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Mega GST confusion: Here are five issues that need more clarity

As the country's biggest tax overhaul—Goods and Services Tax (GST)—is about to roll out, confusion reigns not only in the business community but government quarters too. No doubt, one-tax one-nation reform is going to benefit the country, but there is confusion due to lack of preparedness. GST slabs The biggest concern is the sheer complexity of different GST slabs and numerous cesses and exceptions, which are completely different from simpler, flatter and broader tax structure in other countries. Traders and shop-owners selling multiple products are concerned how they would maintain bill books due the variety of tax slabs.

For example, multiple rates have been fixed for restaurant services based on different variables—AC or non-AC, turnover amount, luxury category, etc. Restaurants with turnover of less than Rs 50 lakh will charge 5 per cent GST, while those with turnover of more than Rs 50 lakh with no ACs will have to pay 12 per cent GST.

Restaurants with AC facilities will pay 18 per cent. For luxury five-star hotels, the rate will be 28 per cent. The tax rate will change according to the place you sit at—outdoor or indoor; temperature you feel - AC or non-AC; and whether you are enjoying a meal in a luxury or a non-luxury hotel. Lack of clarity on anti-profiteering rule GST's anti-profiteering clause requires companies to pass on the benefit of lower taxes to consumers. But little clarity over antiprofiteering clause has led to confusion over setting of selling prices for goods. The law doesn't clarify how the costs incurred on account of transition from GST to non-GST era are to be factored in. It also doesn't specify how loss-making units pass on the benefits.

Many feel the possible savings in one category will offset increases elsewhere and there is no mechanism yet to compute that. Many companies are producing two sets of price tags for the same product to avoid confusion. But comparison of profit or loss for preand post-GST period would be difficult for companies.

More clarity will emerge only when the National Anti-Profiteering Authority determines the methodology and procedure for taking up cases. Under this law, businesses can be closed down by government if it finds that companies are not passing on the benefits of lower tax slabs to the consumers. Industry and traders are concerned about tax terrorism and arbitrary reasoning of profit and loss in a pre- and post-GST era. Such antiprofiteering laws were introduced in Malaysia and proved to be a disaster.

Input tax credit GST allows a company to claim refunds on the tax already paid in the value chain which means it will only pay tax on the value it adds. But there is still little clarity among traders how the input tax credit system will work, especially for those who are at the end of supply chain.

Most of the trade happens in informal sector. For example, kirana shops sell most goods produced in the consumer segment. There is a chain of supplier and traders included in this process, in which many work in informal manner. GST structure works well in an organised, formal economy where the supply line is fully recognised with tax credits flowing down a supply chain smoothly.

But India, being mostly an unorganised economy with smaller companies comprising nearly 45 per cent of manufacturing, establishment of this supply chain is difficult. There is also little clarity on input tax credit on the old goods produced before July 1. GST isn't a retrospective tax and since traders have already paid taxes for the existing stock, there are concerns about their old stocks.

Confusion over GST return forms According to GST rules, businesses will have to file 37 forms in a year—three each month for CGST, IGST and SGST, and one at the year's end. For a company with operations in 20 states, it means 740 annual returns. Though Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia has clarified that the number of forms will be only a dozen, but there is still no clarity over the number of returns to be filed under GST regime.

Confusion among tax officers Last but not least, even those who will implement the GST guidelines on the ground—the tax officials—are also a confused lot. After dismantling of indirect taxation system and rollout of GST, there still little clarity about work and assignments of state and central tax officers. Thousand of tax officers will have to be relocated or assigned new job descriptions, but this has still not happened.

There are also confusion over tax assessments. For instance, 90 per cent of assessments in turnovers under Rs 1.5 crore are to be carried out by state officials and the remaining by the central officials. In cases of assessments over Rs 1.5 crore, Centre and state officials will share the work equally. This will lead to functional ambiguity. To make things worse, even chartered accountants, who have become the first resource persons for all the GST queries, are not fully clear about the confusing aspects of GST.

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