs duty as a revenue raising measure but to support Make in India. Therefore, we do not have estimates on how much revenue it will fetch.

Recently, in an industry interaction, revenue secretary A B Pandey spoke about moving to a three-rate GST structure. Will it be by way of clubbing the 5 per cent and 12 per cent slabs or combining the 18 per cent and 28 per cent?

It will be what the GST Council wants to do. The rates right now are revenue negative and not revenue neutral. Nothing has been planned as to what the rate structure would look like. There is a group of ministers looking into it. They will give a report and discussions will take place. Rejigging of slabs will take time and not come immediately.

Despite downward revision, the indirect tax collection target, according to revised estimates for the current fiscal year, appears quite high. About 30 per cent of GST target will need to be achieved in the last quarter and 40 per cent in case of excise duty.

I don’t think the projections are off the mark. We may fall short by a maximum of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore, but not more than that as we are expecting to see GST collections of over Rs 1.1 trillion in February also. This is like the previous month. Collections from Sabka Vishwas will add to excise duty collections as payments for the applications made will start flowing in from February.

Although 190,000 taxpayers applied to avail the Sabka Vishwas Legacy dispute resolution scheme, the big companies chose to stay away. Why?

The big companies think they can fight it out. With the government’s winning rate of just about 10 per cent, the companies must have felt why pay 30 per cent. Those that didn’t apply think that they have a very good case of winning. But the scheme has been a success for the department.

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