On the day one of its crucial fourteenth meeting, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council, headed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, finalized tax rates on 1211 items, under the four-slab structure with essential items of daily use being kept in the lowest bracket of 5 percent. The most of the items will likely become cheaper as the new rates will be lower than the current effective levies. The Council in the opening session of the two-day meeting also approved rules for the rollout of the new indirect tax regime from July 1, 2017.
Out of 1211 items, GST rates on all except six categories have been decided. Under the new tax regime, rates will range from 5 to 28 percent, with 12 percent and 18 percent being the standard rates. Only 19 percent of goods will be taxed above 18 percent, while 81 percent of items will fall under below 18 percent GST rate slabs. Cereals and milk will be exempted from tax, while sugar, edible oil, normal tea and coffee (not instant tea or coffee) will attract a GST rate of 5 percent, down from the current effective rate of 4-6 percent. Coal will be taxed at 5 percent under GST, compared to a current effective rate of 11.7 percent, along with a levy of Rs 400 per tonne.
Common use products like hair oil, soaps and toothpaste will be charged with a single national sales tax or GST of 18 percent instead of present 22-24 percent tax incidence through a combination of central and state government levies. Prices of foodgrains, especially wheat and rice, will come down as they will be exempt from GST. Currently, some states levy Value Added Tax (VAT) on them. Aerated drinks and cars will be in 28 percent bracket. On top of the peak rate, small cars will attract a 1 percent cess, mid-sized cars will attract 3 percent and luxury cars 15 percent. ACs and refrigerators will fall in the 28 percent tax slab, while life saving drugs have been kept at 5 percent rate.
The panel will discuss tax rates for gold and some other items on May 19, 2017, and could meet one more time if necessary to decide rates on remaining items. The GST will be a national sales tax that will be levied on consumption of goods or use of services. It will replace 16 current levies - seven central taxes like excise duty and service tax and nine state taxes like VAT and entertainment tax - thereby creating India as one market with one tax rate. With the GST, India will join select league of nations with a goods and service tax.