WASHINGTON: The Modi government‘s initiatives like Swachh Bharat, Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation are having desired impact, the latter two resulting in increasing tax compliance and squeezing quantum of cash in the economy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said.
In his key note address – via video conference — to the Berkeley India Conference, Jaitley said that there is public support to the reforms being undertaken by the governments of the day both at the centre and state levels.
“I do hope that India is able to retain its growth rate once again and live up to the aspirations of its people because we must not forget that we not only have a large population to service, we have a very young population to service,” he said.
The union finance minister is scheduled to arrive on nearly a week-long visit to the US tomorrow to interact with the US corporate world in New York and Boston and attend the annual meeting of International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington DC. With young population there is not only a perception that they are being ‘under serviced’, but also, they are becoming more and more aspirational, he said.
“Time therefore is running against us,” Jaitley said.
In the next one or two decades, if India has to take a challenge for moving into a higher economic group country, “we have to grow at a much faster pace,” he said.
Jaitley in response to a question refuted the impression that transformational initiatives like Swachh Bharat, GST and demonetisation have not resulted in any changes on the ground.
“Would you say there are long term benefits and the country would have to wait for those? Or is there any way to mitigate the problem being faced by the country,” the finance minister was asked.
A more serious analysis, he argued, would show that even within matter of months there is a short term positive impact of all these projects.
While demonetisation and GST are having desired impact in terms of tax compliances and squeezing the quantum of cash in the economy, the minister said for the first time, Swachh Bharat campaign has brought to fore the importance of sanitation and cleanliness.
Observing that sizable progress is being made in terms of sanitation and cleanliness, he said for the first time in Indian history this has become a centre stage agenda and is moving forward.
The campaign is having both short term and long-term impact.
“It’s a movement that has become far beyond a governmental program. It a mass movement,” Jaitley said.
Before demonetisation, Indian normal was to live with a high cash economy, not paying taxes, “you buy a property, you transact partly in cash, and in business you maintain two sets of accounts,” he said.
“How can a country, which aims to be the fastest growing major economy in the world, which aspires to grow from a developing to a developed economy, continue with the normal of this type,” he asked.
And therefore, “you need to shake the system” in order to reduce the quantum of cash in India and therefore obviously to make it a more tax complaint society, he observed.
Cash itself involves several challenges.
It leads to corruption and several other problems.
“Let’s see for even those why say that there is no short-term advantage, has the number of tax payers in India immediately increased in the matter of months? The truth is, it has.
“Has the digitisation transaction increased from Rs 70 crores to Rs 130 crores today, it almost doubled,” the minister said.
In the immediate aftermath of demonetisation, Jaitley said there has been sharp reduction in insurgent and terror activities in states like Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh.
The funding of the terror itself has gotten squeezed, he told the Berkeley students.
“You are having terrorist incidents (now), but the fact that you were finding 5,000-10,000 stone throwers being provided with money by the terrorist organisations, why is it that in the last eight-10 months it has not happened?” he asked.
Moving on to GST, the minister said this has resulted in creation of a national tax structure.
“In the three months, you have all the check points in states disappeared, you have clear flow of goods and services which has started all over the country,” he said, adding that companies are sharing information about the distributors and retailers.
Slowly the whole chain is becoming, he said, adding that today many more people have registered themselves.
Acknowledging that the problem with them is related to compliance burden, Jaitley said the GST Council has noted these challenges and is taking steps to address them.
“But in terms of cash collection, the whole process going online, the process of … coming down, …one thing I can tell you the tendency of some to have the whole chain operate in cash will suffer a setback,” Jaitley said.
GST, he said, has been a “reasonable smooth transformation,” but there is scope for improvement.
“I think in GST Council we have succeeded in creating India’s first federal institution,” he said.
The transition, he said, would be a far more successful experience which will plug the holes into India’s taxation system.
Responding to questions, Jaitley said the Indian government wants to encourage startups.
Jaitley said India now has an aspirational population which wants changes and reforms at a fast pace itself, but also are impatient in this regard.
“The obvious challenge to the country is to grow and grow fast. It has to grow at a much higher rate than we have been growing in recent history,” he said adding that the benefits of the growth must also reach that section of the population which till date has been the least serviced one.
For this, more resources are required.
India, he told the Berkeley students has transformed out of a more conservative mindset and is not tuned to getting integrated globally much more than it was in the past.
Therefore, policies with regard to technologies and getting investment into India are much broader than they have been in the past, he said.
Observing that conventionally India was a far more difficult place to do business, he said that situation has substantially improved for the better.
Identifying corruption as one of the two stigmas for India, Jaitley said the institutional mechanism to fight corruption has become much stronger.
Asserting that direct taxes have to become “more rational and more reasonable” the minister said he has already announced a road map to bring down the corporate tax to about 25 per cent and is trying to ensure that India becomes a far more compliance society and also tax assessment is more technology driven rather than human interaction.