Yesterday, the government circulated certain official amendments to the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 on GST. The Bill is currently pending in Rajya Sabha. The Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015. It was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which submitted its report in July 2015. With the Bill listed for passage this week, we explain key provisions in the Bill, and the amendments proposed. What is the GST? Currently, indirect taxes are imposed on goods and services. These include excise duty, sales tax, service tax, octroi, customs duty etc. Some of these taxes are levied by the centre and some by the states. For taxes imposed by states, the tax rates may vary across different states. Also, goods and services are taxed differently. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value added tax levied across goods and services at the point of consumption. The idea of a GST regime is to subsume most indirect taxes under a single taxation regime. This is expected to help broaden the tax base, increase tax compliance, and reduce economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes. What does the 2014 Bill on GST do? The 2014 Bill amends the Constitution to give concurrent powers to Parliament and state legislatures to levy a Goods and Services tax (GST). This implies that the centre will levy a central GST (CGST), while states will be permitted to levy a state GST (SGST). For goods and services that pass through several states, or imports, the centre will levy another tax, the Integrated GST (IGST). Alcohol for human consumption has been kept out of the purview of GST. Further, GST will be levied on 5 types of petroleum products at a later date, to be decided by the GST Council. The Council is a body comprising of Finance Ministers of the centre and all states (including Delhi and Puducherry). This body will make recommendations in relation to the implementation of GST, including the rates, principles of levy, etc. The Council is also to decide the modalities for resolution of disputes that arise out of its recommendations. States may be given compensation for any revenue losses they may face from the introduction of the GST regime. Such compensation may be provided for a period of up to five years. Further, the centre may levy an additional tax, up to 1%, in the course of interstate trade. The revenues from the levy of this tax will be given to the state from where the good originates. Expert bodies like the Select Committee and the Arvind Subramanian Committee have observed that this provision could lead to cascading of taxes (as tax on tax will be levied).[i] It also distorts the creation of a national market, as a product made in one state and sold in another would be more expensive than one made and sold within the same state. What are the key changes proposed by the 2016 amendments? The amendments propose three key changes to the 2014 Bill. They relate to (i) additional tax up to 1%; (ii) compensation to states; and (iii) dispute resolution by the GST Council.
These amendments will be taken up for discussion with the Bill in Rajya Sabha this week. The Bill requires a special majority for its passage as it is a Constitution Amendment Bill (that is at least 50% majority of the total membership in the House, and 2/3rds majority of all members present and voting). If the Bill is passed with amendments, it will have to be sent back to Lok Sabha for consideration and passage. After its passage in Parliament, at least 50% state legislatures will have to pass resolutions to ratify the Bill. Once the constitutional framework is in place, the centre will have to pass simple laws to levy CGST and IGST. Similarly, all states will have to pass a simple law on SGST. These laws will specify the rates of the GST to be levied, the goods and services that will be included, the threshold of the turnover of businesses to be included, etc. Note that the Arvind Subramanian Committee, set up by the Finance Ministry, recommended the rates of GST that may be levied. The table below details the bands of rates proposed.
|Table 1: Rates of GST recommended by Expert Committee headed by Arvind Subramanian|
|Type of rate||Rate||Details|
|Revenue Neutral Rate||15%||Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.|
|Standard Rate||17-18%||Too be applied to most goods and services|
|Lower rates||12%||To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor|
|Demerit rate||40%||To be applied on luxury cars, aerated beverages, paan masala, and tobacco|
|Source: Arvind Subramanian Committee Report (2015)|
Several other measures related to the back end infrastructure for registration and reporting of GST, administrative officials related to GST, etc. will also have to be put in place, before GST can be rolled out. [For further details on the full list of amendments, please see here. For other details on the GST Bill, please see here.]
On October 18, it was reported in the news that the central government has been given more time for framing rules under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The President had given assent to this Act in December 2019 and the Act came into force in January 2020. Similarly, about two years have passed since the new labour codes were passed by Parliament, and the final Rules are yet to be published. This raises the question how long the government can take to frame Rules and what is the procedure guiding this. In this blog, we discuss the same.
Under the Constitution, the Legislature has the power to make laws and the Executive is responsible for implementing them. Often, the Legislature enacts a law covering the general principles and policies, and delegates the power to the Executive for specifying certain details for the implementation of a law. For example, the Citizenship Amendment Act provides who will be eligible for citizenship. The certificate of registration or naturalization to a person will be issued, subject to conditions, restrictions, and manner as may be prescribed by the central government through Rules. Delay in framing Rules results in delay in implementing the law, since the necessary details are not available. For example, new labour codes provide a social security scheme for gig economy workers such as Swiggy and Zomato delivery persons and Uber and Ola drivers. These benefits as per these Codes are yet to be rolled out as the Rules are yet to be notified.
Timelines and checks and balances for adherence
Each House of Parliament has a Committee of Members to examine Rules, Regulations, and government orders in detail called the Committee on Subordinate Legislation. Over the years, the recommendations of these Committees have shaped the evolution of the procedure and timelines for framing subordinate legislation. These are reflected in the Manual of Parliamentary Procedures issued by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, which provides detailed guidelines.
Ordinarily, Rules, Regulations, and bye-laws are to be framed within six months from the date on which the concerned Act came into force. Post that, the concerned Ministry is required to seek an extension from the Parliamentary Committees on Subordinate Legislation. The reason for the extension needs to be stated. Such extensions may be granted for a maximum period of three months at a time. For example, in case of Rules under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, at an earlier instance, an extension was granted on account of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure monitoring, every Ministry is required to prepare a quarterly report on the status of subordinate legislation not framed and share it with the Ministry of Law and Justice. These reports are not available in the public domain.
Recommendations to address delays
Over the years, the Subordinate Legislation Committees in both Houses have observed multiple instances of non-adherence to the above timelines by various Ministries. To address this, they have made the following key recommendations:
Are all Rules under an Act required to be framed?
Usually, the expressions used in an Act are “The Central Government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the provisions of this Act.”, or “as may be prescribed”. Hence, it may appear that the laws aim to enable rule-making instead of mandate rule-making. However, certain provisions of an Act cannot be brought into force if the required details have not been prescribed under the Rules. This makes the implementation of the Act consequent to the publication of respective Rules. For example, the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022 enables the police and certain other persons to collect identity-related information about certain persons. It provides that the manner of collection of such information may be specified by the central government. Unless the manner is prescribed, such collection cannot take place.
That said, some other rule-making powers may be enabling in nature and subject to discretion by the concerned Ministry. In 2016, Rajya Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation examined the status of Rules and Regulations to be framed under the Energy Conservation Act, 2001. It observed that the Ministry of Power had held that two Rules and three Regulations under this Act were not necessary. The Ministry of Law and Justice had opined that those deemed not necessary were enabling provisions meant for unforeseen circumstances. The Rajya Sabha Committee (2016) had recommended that where the Ministry does not feel the need for framing subordinate legislation, the Minister should table a statement in Parliament, stating reasons for such a conclusion.
Some key issues related to subordinate legislation
The Legislature delegates the power to specify details for the implementation of a law to the Executive through powers for framing subordinate legislation. Hence, it is important to ensure these are well-scrutinised so that they are within the limits envisaged in the law.
See here for our recently published analysis of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Rules, 2022, notified in September 2022. Also, check out PRS analysis of: