The form of Goods and Services Tax being implemented from July 1 is uniquely Indian, according to former Planning Commission member and former Chairman of the National Statistical Commission Pronab Sen. In an interview to The Hindu, he says the indirect tax regime will make it easier to start a new company, but increases complexity for those engaged in buying and selling multiple goods and services. Excerpts:
What are the benefits of the GST system being applied currently?
The benefit of the GST system is that essentially it subsumes all taxes into one. This means that whatever activity you are in, there is only one indirect tax that is applicable. You do not have to worry about the different forms of taxes that are applicable for your activity. That instils a degree of certainty in the system and it also eases the complexity of getting yourself registered within the tax system.
The second advantage is that it has done away with levies on inter-State transactions — which means you are really opening up the market. The third is that GST will hopefully remove the cascading of taxes which was endemic in the previous system.
What are the drawbacks of this system, then?
This particular GST will also do all I mentioned. But the form in which the GST is being implemented has certain drawbacks. The first is that it is extremely complex because of the number of tax rates being levied and, second, because each State is being treated as a separate tax jurisdiction. Because of this, it introduces additional complexity in the GST system which, in a different form of GST, would not have been there. So although you are not going to be worrying about 21 different taxes, you might have to worry about the complexity of a single tax rate across the country, which can get quite demanding.
The issue there is the complexity of the tax system really depends on the range of goods and services a particular enterprise is transacting in. If you have relatively few goods and services you are transacting in either as a buyer or a seller, then it works quite well. But if you are transacting in a large number of goods and services, then the system can get quite complex.
So what does this mean for the ease of doing business if it is theoretically easier but practically more complex?
In terms of complexity, it makes starting up a business actually easier because you have to figure out one tax and not worry about which taxes are applicable to you and get a rude shock later. In terms of the actual complexity of taxes, as I said, it depends on what business you are in... The ones who will be directly affected will be things like retail, hotels and restaurants, construction. There the complexity will be large.
How does this GST compare to what has been implemented in other countries?
It is almost uniquely Indian, in the sense that our version is a lot more complex than elsewhere both in terms of number of tax rates and jurisdictions. Most places will have at most three rates.