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Implications of GST for Services

The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a unified tax structure that was implemented by the Government of India on 1 July 2017. The new regime has ushered a significant change in taxation levels and rules associated with it. On an average, we see the tax slab increasing from 15% to 18% for most of the services. While this may translate to higher cost of services to the end consumer, GST also presents a whole lot of opportunities, pushing ease of business.

Services Sector in India: An Overview

India is a strong services-led economy with the sector generating a significant chunk of employment opportunities and contributing to the GDP. It contributed around 66.1% of India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) growth in 2015-16, is the biggest magnet for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and an important net foreign exchange earner. Some of the core areas of service are IT and ITES, banking and financial services, outsourcing, research and development, transportation, telecommunications, real estate and professional services.

Some of the positive impacts of GST on service providers are:

Clear distinction between goods and services: The old regime does not clearly distinguish between goods and services, leading to many instances of double taxation. For example, software is often treated as a good and as a service. The new regime clearly distinguishes goods from services, and also defines principal supply, composite supply, and mixed supply separately. For example, when an individual books a Rajdhani train ticket which includes meals, it involves a composite supply wherein the ticket and the meals cannot be sold separately. Since the transportation of the passenger is the principal supply, the rate of tax will only be charged on the ticket. Alternatively, for items that can be sold separately, but are sold together, like a hamper of snacks and aerated drinks, the rate of tax applicable on the higher product will be levied on the composite supply. There are also separate definitions for supply of software, works contracts, and leasing transactions to bring in more clarity and transparency on their taxation rules.

Streamlining of taxation for intra-state service providers: Due to the state level taxes being subsumed, it will become easier for service providers that operate within the state to know their tax obligations better. Such companies can move away from multiple tax calculations. For example, a CD with software incurs Excise, Service Tax, and VAT under the old regime; this is simplified to one unified rate under GST, making tax calculations and administration easier for intra-state service providers.

Input credit facility: VAT payment under the old regime was not eligible for setting off against output liabilities. The input credit facility is now made available to service providers as well, wherein tax paid on any inputs can be claimed and adjusted against tax paid on output. This will result in direct cost savings for service providers and may even offset the expected rise in end pricing. For example, an AC fitter who paid tax on the raw material for AC fittings (pipe, tape, solder etc.) will be able to claim that tax, and end up spending less on the cost of fitting the AC. This cost advantage can spill over to the customer as well.

Regularised return filing: The old service tax system required two half-yearly returns for services businesses. Under GST, this has been replaced by a number of returns provisions, depending on the type of taxpayer and the type of business:

Return Type of tax payer Timeline of filing return
GSTR 1 For outward supplies of sale (for registered taxable person) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 2 For inward supplies received by a taxpayer (for registered taxable person) By 15th of the next month
GSTR 3 Monthly return for registered taxable person (except for Compounding Taxpayer) By 20th of the next month
GSTR 4 Quarterly return for Compounding Taxpayer/Composition Supplier By 18th of the next month
GSTR 5 Periodic return by Non-Resident Foreign Taxpayer By 20th of the next month
GSTR 6 Return for Input Service Distributor (ISD) By 13th of the month succeeding the quarter
GSTR 7 Return for Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 8 Annual Return for e-commerce operator By 10th of the next month

While a shorter timeline for filing returns might seem overwhelming, regularisation in return filing will result in better streamlining of taxes. Since all these returns are required to be submitted online through a common portal provided by GSTN, the process is simplified and will help the government weed out regular defaulters. This in turn will result in a major boost in the contribution of the Service sector to the GDP.

Service providers, however, are concerned about the following aspects:

  • State-wise registration will be required: In the old regime, a service provider could operate with a single place of registration, since services were taxed only by the Central government. For example, if an IT services provider was present across states, they could carry out tax and delivery transactions from the main location. However, now a service provider that is offering services across states must register each place of business separately in each state. This is because the new GST regime entails taxation of services at “location of service recipient”, which will differ for different states. This means service providers will need to register afresh in new states and then carry out tax transactions separately in each state. For example, an IT company like TCS that has a widespread presence across states will need to decentralise service delivery.
  • Decentralised reporting will add to costs: Under GST, the “location of service recipient” is the key criterion for how a service will be taxed. Tax considerations will be related to the place the service is being delivered, and even a pan-India service provider with several “locations of service” will need to maintain state-wise records of input credit, audits, service consumption, etc. For example, earlier a service provider like TCS would enter into a single contract with the client, based on its main location, and then would discharge service tax based on the single-service tax registration model. GST will decentralise service delivery models, ensuring various TCS units adopt their own tax reporting and tax management. While this need for decentralised tax tracking and processing is an immediate cost to service providers, it presents a very real opportunity to streamline reporting and compliance measures for the future.

GST offers clear benefits to the services sector, and while some of these measures entail additional cost and effort in the short term, businesses can look forward to simpler operations with the new taxation laws.

All in all, services industries must gear up for better ways to manage business. Now is the time for them to equip themselves with the right people, processes and technologies, and emerge as service providers of the future.

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Oct 24, 2018

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A digital prescription for the pharma industry

Pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself our because it is pain, but because occasionally can procure great pleasure.

Oct 24, 2018

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Budget 2017: Giving SMEs a stronger footing

SMEs play a crucial role in the economic development of India. They contribute to 45% of the industrial output, 40% of the exports and 42% of the employment in the country. Although these enterprises are highly significant to the economy, they are regularly challenged by policies, laws and processes In recognition of this, the Union Budget 2017 gave start-ups and SMEs a lot to cheer about.

Increasing Financial Viability with a Lower Tax Burden

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a reduction in corporate tax from 30% to 25% for SMEs with an annual turnover of less than ₹50 crores. Moreover, the presumptive tax rate for SMEs with an annual turnover of up to ₹2 crores has been lowered from 8% to 6%. Both these measures would increase the bottom-line of SMEs. These enterprises work on low profits, and their survival is often threatened by even minor fluctuations in the business. The enhanced financial viability would increase the survival rate of SMEs.

At the same time, Budget 2017 has tried to align with the broader objective of increased digitalization. The proposed reduction in presumptive tax is applicable only for a firm’s gross receipts that are received via digital transactions. Also, no cash transaction above ₹3 lakhs would be permitted going forward. Both these measures have been designed to increase transparency and widen the tax base through digitalization.

Much Needed Breaks

Start-ups need maximum support during their initial years. From the next fiscal year, start-ups would have to pay taxes for only three out of seven years, up from last year’s exemption limit of five years, if they recorded profits. This is a great opportunity for start-ups and the economy. While a huge percentage of start-ups fail, these enterprises are responsible for introducing the most innovative products and services. The tax break announced by the Finance Minister would give start-ups a better fighting chance of survival and encourage more innovative ideas to be executed well.

Loans, Financing & Funding

The Finance Minister doubled the lending target to ₹2.44 lakh crores for the next fiscal year, making more credit available to small businesses to finance their working capital needs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already announced, on December 31, an increase in government credit guarantees for SMEs from ₹1 crore to ₹2 crores.

The FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) is to be abolished in the upcoming fiscal year. This would significantly liberalize policy related to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). This is expected to boost retail and ecommerce in the country. Mr. Jaitley mentioned that further FDI relaxations were under consideration.

Most traditional banks are unwilling to give loans to SMEs due to the fear of defaults. Tax concession on provisions for non-performing assets (NPAs) and capital infusion of ₹10,000 crores for state-owned lenders would make loans more accessible to SMEs.

To encourage more investments into start-ups, the condition of continuous holding of 51% voting rights has been relaxed for carrying forward of losses by start-ups, provided the founder remains invested in the business.

Building on Digital India

While saying the almost 125 lakh people had adopted the BHIM digital payment app, the Finance Minister announced two new schemes – cashback for merchants and referral bonus for individuals.

Aadhaar Pay, the merchant version of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS), is to be launched shortly. This app would enable consumers to make payments without using cards, e-wallets or even mobile phones, since the merchant’s device would be linked to an Aadhaar biometric reader. More than a billion people in India already have Aadhaar cards, and this system would make most financial transactions simple, fast and traceable. It would be a boon for raising loans, enabling fintech lenders to link repayment to payments received by the SME.

The government would be targeting ₹2500 crore digital transactions in FY18 through BHIM, Aadhaar Pay, IMPS and debit cards. The Finance Minister indicated that banks would have to introduce 10 lakh new point-of-sale (PoS) terminals by March and 20 lakh Aadhaar-based PoS terminals by September, allowing more digital transactions, which would enhance financial inclusion and transparency.

Infrastructure

For the upcoming fiscal year, the Finance Minister announced a step-up in the total allocation for infrastructure development to an all-time high of ₹3.96 lakh crores, including increased allocations for railways, road and shipping. Infrastructural development eases a huge bottleneck faced by SMEs in transporting their goods to other regions in a timely and cost-effective manner. Better infrastructure would give confidence to SMEs to expand their markets farther and reduce wastage and spoilage during transportation.

Moreover, the roll out of GST (Goods and Services Tax), which the Finance Minister indicated was tracking as planned, would further increase the ease of doing business in other states.

An allocation of ₹10,000 crores towards the Bharat Net project was announced. This would increase access to high-speed broadband across India, facilitating communication and allowing SMEs to reach out to clients located in various corners of the country in a cost-efficient way. The geographic scale achieved will help SMEs to break physical boundaries and leverage bigger opportunities for growth.

The latest Union Budget comes as a respite for start-ups and SMEs. The strengthening of these businesses would play a critical role in India’s transition to becoming an economic superpower.

Oct 24, 2018