Hasmukh Adhia, Revenue Secretary in the Union Finance Ministry, spoke on virtually the entire gamut of issues relating to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime in an interview with The Statesman. Here are the edited excerpts from this exclusive interview:
Q. It has been now three months since the implementation of the ambitious tax reform GST. Are you satisfied with the way it has rolled out, or you think it could have been delayed for some months for better implementation?
A. I don’t think we could have selected a date further from this. It wouldn’t have been feasible. The thing is that no amount of planning is sufficient in case of such a big reform. Secondly, in spite of whatever planning you do, in such a big reform there are likely to be glitches which we need to address as we go all along. So, I don’t think we have made any mistake in selecting the launch date and I am convinced that the country got a new system of taxation. The difficulties and glitches can be removed as long as the government is willing to look at it. The government is open, it is quick enough to respond, then these glitches can be removed.
Q. Is the government satisfied with the kind of revenue stream that we are witnessing from GST?
A. There will surely be an increase in revenue. The revenue which you are currently witnessing is only the initial trends. And these initial trends are no indications. The revenue stream should stabilise only after six months. Hence, we will have to see how the trend goes for the next six months, then only I can comment on this. I would like to keep my fingers crossed till then.
Q. Is the government planning any rationalisation in terms of GST rates? In terms of tax slabs, is there any scope for combining some as the Finance Minister indicated earlier?
A. So far whatever tax rate changes have happened are only out of pressing needs. But, of course, there is a need for overall looking at the whole issue and based on certain principles we have to then do the rationalisation. So, one should not do any more small changes, we should look at the entire subject in an integrated manner and then come out with some major recommendations to be made to the (GST) Council. The committee is looking into it. There is an approach paper which the Council has approved. The committee will relook at all the rates. Certainly the slabs will not be changed. This is not the time to change the tax slabs, it will be discussed in future. But, certainly it will not happen before one year.
Q. In the last GST Council meeting it has been decided to file returns on a quarterly basis. But there are still three forms that need to be filed along with updating invoices. Is there any proposal to make return-filing much simpler…say, a one-page filing?
A. We should talk about the simplification required only after going through an experience. Now, even one cycle of GST is not yet completed. Let everyone experience this cycle and then tell us. If they find it difficult, we are willing to rationalise it.
Q. One of the major demands coming from all quarters of the industry is to bring fuel products such as diesel and petrol under the GST regime. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was quite vocal in its favour. But still, the GST Council has never even discussed this issue in any of their meetings. Your comments?
A. So far, the Council’s attention was on implementing the GST on products which were agreed upon by all the states and UTs. Petroleum of course, never came up for discussion. Only, the natural gas subject was discussed once and that too in the officers committee where there were also reservations. They (states ) want to feel more comfortable after seeing the revenue trend which they are getting in next few months and after that only they would like to talk. If the states want petroleum products under GST, we will be happy to discuss it. But they may not like to take it up immediately. So, the issue can be discussed when trends of revenue stabilises, which will happen only after six months.
Q. Is the government doing anything about the much-talked-about glitches in the GSTN network?
A. You see, the problem is that people keep on talking about the same thing, even if the network is running smoothly. There are certain features that came late ~ that we admit. There was small difficulty in the filing during the first time. But after that it was a smooth sailing. But, still people keep on talking about past problems. The GSTN network, at present is working very smoothly.
Q. What is happening on the front of the GST-related anti-profiteering body?
A. Actually, we have already formed the screening committee and the standing committee. They are supposed to receive all the complaints. They are supposed to analyse the complaints, and if they find the complaints serious enough then they can refer them to the Director General of Safeguards. The DG Safeguards is then required to enquire into the allegations of profiteering by examining the balance sheet of companies. If they find there is evidence of profiteering, then they will send a report to the Anti Profiteering Authority. All this will take time. So far we haven’t received any complaints.