Mobilization of Resources – 3: Government Finances
Government of India retains a big role in economy. In aftermath of LPG reforms, it has pulled back substantially from private sector, yet its presence is unquestionable and desirable in social sector, defense and security, provision of public goods and services etc. It has huge bureaucracy which consumes enormous national resources. Further, in line with modern concept of Market Socialism government intervenes in case of market failures for which it needs to provide services or goods significantly below cost. In effect, government’s expenditure generally surpasses its revenue which results into Revenue or Fiscal deficit. In the first place, major source of government revenue is from taxation, but there are non-tax sources too. At last, government resorts to deficit financing to fulfill its commitments. All this happens under aegis of Finance Ministry.
This ministry is biggest subdivision of Government of India and has under it, largest number of departments (5). It also has one Minister of State. Departments under it are –
(Please explore sites and have a glance at subdivisions)
This ministry eclipses whole economic and financial system. All regulatory bodies and attached offices relating to economics and finance come under it.
Expenditure: Plan and non-Plan
a) Plan Expenditure: As the name suggests, plan expenditure is directed toward building productive social and physical assets or we can say achieving the goals of development. Expenditure on all Centrally Sponsored Schemes like, NREGA, ICDS etc. are part Plan Expenditure. This till now remained in hands of planning commission. Now with abolition of PC future development are to be seen.
Gross budgetary outlay for plan – Central plan plus central assistance to state and UTs
b) Non Plan Expenditure – Non-plan revenue expenditure is incurred on interest payments, subsidies (mainly on food and fertilizers), wage and salary payments to government employees, grants to States and Union Territories governments, pensions, police, economic services in various sectors, other general services such as tax collection, social services, and grants to foreign governments. It also includes defense, loans to public enterprises, loans to States, Union Territories and foreign governments.
Rangarajan Committee in 2010 recommended that this distinction should be done away with. Reason was that this distinction resulted in over focus on Plan expenditure and neglect of Non plan expenditure. It projected Non Plan expenditure as a waste expenditure, and various welfare lobbies kept pressurizing government to increase proportion of plan expenditure at cost of non-plan. This resulted in substandard quality and underfinancing of basic responsibilities of government which rely on Non-plan expenditure.
It is felt that in absence of this distinction, Non-plan expenditure can outpace Plan expenditure and major Safety net schemes will suffer a set back.
Apart from this expenditure is also classified into, Capital and Revenue Expenditure. Former involves creation of durable capital assets and latter is consumption expenditure with no durable assets created.
Revenue: Tax and non-tax Revenue
As already said, expenditure of the government is dominantly financed by tax revenue.
- Tax revenue
- Direct Taxes
These involve taxes such as income tax, wealth tax, corporate tax etc. Peculiar feature of direct tax is that person who is charged to tax himself is liable to pay tax.
- Indirect Taxes
In this case, tax is generally on transactions, commodities etc. In this case person who pays tax can claim tax so paid from customer. This way whole burden is shifted on ultimate consumer.
Value added Tax –
Let’s take a typical value chain of Manufacturer- wholesaler-retailer- Consumer. Here value addition (in sale price) is at three stages viz. when goods move from manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer to finally consumer. Let respective sale prices be 100, 120 and 150.
If Indirect tax (say Sales tax) is 10%, it will be collected at three stages on same product. So new prices will be Manuf. = 100+10% = 110; Wholesaler = 110 + 10% (tax) = 121 + Rs 20 (profit) = 141; Retailer= 141+ 10% (tax) = 155 + 30 (profit) = Rs 185. This way, with simple flat sales tax rate, consumer end up paying substantially higher prices. He also paid tax on tax, which is called cascading effect (note that Rs 141 at which 10% tax was claimed by retailer already includes Rs 21 of tax). Government got tax of 10+11+14.1 = Rs 35.1, for sale of Rs 185 which is significantly higher that 10%.
To remove this distortion and cascading effect, Value added tax was introduced. In this case tax was charged only on ‘value addition’ at every stage. At first stage 10% tax will be paid by manufacturer and goods will be invoiced at 110, now wholesaler will sell at Rs 100 (actual cost) + Rs 20 Profit @ Rs 120 + 10% (VAT).
He will collect Rs 12 from retailer and while paying this 12 to government he’ll deduct Rs 10 he already paid to manufacturer as VAT. This is called input credit.
This was that product will reach customer as 100+20+30=150 + 10% = Rs 165 and customers pays Rs. 150 to retailer and Rs 15 (10%) to government, through retailer. VAT though removed cascading effects of sales tax, yet there is plethora of other indirect taxes (such as Service tax, excise duty, custom duty, luxury tax etc.) which add up to the costs because of their cascading effect.
Further, VAT is chargeable in different states at different rates. In case of goods sold from one state to another CST is charged for which input credit is not allowed. All this create impediments in intercourse of national markets and trades, which is much desirable for competitive markets, industry and low prices.
Taxation subjects are divided between center and states as per lists in schedule seven under article 246. For e.g. its gives Excise, customs, service tax to center and sales tax/vat to state.
This multiplicity of taxes has unfavorable impact on GDP as to avoid complexities; people prefer to conceal their transactions. It is estimated that GST will push growth rate up by 1-1.5%.
Further, it obviously makes India performing poorly at indexes like ’ease of doing business’. This is because all these taxes have separate compliance provisions and reporting mechanisms. This increases compliance costs and time significantly.
More requirements for compliance naturally create more avenues for corruption and rent seeking.
Goods and Service Tax
One of the biggest taxation reforms in India — the Goods and Service Tax (GST) — is all set to integrate State economies and boost overall growth. GST will create a single, unified Indian market to make the economy stronger. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee while presenting the Budget on July 6, 2009, said that GST would come into effect from April 2010.
The basic principal governing behind GST is to have single Taxation System for Goods and Services across the country. As already said, currently Indian economy has various taxes on Goods and services such as VAT, Service Tax, Excise, Entertainment Tax, Luxury Tax Etc. now in the new Proposal of GST; we will be having only two taxes on all goods and Services as follows:
- State Level GST (SGST)
- Central Level GST (CGST)
A unified rate will be arrived at for e.g. (10+6), which will comprise of both Central and state GST and collection will go to respective authority, center or state.
The Union Finance Minister introduced the said Bill in the Lok Sabha in December, 2014. The proposed amendments in the Constitution will confer powers both to the Parliament and State legislatures to make laws for levying GST on the supply of goods and services in the same transaction.
GST will –
- Simplify and harmonize the indirect tax regime in the country.
- GST will broaden the tax base
It is feature of a good taxation regime that while keeping tax rates low they should attempt to include as much people as possible under tax net.
- Result in better tax compliance due to a robust IT infrastructure.
Due to the seamless transfer of input tax credit from one state to another in the chain of value addition, there is an in-built mechanism in the design of GST that would incentivize tax compliance by traders. It is thus, expected that introduction of GST will foster a common and seamless Indian market and contribute significantly to the growth of the economy.
- Reduce cost of collection for government: Currently government has huge bureaucracy collecting different taxes. Integration will naturally result into downsizing of bureaucracy and hence reduction of collection costs. Amusingly, in case of wealth tax (direct tax – charged over wealth over Rs. 30 lakhs) collection is so low that, cost of collection is more than tax collected.
- Impact on Inflation: In long term, GST will undoubtedly result in easing of inflation. However as initially rates of integrated GST are expected to be kept as high as 16% or more, it is well above current service tax, excise or VAT rates. In case of services, it will increase prices directly. In case of other goods inflation depends upon their present component of taxation viz. excise, VAT, Custom etc. For e.g. some goods which are currently exempted from excise (but are chargeable to VAT) will bear new burden of excise in form of increased rate (approx. 16%) of GST.
Following are the salient features of this amendment Bill:
- A new Article 246A is proposed which will confer simultaneous power to Union and State legislatures to legislate on GST.
- A new Article 279A is proposed for the creation of a Goods & Services Tax Council which will be a joint forum of the Centre and the States. This Council would function under the Chairmanship of the Union Finance Minister and will have Ministers in charge of Finance/Taxation or Minister nominated by each of the States & UTs with Legislatures, as members. The Council will make recommendations to the Union and the States on important issues like tax rates, exemptions, threshold limits, dispute resolution modalities etc.
The proposed GST has been designed keeping in mind the federal structure enshrined in the Constitution and will have the following important features:
- Central taxes like Central Excise Duty, Additional Excise Duties, Service Tax, Additional Customs Duty (CVD) and Special Additional Duty of Customs (SAD), etc. will be subsumed in GST. (Note that ‘basic custom duty’ in not included)
- At the State level, taxes like VAT/Sales Tax, Central Sales Tax, Entertainment Tax, Octroi and Entry Tax, Purchase Tax and Luxury Tax, etc. would be subsumed in GST.
- All goods and services, except alcoholic liquor for human consumption and Petroleum and petroleum products will be brought under the purview of GST.
- Both Centre and States will simultaneously levy GST across the value chain. Centre would levy and collect Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST), and States would levy and collect the State Goods and Services Tax (SGST) on all transactions within a State.
- In case of interstate trade – The Centre would levy and collect the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) on all inter-State supply of goods and services. There will be seamless flow of input tax credit from one State to another. Proceeds of IGST will be apportioned among the States.
- GST is a destination-based tax. All SGST on the final product will ordinarily accrue to the consuming State. It means that as goods will move in value chain from producer to consumer, whole GST burden/price will be recovered from consumer. (As explained in example for VAT above)
- GST rates will be uniform across the country. However, to give some fiscal autonomy to the States and Centre, there will a provision of a narrow tax band over and above the floor rates of CGST and SGST.
- It is proposed to levy a non-vatable additional tax of not more than 1% on supply of goods in the course of inter-State trade or commerce. This tax will be for a period not exceeding 2 years, or further such period as recommended by the GST Council. This additional tax on supply of goods shall be assigned to the States from where such supplies originate. Because GST is a destination based tax, tax will accrue to states in which goods are ultimately sold. So, to compensate states from which goods originated this (non-vatable tax) is proposed.
Finance Minister expects that if they are able to push GST through state legislature smoothly, then they can roll out GST in 2016. As this tinkers with federal fiscalism of the nation and require amendment in Schedule 7 and so many other federal articles (246A-279A), it is supposed to be passed by atleast half of state legislatures along with in both houses of parliament by special majority. So, it is to be seen that, whether current government able to do so.
Tax reforms have been in news for some time. GST is one of the major reform for which government is working. Some other topics and issues are –
- Minimum Alternate Tax- Government has, in order to attract investments in various backward geographic locations, or in exports or in certain crucial industry like Food processing or in SEZ/EOU, keep rolling out tax holiday schemes. Under these schemes investment as per some conditions, attracts a certain tax exemption for a certain period.
Overtime, businesses started exploiting these schemes to fullest by ‘aggressive tax planning’. Under these planning companies often used some or other loophole to secure more tax exemption than was reasonably due under spirit of the scheme. Reliance Industries was particularly notorious for this about a decade back. Eventually, these companies declared significant profits and dividends year after year, but ‘taxable profit’ as per income tax rule remained nil. Note that ‘book profits’ and ‘Taxable Profits’ are different. Adjustments are made into former to arrive at latter. So say with aggressive tax panning ‘book profits’ are Rs 100 Crore, but after adjustments ‘taxable profits’ comes out to be NIL.
To remedy this Minimum alternate Tax was introduced under which Minimum Floor rates were introduced on which companies will, notwithstanding any exemptions it enjoy, was liable to taxes. This rate was kept high.
By this move situation moved to opposite extreme. Now bonafied investor, who invested only because of concessions were forced to pay taxes. This kept investment away from Indian Special economic zones and other incentivized destinations.
- Retrospective Taxation – few years back Hutchison (Telecom Company based in Hong Kong) sold its stake in Hutch Essar to Vodafone PLC, and reaped huge profits. But all this profit which accrued in India, escaped from income tax by exploiting loopholes in the law. This was enormous loss to exchequer. Since this event, income Tax department had been desperately trying to recover tax from Vodafone. For this government in 2012 budget gave itself power for retrospective amendment in Income Tax and finance acts. Through this government can make new laws or change current laws or cancel amendment, all with force from backdate. Note that Article 20 prohibits retrospective legislation in case of criminal law only and it allows same for civil laws.
- General Anti Avoidance Rules – It was to be introduced wef. 1stApril, 2014 to check aggressive tax planning and flouting of income tax laws. It gives more power to Income Tax officials on how treat a suspicious entry in books of accounts. Onus to prove that entry is bonafied is on assesse. But, budget 2014 didn’t mention anything about GAAR, after budget, MoS for finance replied in parliament, “GAAR will be applicable from 1st April 2015.”
All this (MAT, retrospective taxation and GAAR) gave Indian Government and Income Tax department much bad name in eyes of all types of investors and business community. State was accused of unleashing ‘tax terrorism’ on businesses to make good its own weaknesses and messed up fiscal situation.
The government tried to revive investor sentiment by constituting an expert committee chaired by Parthasarathi Shome to re-examine the provisions on GAAR and retrospective amendments. The committee recommended a significant curtailment of GAAR and cautioned against retrospective amendments, except in the rarest of rare cases.
- Tax Administration Reforms Commission (TARC) – Also under Mr. Parthasarathi Shome (This is different from above mentioned expert panel). Its terms of reference, as name suggests included overall reforms in tax organization structure, processes, practices so as to reduce cost of tax collection and increase tax base. This involved capacity building of Tax departments in order to minimize tax evasion etc. Major recommendations were –
- Merge Central Board of Direct Taxes and Central Board of Excise and Customs (these are currently under department of revenue and oversees direct and indirect taxes, respectively)
- Abolish post of revenue secretary and instead “council of chairmen of boards” should be appointed for job.
- Work of Dept. Of Revenue be allocated to above two boards, it will result in better efficiency in collection.
- At least 10 % of tax administration budget should be spent on tax-payer services
- Income Tax return – should include wealth tax return, Pre filled returns could be considered.
- PAN number should be made common business identification number, to be used by other government departments also such as customs, central excise, service tax, DGFT and EPFO
- Avoid retrospective amendments in TAX LAWS , results in Protracted disputes
- Tax council headed by the chief economic advisor in the finance ministry be set up to develop a common tax policy, analysis and legislation for both direct and indirect taxes
- Efficient and speedy payments of tax refunds and Passbook scheme for TDS
Tax being main source of government finance is central for resource mobilization in economy. But in India Tax to GDP ratio is quite low. Combined (state center) tax to GDP ratio is only 15%. In other developing countries it is as high as 35%. For center alone in India it is (11-12%). Main reason is narrow taxation base and huge Tax Expenditure (or Tax foregone) by government of India.
Tax Expenditure/Tax Foregone/ Tax Subsidies
The statutory rates of taxes as notified by respective laws are divergent from the actual or effective rates of taxes, which is attributable to tax provisions that allow
- deductions or exemptions from the taxpayers’ taxable expenditure, income, or investment,
- deferral of tax liability,
- preferential tax rates
These provisions allow people to pay lower taxes by claiming deductions under various rules. Consequently, significant amount of tax is legally not received by government. This point remains most potent weapon in hands of left leaning parties to attack government.
A tax expenditure statement was laid before the Parliament for the first time in 2006-07 and it seeks to list the revenue impact of tax incentives or tax subsidies that are a part of the tax system of the central government.
Introduction of MAT significantly reduced tax foregone.
While the magnitude of tax expenditures or revenue forgone from central taxes is showing an upward trend for both direct and indirect taxes, it is imperative to introduce sunset clause with every provision which facilitates tax expenditure.
Revenue foregone forms significant part of GDP at 4-5%
Non Tax Revenue
Non-tax revenues of the centre mainly consist of interest and dividend receipts of the government, receipts from the services provided by central government like supply of central police force, issue of passport and visa, registration of companies, patents and licence fees, royalty from offshore oil fields, Coal mines and various receipts from the telecom and other sectors.
Further, there are sometimes handsome proceeds in from of non-debt capital receipts, which arise from disinvestments. Disinvestments targets last year were failed at miserably and this year government is quite optimistic about reaping benefits from good stock valuations at stock markets. Disinvestment was discussed at length here.
So far we saw government finances in following form –
High spending in social and physical infrastructure which is often as per plan expenditure, even higher non-plan commitments, low tax to GDP ratio and high tax foregone, all this boil downs to Deficits i.e. spending more than earning. There are different forms of budget deficit viz. primary Deficit, Revenue Deficit, Fiscal Deficit.
Whenever we are told that government expenditure has exceeded its receipts, in short that we have incurred budget deficit, before arriving at any conclusion we need to ask some further questions before arriving at any conclusions.
These questions may be like – was ‘capital receipts’ or ‘borrowings’ used to finance revenue expenditure? If so this is undesirable and correction in this should be prime focus of government.
If revenue expenditure is less than Revenue income than Revenue deficit takes place. (RE-RI = RD) In this situation deficit will be financed by capital receipts. Capital receipts come from productive investments. Under resource mobilization we are attempting to tilt national income, away from consumption, towards savings and then eventually towards productive investment. But, note here what’s happening? Here Investment resources are sold off to fund consumption.
Our 2nd question will be – was capital (or even revenue) expenditure financed through borrowings? If so we have incurred fiscal deficit. It is arrived at as – (Total Expenditure – Total Income) – borrowings = fiscal deficit
There may be situation where Revenue deficit was nil, but Fiscal Deficit was positive, this indicates that borrowing, were used to finance capital asset creation. Now policymakers and observers are keen to see that assets which are created on back of borrowings are productive enough to serve the interest rates.
Case 1 (don’t get disturbed by small figures)
Hypothetically, say when under MSP regime, wheat is procured from farmer by FCI at Rs 15/ kg and then through state PDS, this is sold at discounted prices of Rs. 1. Deficit of Rs. 14 has been incurred. Now at the yearend government has to pay farmer its due. It got just 1 rupee from consumer, it will give balance money from tax it collected. Now again tax it collected comes out to Rs. 10.
Now we can say revenue deficit of Rs 3 has been Incurred (Rs. 14-11)
Now government sold some PSU and is able arrange Rs 2 from that, now fiscal deficit will be Rs. 1, which will be borrowed by the government. (So Fiscal Deficit = Borrowing)
Note that if earning from PSU was Rs 3 than there was no Fiscal Deficit.
Wheat procured is for Rs. 15 and some Dam is created by Govt. for Rs 5. Wheat sold for PDS @ 1, tax collected is Rs 14. Now revenue deficit is Nil. And government sold some PSU for 2. Fiscal deficit is Rs 3 which will be financed by borrowing.
This is much tenable situation. In fact Fiscal Deficit is used to create demand in economy and it is method of Redistribution of resources. Note in this example that Tax collected of Rs. 14 has moved from taxpayers to farmers and Targeted beneficiaries of PDS. Also note that, Spending of Rs. 15 + 5 is more than income of government i.e. Rs. 17. Now there is Rs 3 more in circulation and this on one hand will revive demand and on other, it will create inflationary conditions.
It was John Keynes which in aftermath of Great Depression propagated that governments should incur fiscal deficits to revive demand.
Third question that can be asked is – How much flexibility do we have to curtail our expenditure?
Interest on borrowings is non flexible and non-negotiable expenditure. So it is excluded from fiscal deficit to arrive at Primary deficit. So primary deficit = Fiscal Deficit – interest on borrowings
Fiscal Discipline and FRBM act
Government is welfare state and strives to promote welfare. But as explained above it has financial constraints. By intervention government should attempt to build capacity of people to survive and grow themselves in market. But at same time government has to set minimum standards and provide safety nets to disadvantaged and vulnerable people of the society.
For this to happen successfully in long term, require governments to observe strict fiscal discipline. There is always immense pressure on government for spend its resources for competing interests. In turn government is always vulnerable for giving in blindly to such demands, due to political compulsions. Going too much beyond its resources may be beneficial in short term but for long term it results in to piling up of debt and ever increasing interest payments and as a result high inflation.
Deficit results in Inter-Generational inequity – Deficit simply means today government is living beyond its means, and to finance its expenditure it borrows money, which is to be paid backing future. This borrowing will accumulate interest overtime and after some time Principle along with interest will be paid by government by charging future tax payers, who are forced to pay for expenditure not being incurred over them.
Deficit ruins monetary policy of RBI – RBI makes monetary policy by monitoring supply of money in the economy. Main target behind this is inflation. As we have seen in foregoing discussion, that fiscal (and other) deficits increases money supply in the market, an inflationary trend is created.
Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management act
The main purpose was to eliminate revenue deficit of the country (building revenue surplus thereafter) and bring down the fiscal deficit to a manageable 3% of the GDP by March 2008. However, due to the 2007 international financial crisis, the deadlines for the implementation of the targets in the act was initially postponed and subsequently suspended in 2009. In 2011, given the process of ongoing recovery, Economic Advisory Council publicly advised the Government of India to reconsider reinstating the provisions of the FRBMA.
Further, the Act prohibits borrowing by the government from the Reserve Bank of India, thereby, making monetary policy independent of fiscal policy. The Act bans the purchase of primary issues of the Central Government securities by the RBI after 2006, preventing monetization of government deficit.
After reinstatement of FRBM act new targets were agreed at. Accordingly current year target is 4.1% last year was 4.6%.
It should be noted that, government used undesirable means to contain deficit last year. Government PSUs were forced to shell out huge dividends, some expenses were differed on next years and worst was that there was huge cut on plan expenditure. This crumbled centrally Sponsored schemes such as NREGA.
Fiscal deficit is nothing but borrowings of the government. Government has three sources viz. Borrow from RBI, Borrow from Open Market or Borrow from abroad.
In case it borrows from abroad it has to see that long term borrowings don’t are not financing revenue consumption and productive assets are created against them. This is also true for domestic borrowings.
Government keeps issuing bonds and Banks subscribes to these as they are required to invest in these bonds to comply with Statutory Lending Ratio (22% of net time and demand deposits).
There is well built primary and secondary debt market in which bond securities are subscribed to.
If fiscal deficit is high, it will result in increased inflation and money demanded by government from any of the source will be high. Here as demand for money becomes high, bond yields will shoot up and bond prices will fall. Say 6% Bond already trading at 98 will fall to 96, this will increase yield which is now Rs. 6 @ Rs 96 bond. This increased yield will become new rate at which money can be raised by government.
If money becomes too expensive government will have to resort to ‘monetization of deficit’ which is most undesirable. It means government will sell new bonds to RBI, which will pay Government newly printed currency. This will increase money supply in economy without any corresponding increase in real economy.
Debt to GDP ratio
This ratio measures government debt to percentage of GDP. Factors influencing it are
- Fresh Fiscal Deficit – increases the ratio
- Retirement of old debt – decreases the ratio
- Interest rate of debt
- GDP growth rate
Last two factors are most interesting, if GDP growth rate is above interest rate on debt, then ratio tends to decline overtime, this happened in India upto few years back, when growth rate was high. But with slowing down of economy, and growth rate falling below rate of return has resulted in rise in this ration.
This is serious concern, because GDP is directly proportional to tax collection. If ratio rises, more tax will go to serving interests and fiscal deficit will be higher.
India’s debt to GDP ratio is much comfortable and is hovering around 50%. Further, India’s debt majorly consists of ‘long term’ and domestic debt. In contrast countries like China have majorly external debt and their Debt is more than their GDP. This is case with most of the developed countries. Japan’s ratio is whopping 250% of its GDP, because of very low tax collections there.