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GST returns non-filers grow faster than tax base
January, 09th 2019

The number of tax filers failing to file their returns has been increasing in the 17 months of GST implementation until November 2018, according to an answer submitted by the Finance Ministry in the Lok Sabha.

While the number of people required to file monthly returns has grown 32% from July 2017 to about 98.5 lakh in November 2018, the number of people not filing these returns has grown 167% during that time, the latest Goods and Services Tax filing data showed.

The data also shows that this is not just the case for monthly filers, but also for those under the composition scheme, which allows for quarterly return filing.

While the number of people required to file quarterly returns increased about 55% from July 2017 to 17.74 lakh in November 2018, the number of people who have not filed returns increased about 162% during this period.

In other words, the number of people failing to file returns has grown faster than the tax base itself for both regular and composition filers.

Tax analysts say the reasons are varied, including some taxpayers having too low a turnover, and others getting registered onto GST only due to the insistence of their large clients, and yet others simply daunted by the filing process.

“While the increase in the proportion of non-filers is a matter of concern, it must be borne in mind that several GST registrants may be having nil or low turnover and some others may have taken registration on their customers’ insistence,” M.S. Mani, partner at Deloitte India, said. “Some of the initial challenges faced by smaller business on the GST portal may also have deterred some of them from attempting to file online returns.”

However, other tax analysts point towards a more serious situation where small businesses are systematically and fraudulently evading tax in the hope that they are too small for the taxman to notice.

“What happens is that a lot of small vendors get onto the system because their large clients force them, because the client can avail of input tax credits only if their supplies are from a GST-registered vendor,” a tax analyst with a large consultancy told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity.

“However, these small vendors try to fly below the tax radar. They charge the GST rate on their supplies, but then keep this as their own profit margin instead of paying tax to the government.”

These vendors base these activities on the fact that the taxman will take 2-3 years to notice this activity, since invoice matching is still not activated on the GST portal, the analyst added.

“By the time they are noticed, the vendor has already changed their name and GST number and is carrying on their business,” the analyst said.

‘Government loses’
“They have been doing this for 15 years under VAT and are simply transferring that practice to GST. The government loses because it has to pay ITC to the big corporate and doesn’t even get its tax revenue from the small vendors.”

Another analyst explained that, in reality, there are a relatively small number of taxpayers that fall below the ?20 lakh threshold for filing returns.

“A ?20 lakh income per year works out to about ?5,500 a day,” the analyst explained. “Even your corner grocery store or kirana store would do more business than this in a day. They just don’t file their returns because they are scared to draw the attention of the taxman.”

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