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Expect further rise in service tax rate, pruning in list of excise exemptions
February, 10th 2016

While speculations of 'will it' or 'won't it' continue to surround GST's implementation in April 2016, we reckon the Finance Minister will introduce some changes that will play a catalyst role to GST's introduction at a later date.

For instance, it is expected that the government may further raise the rate of service tax to bring it in alignment with revenue neutral rate of GST. Also, the Budget may witness a pruning in list of around 300 goods that are currently exempt from excise duty, taking yet another stride towards the GST marathon.

With this being said, while the GST Bill sits on the bench, the Finance Minister should also focus on a few other areas to remove a crease (or two) in the ease of doing business.

Take, for instance, service tax - with an increase in rate of tax, service tax exemption threshold may also be raised. This will provide respite to small businesses (by keeping them outside the service tax net and reducing compliance cost), and allow the indirect tax administration to play vigilante on bigger tax payers.

Another area where changes would be welcomed is the CENVAT credit regime. One may recall that the scheme was made restrictive in April 2011 by imposing restrictions, exceptions and limitations on availability of CENVAT credit on certain inputs and input services.

Similarly, the restriction on availing CENVAT credit beyond one year has a significant impact on the industries where inputs and input services are in large volumes. Such unnecessary qualifications/ restrictions should ideally be done away with, and all costs in relation to business activities should be allowed as credit.

Another problematic area businesses struggle with is SVB (the Special Valuation Branch of Customs, handling related-party imports). The Budget should provide for simplification of SVB procedures, prescribe statutory timelines for issue of orders by SVB to ensure timely clearances and increase the time limit for renewal (from three years to five years).

Another area of concern for service providers is the high interest rates of 18 per cent to 30 per cent. This vitiates service providers' ability to litigate genuine tax positions on interpretative issues. The high interest cost acts as a huge deterrent especially with very restricted advance ruling options.

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