Hazy signals: On missing points in October GST data

The omission of routine data points for October’s robust GST revenues is puzzling  

Updated - November 05, 2022 12:05 pm IST

Published - November 05, 2022 12:10 am IST

October saw the Goods and Services Tax (GST) yield the second-highest gross monthly revenues — a tad short of ₹1.52 lakh crore. This marks the eighth successive month of GST collections exceeding ₹1.4 lakh crore, including the record ₹1,67,540 crore kitty in April. The Finance Ministry emphasised that domestic transactions also contributed the second-highest taxes in the month. Underpinning October’s GST flows, 8.3 crore e-way bills were generated in September, which the Ministry said was ‘significantly higher’ than the 7.7 crore bills of August. The festive season’s onset surely boosted consumption as well as stocking up by sellers. The Government, which has routinely held up GST revenues as a yardstick of strong post-pandemic economic activity, had ample cause to talk up the latest numbers. April’s record revenues, for instance, were said to be reflecting a faster recovery, and when revenues dipped sequentially in May, the Government contended that the financial year ending in March had boosted April’s tax kitty. Some of the bump up in October revenues may likely be similarly attributable to taxpayers filing quarter-ending returns.

It is noteworthy that no such commentary was included in the latest GST revenue statement, which has raised eyebrows for what it has chosen to leave out than disclosed. The Ministry has omitted basic routinely shared data, such as the year-on-year growth rate for overall collections, and an explicit break-up of the growth in revenues from domestic transactions (usually clubbed with taxes levied on services imports) and imports of goods. These numbers can be deduced to some extent. Imports of goods appear to have grown at a far lower pace than in recent months going by Integrated GST and the GST Cess collections on them, rising 13% and 18%, respectively — a great sign for an economy seeking to rein in a runaway import bill. Maybe the fact that overall revenues grew 16.6% from October 2021 — the lowest growth rate since April’s record kitty — prompted this reticence. But as economists point out, growth rates will moderate owing to simple base effects. Another factor may have been the tepid 2.7% sequential growth in revenues despite a 7.8% rise in e-way bills month-on-month. But if inflation is eating into consumption, it will show up one way or another. Instead of splicing data, the Government would be better served by expediting reforms to shore up revenues. The GST Council, which was to take up some of these reforms in early August, must be convened quickly. Demurring over the big picture helps no one.

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