Tweaking GST

Goods and Services Tax

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) system remains a work in progress. Tweaking its tax rates further acquired political urgency after the latest assembly elections, with GST-hassled small traders perceived to be a major angry voter component. The BJP-led NDA government declared that 99 percent commodities will be brought under the 18 percent tax slab. With the Lok Sabha elections in April-May, the recent 31st GST Council meeting assumed much significance. Products like tyres, monitors, power banks and lithium-ion batteries have been brought down to 18 percent, third party insurance premiums to 12 percent, Jan Dhan bank account services and frozen vegetables to 0 percent, and much more besides. However, real estate remained off the table. After Rahul Gandhi castigated GST as extortionate ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ on the campaign trail, the Congress with three heartland States newly under its belt reportedly struck a different note at the GST meet by opposing the rate cuts as a ‘political move’ that will hurt State revenues. Slamming the Modi regime for its “belated wisdom”, the Congress at the same time demanded compensation from the Centre for States losing out on higher GST rates. Trinamool-ruled West Bengal and Left-ruled Kerala are learnt to have protested that “the time wasn’t right” to reduce GST. It was left for Assam to intervene that the positions taken by State representatives should be recorded on the minutes of GST meets, because leaders say diametrically opposite things about GST in their campaign speeches and council deliberations!