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
|Revenue Neutral Rate
|Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.
|Too be applied to most goods and services
|To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor
|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 June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.