A Chennai shopkeeper has begun to split the bill for a pair of shoes, selling each separately. A garment dealer is selling the quintessential dupatta separately from the salwar suit that it ostensibly belongs to.
A leading basmati company, which established its brand with extensive print and electronic advertising for years, is seeking to withdraw trademark registration. It has informed the trade about other brands not being trademarked to claim tax exempt status.
Businesses are relying on innovative ways to beat the norms to ensure their products remain exempt or at lower rates under the goods and services tax (GST) that rolled out on July 1.
Most businesses are taking advantage of the GST Council’s attempts to protect consumers, especially the aam aadmi. Footwear of less than Rs 500 faces GST of 5% while that above it is charged at 18%. Apparel under the GST regime attracts a tax rate of 5% if priced below Rs 1,000 and 12% above that.
“Structurally, having different tax rates for differently priced goods creates classification disputes and litigation since there is an inclination on part of the taxpayer to find ways of charging a lower rate,” said Bipin Sapra, partner, tax and regulatory services, indirect tax, EY.
Similarly, GST is zero on some food items. This includes cottage cheese or paneer, natural honey, wheat, rice and other cereals, pulses, flour of cereals and pulses, other than those in containers and bearing a registered brand, in which case GST is 5%. The government is not amused by what businesses are doing. It is one thing to modify goods to avail lower rates and another to misuse the provision.
“This was not the intent,” said a government official, adding the council can revisit the framework if the trend increases. Sapra said, “If GST rate is to be determined on the basis of registered brand name, there may be products not registered but equally popular. Basis of rate determination should be more objective and non-discriminatory.”
Misuse has become possible because of multiple rates under GST — exempt, 0%, 5%, 12%, 18%, 28% and 28% plus cess. Central government officials, who had seen classification disputes under central excise duty, were not much in favour of differentiation in rates on the basis of value. The view was that goods under the same HSN (Harmonised System of Nomenclature) should be at the same rate.