Over the last two months, the centre and over 15 states have passed laws to levy the Goods and Services Tax (GST).  Under these laws, tax rates recommended by the GST Council will be notified by the government.  The Council met in Srinagar last week to approve rates for various items.  Following this decision, the government has indicated that it may invoke provisions under the GST laws to monitor prices of goods and services.[1]  This will be done by setting up an anti-profiteering authority to ensure that reduction in tax rates under GST results in a fall in prices of goods and services.  In this context, we look at the rates approved by the GST Council, and the role of the proposed authority to ensure that prices of various items do not increase under GST.

Q. What are the tax rates that have been approved by the Council?

The Council has classified various items under five different tax rates: (i) 5%, (ii) 12%, (iii) 18%, (iv) 28%, and (v) 28% with an additional GST compensation cess (see Table 1).[2],[3],[4]  While tax rates for most of the goods and services have been approved by the Council, rates for some remaining items such as biscuits, textiles, footwear, and precious metals are expected to be decided in its next meeting on June 3, 2017.

Table 1: Tax rates for goods and services as approved by the GST Council

  5% 12% 18% 28% 28% + Cess
  • Tea and Coffee
  • Medicines
  • Edible Oils
  • Butter and Cheese
  • Sanitary Napkins
  • Mobile Phones
  • Dry Fruits
  • Tractors
  • Agarbatti
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap Bars
  • Computers
  • Chocolate
  • Shampoo
  • Washing Machine
  • Air Conditioner (AC)
  • Aerated Drinks + 12% Cess
  • Small Cars + 1% or 3% Cess (depending on petrol or diesel engine)
  • Big Cars + 15% Cess
  • Transport by rail
  • Air transport by economy class
  • Air transport by business class
  • Non-AC Restaurant without liquor license
  • Restaurant with liquor license
  • AC Restaurant
  • Other services not specified under any other rate (such as telecommunication and financial services)
  • Entertainment (such as cinemas and theme parks)
  • Gambling
  • Restaurants in 5 star hotels

Source: GST Council Press Release, Central Board for Excise and Customs.


Q. Will GST apply on all goods and services?

No, certain items such as alcohol for human consumption, and petroleum products such as petrol, diesel and natural gas will be exempt under GST.  In addition to these, the GST Council has also classified certain items under the 0% tax rate, implying that GST will not be levied on them.  This list includes items of daily use such as wheat, rice, milk, eggs, fresh vegetables, meat and fish.  Some services such as education and healthcare will also be exempt under GST.

Q. How will GST impact prices of goods and services?

GST subsumes various indirect taxes and seeks to reduce cascading of taxes (tax on tax).  With greater efficiency in the supply of products, enhanced flow of tax credits, removal of border check posts, and changes in tax rates, prices of goods and services may come down.[5],[6],[7]  Mr Arun Jaitley recently stated that the Council has classified several items under lower tax rates, when compared to the current system.[8]

However, since some tax rates such as VAT currently vary across states, the real impact of GST rates on prices may become clear only after its roll-out.  For example, at present VAT rates on smart phones range between 5-15% across states.  Under GST they will be taxed at 12%.[9]  As a result while phones may become marginally cheaper in some states, their prices may go up in some others.

Q. What happens if tax rates come down but companies don’t reduce prices?

Few people such as the Union Revenue Secretary and Finance Ministers of Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir have expressed concerns that companies may not lower their prices despite a fall in tax rates, in order to increase their profits.  The Revenue Secretary also stated that the government had received reports of few businesses increasing their product prices in anticipation of GST.[10]

To take care of such cases, the GST laws contain a provision which allows the centre to constitute an anti-profiteering authority.  The authority will ensure that a reduction in tax rates under GST is passed on to the consumers.  Specific powers and functions of the authority will be specified by the GST Council.[11],[12]

Q. Are there any existing mechanisms to regulate pricing of products?

Various laws have been enacted over the years to control the pricing of essential items, or check for unfair market practices.  For example, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 controls the price of certain necessary items such as medicines, food items and fertilisers.[13]

Parliament has also created statutory authorities like the Competition Commission of India to check against unfair trade practices such as cartelisation by businesses to inflate prices of goods.  Regulators, such as the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, are also responsible for regulating prices for items in their sectors.

Q. Could there be some challenges in implementing this mechanism?

To fulfil its mandate, the anti-profiteering authority could get involved in determining prices of various items.  This may even require going through the balance sheets and finances of various companies.  Some argue that this is against the idea of prices being determined by market forces of demand and supply.[14]

Another aspect to consider here is that the price of items is dependent on a combination of factors, in addition to applicable taxes.  These include the cost of raw material, technology used by businesses, distribution channels, or competition in the market.

Imagine a case where the GST rate on a category of cars has come down from the current levels, but rising global prices of raw material such as steel have forced a manufacturer to increase prices.  Given the mandate of the authority to ensure passing of lower tax rates to consumers, will it also consider the impact of rising input costs deciding the price of an item?  Since factor costs keep fluctuating, in some cases the authority may find it difficult to evaluate the pricing decision of a business.

Q. Have other countries tried to introduce similar anti-profiteering frameworks?

Some countries such as Malaysia have in the past introduced laws to check if companies were making unreasonably high profits after the roll-out of GST.[15]  While the law was supposed to remain in force for a limited period, the deadline has been extended a few times.  In Australia, during the roll out of GST in the early 2000s, an existing authority was entrusted with the role of taking action against businesses that unreasonably increased prices.[16]  The authority also put in place a strategy to raise consumer awareness about the available recourse in cases of price exploitation.

With rates for various items being approved, and the government considering a mechanism to ensure that any inflationary impact is minimised, the focus now shifts to the implementation of GST.  This includes operationalisation of the GST Network, and notification of rules relating to registration under GST and payment of tax.  The weeks ahead will be crucial for the authorities and various taxpayers in the country to ensure that GST is successfully rolled out from July 1, 2017.

[1] After fixing rates, GST Council to now focus on price behaviour of companies, The Hindustan Times, Ma 22, 2017, http://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/after-fixing-rates-gst-council-to-now-focus-on-price-behaviour-of-companies/story-fRsAFsfEofPxMe2IXnXIMN.html.

[2] GST Rate Schedule for Goods, Central Board of Excise and Customs, GST Council, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/chapter-wise-rate-wise-gst-schedule-18.05.2017.pdf.

[3] GST Compensation Cess Rates for different supplies, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/gst-compensation-cess-rates-18.05.2017.pdf.

[4] Schedule of GST Rates for Services as approved by GST Council, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 19, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/Schedule%20of%20GST%20rates%20for%20services.pdf.

[5] GST rate impact: Here’s how the new tax can carry a greater punch, The Financial Express, May 24, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-impact-heres-how-the-new-tax-can-carry-a-greater-punch/682762/.

[6] “So far, the GST Council has got it right”, The Hindu Business Line, May 22, 2017, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-gst-council-has-got-it-right/article9709906.ece.

[7] “GST to cut inflation by 2%, create buoyancy in economy: Hasmukh Adhia”, The Times of India, May 21, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/gst-to-cut-inflation-by-2-create-buoyancy-in-economy-hasmukh-adhia/articleshow/58772448.cms.

[8] GST rate: New tax to reduce prices of most goods, from milk, coal to FMCG goods, The Financial Express, May 19, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-new-tax-to-reduce-prices-of-most-goods-from-milk-coal-to-fmcg-goods/675722/.

[9] “Goods and Services Tax (GST) will lead to lower tax burden in several commodities including packaged cement, Medicaments, Smart phones, and medical devices, including surgical instruments”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 23, 2017.

[10] “GST Townhall: Main concern is consumer education, says Adhia”, Live Mint, May 24, 2017.

[11] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/GST,%202017/Central%20GST%20Act,%202017.pdf.

[12] Rajasthan Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Madhya Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Uttar Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017.

[13] The Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

[14] “GST rollout: Anti-profiteering law could be the new face of tax terror”, The Financial Express, May 23, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/gst-rollout-anti-profiteering-law-could-be-the-new-face-of-tax-terror/680850/.

[15] Price Control Anti-Profiteering Act 2011, Malaysia.

[16] ACCC oversight of pricing responses to the introduction of the new tax system, Australia Competition and Consumer Commission, January 2003, https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/GST%20final%20report.pdf.

Last week, the Assam Legislative Assembly passed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021.  The Bill seeks to regulate the slaughter and transportation of cattle and the sale of beef.   It replaces the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which only provided for restrictions on cattle slaughter.  In this post, we examine the Bill and compare it with other state laws on cattle preservation.  For a detailed analysis of the Bill, see here.

Cattle preservation under the Bill

The Bill prohibits the slaughter of cows of all ages.  Bulls and bullocks, on the other hand, may be slaughtered if they are: (i) over 14 years of age, or (ii) permanently incapacitated due to accidental injury or deformity.  Inter-state and intra-state transport of cattle is allowed only for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes.  This requires a permit from the competent authority (to be appointed by the state government).  Further, the Bill allows the sale of beef and beef products only at certain locations as permitted by the competent authority.  No permission for such sale will be granted in areas that are predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non-beef eating communities, or within a five-kilometre radius of a temple or other Hindu religious institution.

Provisions of the Bill may raise certain issues which we discuss below. 

Undue restriction on cattle transport in the north-eastern region of India

The Bill prohibits the transport of cattle from one state to another (or another country) through Assam, except with a permit that such transport is for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes.  This may lead to difficulties in movement of cattle to the entire north-eastern region of India.  First, the unique geographical location of Assam makes it an unavoidable transit state when moving goods to other north-eastern states.  Second, it is unclear why Assam may disallow transit through it for any purposes other than agriculture or animal husbandry that are allowed in the origin and destination states.  Note that the Madhya Pradesh Govansh Vadh Pratishedh Adhiniyam, 2004 provides for a separate permit called a transit permit for transporting cattle through the state.  Such permit is for the act of transport, without any conditions as to the purpose of transport.

Unrestricted outward transport of cattle to states that regulate slaughter differently from Assam

The Bill restricts the transport of cattle from Assam to any place outside Assam “where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law”.  This implies that cattle may be transported without any restrictions to places outside Assam where cattle slaughter is regulated by law.  It is unclear whether this seeks to cover any kind of regulation of cattle slaughter, or only regulation that is similar to the regulation under this Bill.  The rationale for restricting inter-state transport may be to pre-empt the possibility of cattle protected under the Bill being taken to other states for slaughter.  If that is the intention, it is not clear why the Bill exempts states with any regulation for cattle slaughter from transport restrictions.  Other states may not have similar restrictions on cattle slaughter as in the Bill.  Note that other states such as Karnataka and Chhattisgarh restrict outgoing cattle transport without making any distinction between states that regulate cattle slaughter and those that do not.

Effective prohibition on sale of beef in Assam 

The Bill prohibits the sale of beef within a five-kilometre radius of a temple (which means an area of about 78.5 square kilometres around a temple).  This threshold may be overly restrictive.  As per the 2011 census, the average town area in Assam is 5.89 square kilometres (sq km) and the average village area is 1.93 sq km.  The three largest towns of Assam by area are: (i) Guwahati (219.1 sq km), (ii) Jorhat (53.5 sq km), and (iii) Dibrugarh (20.8 sq km).  Hence, even if there is only one temple in the middle of a town, no town in Assam – except Guwahati – can have a beef shop within the town area.  Similarly, if a village has even one temple, a beef shop cannot be set up in a large area encompassing several adjoining villages as well.  In this manner, the Bill may end up completely prohibiting sale of beef in the entire state, instead of restricting it to certain places.

Note that certain states such as GujaratRajasthanUttar Pradesh and Haryana completely prohibit the sale or purchase of beef within the state.  However, they also completely prohibit the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks.  This is not the case under the Bill, which only places a complete prohibition on slaughter of cows.  Further, in places such as Delhi, municipal regulations prohibit the sale of meat (including beef) within 150 metres from a temple or other religious place.  This minimum distance requirement does not apply at the time of renewal of license for selling meat if the religious place comes into existence after the grant of such license. 

The prohibition on sale of beef in areas predominantly inhabited by communities identified based on religion or food habits (non-beef eating) may also have an unintended consequence.  With the food typically consumed by a community becoming unavailable or available only in select locations, it may lead to the segregation of different communities into demarcated residential areas.  As per the 2011 census, the population of Assam comprises roughly 61% Hindus, 34% Muslims, and 4% Christians.

Onerous requirement for the accused to pay maintenance cost of seized cattle

Cattle rearing is essentially an economic activity.   Under the Bill, cattle may be seized by a police officer on the basis of suspicion that an offence has been or may be committed.  Seized cattle may be handed over to a care institution, and the cost of its maintenance during trial will be recovered from such persons as prescribed by the state government through rules.  Note that there is no time frame for completing a trial under the Bill.  Thus, if the owner or transporter of seized cattle is made liable to pay its maintenance cost, they may be deprived of their source of livelihood for an indefinite period while at the same time incurring a cost.

Cattle preservation laws in other states

The Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution call upon the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves, and other milch and draught cattle.  Currently, more than 20 states have laws restricting the slaughter of cattle (cows, bulls, and bullocks) and buffaloes to various degrees.   Table 1 below shows a comparison of such laws in select states of India.  Notably, north-eastern states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland do not have any law regulating cattle slaughter.