GST: The population factor

The tug of war over the Goods and Services Tax (GST) between the central government and state governments has raised questions on when this system of taxation—which collapses a multitude of taxes into one—will be implemented. When it does, it will change many things, one of which will be how much a state collects by way of taxing goods and services, something that is especially of concern to states with larger industrial bases but smaller populations.

That’s because the basis of GST is different from the basis of the two main taxes it will replace. The first main tax in the present system is excise levied by the Centre: a tax on production, it benefits states with larger industrial bases. The second is VAT (value added tax): a tax on sales levied by states, it benefits states with larger population and consumption.

However, since a company cannot set off the excise paid by it against VAT, states with a higher share of manufacturing collect and retain more taxes than states with a large population and consumption. Basically, the two taxes don’t talk to each other.

GST will change that as it will be levied at the point of consumption, and not production. Thus, prima facie, it will tilt the balance in favour of states with higher population and consumption, even if they don’t have a large industrial base.

So, with GST, which states stand to gain and which stand to lose? This realignment will play out at two levels. Graph 1 below maps three variables at the state level: population (red line), area (blue circle) and tax revenue (green line). The first two are also determinants to calculate a state’s share in GST.

Thus, at the first level, a downward sloping line is indicative of high population states (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal), and they are likely to benefit from GST. An upward sloping line is indicative of states with large industrial bases (Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat), and they could be impacted by the point of sale becoming the point of taxation.

But it’s also true that several states in India with the largest industrial bases (notably, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu) also have a large population and are leaders in per capita income. So, what these states lose in the first-level shift from manufacturing basis to consumption basis might be offset by their own consumption quotient.

The scatter diagram in Graph 2 below plots similar variables as Graph 1 (with the added nuance of tax per capita). So, for example, while a state like Tamil Nadu might lose revenues because of consumption-based taxation, its high tax per capita, an indicator of higher consumption, would offset this.

The net impact of both factors will determine how much a state loses or gains when GST is implemented.

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