Wednesday, August 24, 2016

GST and Tax Competition

In the last post on GST, Adithya Reddy highlighted some speeches by members of the Constituent Assembly. Two of those are germane to our present discussion. One is by Mr. Mahavir Tyagi: “Because there is no ceiling limit on this sales tax, they can go on raising the tax …My point is that if we do not fix a limit, the provincial Governments would go on taxing”. The other is by Mr. Ramaswamy Mudaliar, who said: “as far as possible, it (sales tax) should be uniform… in all the provinces. You will be killing the goose if you go on increasing the sales tax”.
These statements are puzzling. If certain taxes are left to the states, one would expect taxes to be driven down, due to constant competition among the different states to attract investment. One explanation would be the closed nature of the economy at the time – states did not have to strongly compete with lower taxes to attract private firms.
Under the proposed GST regime, the indirect tax rate(s) will be set by one central authority, the GST Council comprising of the finance ministers of the Union and the States. The GST Council does have any internal competitive pressures to anchor the tax rate. As this piece by Prashant Perumal argues, this centralisation is (theoretically) likely to lead to higher tax rates.
Whether tax competition is ‘good’ or not, is a subject of debate amongst economists and policymakers. Tax competition leads to a race towards the bottom, with governments forced to cut taxes for wealthy investors (especially corporate taxes) whilst compromising on subsidies and redistribution (Vivek Dehejia’s piece presents a brief overview of this debate). This has led to calls for cooperation among governments to limit the harmful effects of such competition. For instance, member states of the EU (a monetary union with each member state having independent fiscal policy) have agreed to a ‘Code of Conduct’ for business taxation. The agreement acknowledges both the positive and negative effects of tax competition, and aims to restrict the latter through cooperation and collaboration.

Tribute to Professor V.S. Mani - Some Personal Reflections

Guest Post By Tony Anghie

[Professor V.S. Mani passed away on August 22, 2016.  This is a solicited guest post by Professor Antony Anghie of the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, who is a founder member of TWAIL (Third World Approaches to International Law)]
I first encountered Professor V.S.Mani very early on in my career. He was the legal advisor to the Government of Nauru and later, one of the very distinguished counsel, together with Professor Ian Brownlie and Professor James Crawford, to appear before the International Court of Justice to successfully argue Nauru’s Case. He had a unique role to play in the proceedings, not only because of his expertise in international adjudication-the subject of his first major book-but because he was involved in the dispute from the very beginning, from the time the Nauru Commission that explored the issues surrounding the Australian exploitation of phosphates in Nauru was created; he   was instrumental in ensuring that the Nauruan claim that was derided when it was first made, gradually assumed a formidable legal character that could be brought before the ICJ. He also appeared for India before the ICJ. 

Professor Mani was a prolific author who wrote with expertise and insight on a number of major topics of international law including humanitarian law, space law, and the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States. His works presented the position of developing states with eloquence, rigour and a profound knowledge of the discipline. He was invited to give the Hague Lectures, among the greatest honours bestowed upon international lawyers, and testament to the international reputation he had won in the field. He chose to speak and write on the always controversial topic of Humanitarian Intervention as his subject. His erudition was immense and I was often startled by the depth and breadth of his knowledge of international law. No lawyer from a non-Western country has become a regular practitioner before the ICJ, but Professor Mani had all the qualifications and expertise and experience that would have enabled him to play this role with distinction. 
Professor Mani was elected to be the President of the Asian Society of International Law in 2011. This was a duty he undertook with a heavy heart, for it had been the hope of the whole Society that Professor Mani’s great teacher, Professor R.P.Anand, would preside over the biennial conference in New Delhi, but that was not to be. The task of organizing the Conference in New Delhi was not an easy one because of various unexpected obstacles. Professor Mani dealt with them all with his customary dedication and his considerable diplomatic skills, and thanks to him and his dedicated team of colleagues, the Conference was a great success. When I congratulated him on his achievement, with tears in his eyes he mentioned what all knew, that he had done it for his teacher. It is a shock then that he followed Professor Anand after such a short interval and that two great Indian international lawyers should leave us in a relatively short space of time.

As a person, Professor Mani was always gentle, kind and good humoured. His early passing is an immense loss to India and to the world of international law. 

[UpdateThis is a link to a review of Prof Mani's book that Prof. Anghie refers to above, and here is a link to some of Prof Mani's recent writings for The Wire].  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Long Road to GST Amendments and the Longer Road Ahead

Guest Post by Adithya Reddy
The constitution amendments introduced to give effect to the proposed levy of Goods & Services Tax (GST) are primarily enabling amendments conferring concurrent legislative competence on the Parliament and State Legislatures. This became necessary because GST takes within its sweep three different incidences of taxation, two of which fell under List I (manufacture and services in Entries 84 & 92 C respectively) and one under List II (sales under Entry 54). Possibility of conflict in exercise of this concurrent jurisdiction is avoided not by granting superiority to the Parliament but by constituting a GST council that will ensure uniformity in all matters of GST levy and administration. Being central levies, excise duty and service tax always had a uniform national character. Extending this feature to sale of goods, is, in my view, the most significant change brought about by these amendments in the constitutional scheme.
It was not without debate that the Constituent Assembly agreed on letting sales tax remain within the domain of states. Sales tax was a provincial subject under the Government of India Act, 1935. Some members were firmly against its continuation in this way. The concern appeared to be the tendency of states to over-exploit sales tax. Ramaswamy Mudaliar, for instance, said “as far as possible, it (sales tax) should be uniform… in all the provinces. You will be killing the goose if you go on increasing the sales tax”. Mahavir Tyagi was most forceful in his opposition to leaving sales tax to the mercy of states. Referring to the original purpose for which sales tax was left for the states, he said:
“When various taxes were enumerated in the list of provincial subjects, it was considered that the sales tax was a sort of minor help to the provinces, for their revenues were static and there was no chance for raising them. The provinces mostly depended on their land revenue which is more or less fixed for a number of years. Therefore, with the increased activities of the provincial Governments it was thought better to give them some margin of extra revenue to balance their budgets. 
Now, Sir, they got a little margin in the shape of this sales tax. As I see things, within a few years, the situation is totally changed…Now, Sir, the incidence of taxation is the heaviest in India. India had never faced even in times of war, such an incidence of taxation as it is bearing today… Because there is no ceiling limit on this sales tax, they can go on raising the tax …My point is that if we do not fix a limit, the provincial Governments would go on taxing, and we would be doing sheer injustice to the people who are at our mercy and who will have no right to protest or withhold these taxes. They would only have to draw solace from the fact that they were after all being taxed by the persons for whom they had voted.”[1]
These comments were being made in response to Ambedkar’s tabling of draft Art 264A, which removed inter-state sale of goods from the states’ purview. While Mahavir Tyagi was so critical of letting local sales tax remaining within the jurisdiction of states, Amiyo Kumar Ghosh went to the other extreme by demanding that even inter-state sales should be taxed by the states. One member, however, suggested something that could have been very similar to what may come to be under the GST set-up.
Professor Shibban Lal Saxena moved an amendment that proposed to remove restrictions on both, the State to tax inter-state trade and the Centre to fix rates of local sales tax; thus suggesting some sort of a concurrent jurisdiction for all forms of sales tax. Finally, however, draft Art 264A as introduced by Ambedkar became Art 286 of the Constitution.
The Article was (then) accompanied by an explanation which lead to the Supreme Court overruling its own view, within a span of two years, on whether the consuming state could levy tax on sellers in other states and whether the explanation was an exception to the prohibition against states taxing inter-state sales.[2] The issue was set at rest by an amendment to the Constitution and the enactment of Central Sales Tax Act, 1956 which, regulated taxation of goods moving from one state to another. The Act ensured uniformity in such taxation.
The fiscal prudence of this set up was considered by the Taxation Enquiry Commission headed by John Mathai, which categorically ruled out the possibility of centralizing sales tax on basis that it “had strong local moorings.” The business community however was relentless in attacking state-centric sales tax. FICCI presented a memorandum to the Central Government in 1960 demanding that sales tax should be levied and collected by the Central Government and then should be distributed among the States. This memorandum prompted the Government to set up a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. B.C. Roy to examine the feasibility of centralizing sales tax. But the states appeared to have vehemently opposed not just any attempt to centralise sales tax but even the then existing system of levying central additional excise duty in lieu of sales tax for a few products like sugar, tobacco and textiles. Even successive finance commissions could not ignore state autonomy. In what appears to have been the first political move on this front, the Janata Party promised abolition of sales tax as a part of its manifesto but could do little to take things forward.
Ideally this position should have changed with the introduction of VAT by most state legislatures.[3] It was quite incongruous to allow a state-based levy when the incidence of taxation had shifted from the point of sale to value addition in a supply chain that could stretch across multiple states. Under State-centric VAT legislations, the fundamental benefit of VAT, which is the removal of cascading effect of taxation, could be fully obtained only when the chain of supply fell within the same state. Once again, opposition from states to centralisation let this incongruous situation continue for more than decade.
The GST Constitution Amendment changes the constitutional scheme to enable the centralisation of all taxation on goods and services, while giving states a say in the matter through the GST Council. How the states reconcile themselves to this new constitutional arrangement will be the key to the success of GST.
There are at least three problematic issues with the proposed GST. The first, of course, will be that of separation of powers over taxation. Sec. 7 of the Model GST law released by the Government says “There shall be levied a tax called the Central/State Goods and Services Tax (CGST/SGST) on all intra-State supplies of goods and/or services at the rate specified in the Schedule . . . to this Act and collected in such manner as may be prescribed.” It is not clear from this provision whether every supply of goods and/or services will be subject to both Central GST and State GST or whether there will be a division of assesses between both levies based on the natures of goods and/or services supplied or on the basis of turnover. West Bengal, for instance, has already demanded that all dealers with a turnover limit of less than 1.5 crores should be left for the states to tax.
Next will be the issue of administration. While the states almost exclusively administered all aspects of sales tax both under CST and local law, the center will have to ensure that its current administrative set-up adjusts itself to tracking supplies within and across states. Coordination between the two authorities will be crucial. After all, if the final law contemplates concurrent assessment under central and state GSTs for the same kind of transactions, an assesse may have to undergo the harrowing experience of facing two assessments for the same transaction by two sets of officials with different administrative backgrounds.
Finally, the issue of compensating states for loss of revenue by fixing a Revenue-Neutral-Rate (RNR) of tax is likely to be very contentious.[4] The apprehension of manufacturing states has been put pithily by a senior bureaucrat of the Tamil Nadu government:-
“The worries of the manufacturing states have not been addressed properly by the union government. The revenue loss compensation assured by the union government for a specific period is a rocket booster, but it is doubtful that the proposed GST vehicle would launch the manufacturing states in the revenue trajectory they are travelling in now, especially after the booster runs out. If there is a failure in this mission, with no independent powers of taxation, such states may be left in the lurch.”
Therefore, while the long struggle for constitutional change may have attained fruition, the success of its working through statues and regulations is likely be as daunting if not more.

(Adithya Reddy is a lawyer practicing before the High Court of Madras)

[1] Tyagi’s attempts to persuade Ambedkar on the issue were caustic, to put it mildly.
[2] The decision in State of Bombay Vs. United Motors - 1953 SCR 1069 was overruled in Bengal Immunity Company Ltd Vs State of Bihar – 1955 2 SCR 61. The decision to constitute a larger bench in Bengal Immunity was taken only because one of the judges in United Motors (Justice Bhagwati) claimed to have changed his view on the provision. This manner of over-ruling precedent, unsurprisingly, attracted Seervai’s ire in his commentary.
[3] The Kelkar Task Force on the implementation of the FRBM Act, 2003 suggested that progress towards VAT system should be preceded by a comprehensive goods and service tax.
[4] The RNR of 15-15.5% recommended by the Arvind Subramaniam Committee has not been received well by the states:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Call for Submissions - National Law School of India Review, Vol. 29(1)

[The following announcement is posted on behalf of the National Law School of India Review]

The National Law School of India Review (NLSIR) is now accepting submissions for its upcoming issue - Volume 29(1). The NLSIR is the flagship law review of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, India. The NLSIR is a bi-annual, student edited, peer-reviewed law journal providing incisive legal scholarship on issues that are at the forefront of contemporary legal discourse. For more than 25 years, the NLSIR has regularly featured articles authored by judges of the Indian Supreme Court, senior counsels practicing at the Indian bar, and several renowned academics.

The most recent issue of the NLSIR, Vol. 28(1) and 28(2), will feature contributions by Professor Michael Philip Furmston, Emeritus Professor of Law, Singapore Management University, and Surabhi Chopra, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Law, Chinese University of Hong Kong, among several others. Moreover, in August 2009, NLSIR attained the unique distinction of being the only Indian student-run law journal to be cited by the Supreme Court of India, in Action Committee, Un-Aided Private Schools v. Director of Education. NLSIR has also recently been cited in Justice R. S. Bachawat's Law of Arbitration and Conciliation, a leading treatise on arbitration law in India.

Papers may be submitted under the following categories:

1. Long Articles: Between 5000 and 8000 words, inclusive of footnotes. Papers in this category are expected to engage with the theme and literature comprehensively, and offer an innovative reassessment of the current understanding of that theme. It is advisable, though not necessary, to choose a theme that is of contemporary importance. Purely theoretical pieces are also welcome.

2. Essays: Between 3000 and 5000 words, inclusive of footnotes. Essays are far more concise in scope. These papers usually deal with a very specific issue, and argue that the issue must be conceptualized differently. They are more engaging, and make a more easily identifiable, concrete argument.

3. Case Notes and Legislative Comments: Between 1500 and 2500 words, inclusive of footnotes. This is an analysis of any contemporary judicial pronouncement or a new piece of legislation whether in India or elsewhere. The note must identify and examine the line of cases in which the decision in question came about, and comment on implications for the evolution of that branch of law. In case of legislative comment the note must analyze the objective of the legislation and the legal impact the same is expected to have.

Authors are requested to note that pieces engaging with a foreign theme or legal development, in any of the above categories, should also explain its relevance in the Indian context, whether by virtue of similar laws or otherwise.

Submissions are preferred in Times New Roman font, double-spaced. Main text should be in font size 12 and footnotes in font size 10. All submissions must be in docx format. The review uses only footnotes (and not end-notes) as a method of citation. Submissions must conform to the Bluebook (19th edn.) system of citation.

The NLSIR only accepts electronic submissions. All submissions should contain the name of the author, professional information, the title of the manuscript, and contact information. The last date for submissions to Volume 29(1) is the 1st of November, 2016. Submissions may be emailed to under the subject heading '29(1) NLSIR – Submissions.'