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How uniformity in tax law made a common national market


One of the major positives of the GST roll-out is the consolidation of over a dozen indirect taxes into a single tax. Also, unlike the earlier VAT regime, where tax rates on commodities differed from state to state, the rate of GST has been uniform across the country. Consequently, tax arbitrage that existed under the legacy State-level VAT that led to artificial re-structuring of supply chain operations purely on tax outcomes is not present now. Hence, it becomes immaterial where the products/services are sourced from and so, it has been beneficial purely for commercial reasons.

Just as with the tax rate, there have been uniformity in provisions relating to input tax credit, compliances, inter-state or intra-state procurements, etc. which was not the case in the past; one of the prominent examples being tax treatment of post-sale discounts. In some States, credit was allowed and in other States, there were restrictions. Post the introduction of GST, the guidelines are identical across India. The same is in the case with refunds, especially for exporters whose operations are spread across States.

The uniformity of practice permeates into the adoption of tax technology too. Currently, a single online portal manages the whole gamut of GST compliances including generating E-invoices or E-Way Bills, filing returns, lodging refund claims, assessment process, etc. All the taxpayers use the same portal regardless of whether the taxpayer operates out of Punjab or Tamil Nadu, which was difficult even to imagine in the past. Taking a typical case of a supplier of goods, the portal has been designed in such a manner that the moment a supplier raises an invoice, the E-invoice is generated followed by the creation of an E-Way Bill. The movement of the transport vehicle is tracked electronically and all the reporting is routed through the common online portal (applicable across India), even if it’s an inter-state movement passing through multiple States (say from Gujarat to West Bengal). There have been multiple media reports about halving of travel time on account of abolition/reduction of state level check-posts resulting in faster turnaround saving in logistics costs.

The GST law is driven by the recommendations of the GST Council, which is a body having representation from both Central and State Governments, thus promoting uniformity in law, practice, tax processes and standardisation of reports or filings. This has largely ensured uniformity even in operational guidelines and promoting ‘Ease of doing business’. The legislature has also given numerous procedural relaxations for the MSME sector in terms of reporting requirements along with threshold-based exemptions.

Inspite of this paradigm shift, there are still some areas that need attention to enhance the experience of ONE NATION ONE MARKET. One of the critical challenges being the contradictory Advance rulings on an identical issue (tax levy, rates, valuation, etc.) in different States. A Central Advance Ruling authority, which traverses beyond revenue considerations to take an unbiased view, is the need of the hour. It is also critical to address the restrictions and limitations in tax credit utilisation and enhance the fungibility of credits across States.

Yet another issue while handling certain tax disputes is the recent tendency of some State governments to issue their own set of guidelines. For example, on the issue of input tax credit mismatch, a few States have issued their own guidelines in the manner in which these cases are required to be handled. Divergence in practice at the State level can dilute the preliminary objective of uniform tax law and practice. Uniformity in assessment-related prosses and guidelines would help businesses manage their tax assessments/audits/disputes more effectively and centrally, especially a taxpayer who operates in multiple jurisdictions.

From an overall perspective, the GST law has taken us a long way onthe road to achieving the objective of ONE NATION ONE MARKET, which a decade back was difficult to visualise. While the legislatures, the government at the Centre and State and the GST Council worked tirelessly and proactively to address many concerns and initiate on-course corrections, there are rough edges that need to be ironed out. The expectation is that some of the burning issues related to Advance rulings, the pending constitution of the GST tribunal, issue of state-specific guidelines, etc. will also be addressed in due course of time.

(The writer is Partner – Indirect Tax, BDO India)

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