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GST: Three-Tier GST Structure Possible, Says Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian

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Ruling out a single rate Goods and Services Tax, Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian today pitched for a three-tier structure going forward as revenues stabilise.

He said GST is “work in progress” and there is a need for further simplification of rates with fewer exemptions and simpler policies. “In India, we can never have one rate. I had recommended a standard rate and one for demerit good, one for low rate,” Subramanian said at an National Council of Applied Economic Research event here.

" In India, the debate should be about ‘why can’t we have three’, rather than ‘why not one’." - Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Adviser

Under the GST regime, there are four rates – 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent and 28 percent. Luxury and demerit goods are subject to cess on top of the highest slab.

The single rate GST structure was advocated by Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

“I think over time we will see simplification. For example, once the revenue stabilises, 28 percent can (be rationalised), but the broader point I want to make is that why can’t we have three (tax slabs). That’s what we should ask for,” the CEA said. Since GST is a regressive tax, it won't be "fair" to have a single rate structure unless there are instruments to protect the poor who get hurt by rising costs, he added.

Employees sort parcels during the overnight sort at a goods storage facility (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Also Read: The GST Experience - By Arun Jaitley

Union Minister Arun Jaitley too had dismissed the idea of a single rate GST as "flawed" saying that it can only work in a country where the entire population has 'similar and high' capacity to spend.

Subramanian said that GST implementation "has not been too bad" in the first year of difficult implementation.

"My own view is the more you rely on carrot, and less you rely on sticks, you facilitate formalisation of economy. That's what I like about GST. It is not heavy handed. Its a kind of self policing," he said.

GST, which subsumed over a dozen of local taxes, was rolled out on July 1 last year.

Also Read: GST Council To Mull Rate Cut On Items With ‘Low Revenue Impact’ On July 21

The CEA headed panel had in its report way back in 2015 had recommended a range for revenue-neutral rate of 15-15.5 percent for the proposed Goods and Services Tax with a preference for the lower one.

It also suggested a range of ‘standard' tax rate of 17-18 percent for bulk of goods and services, while recommending 12 percent for ‘low rate goods' and 40 percent for demerit goods like luxury car, aerated beverages, pan masala and tobacco. For precious metal, it recommended a range of 2-6 per cent.

Also Read: GST: Panel Of Ministers Suggests 1% Cess On Luxury Items, Tobacco To Help Farmers

Subramanian also said that India needs an independent fiscal council which brings out independent views on how government does accounting for public finances. “We need to get more independent people doing this (government accounting) with better access to data...People should have trust that everything is properly accounted for.”

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