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Are penalties under Indian GST laws in revenue-neutral situations justifiable?

Abhishek Raja , Last updated: 01 April 2024  

Unpacking the complexities and what it means for businesses. Let's dive deep into the balance between compliance and fairness.


In the ever-evolving landscape of Indian taxation, professionals and businesses are continuously adapting to the complexities of Indirect Taxation (IDT) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) laws. A particularly challenging aspect that merits discussion is the imposition of penalties in revenue-neutral situations. How does the current framework address this, and what implications does it hold for businesses? This article aims to unravel these questions, providing clarity and actionable insights.

Are penalties under Indian GST laws in revenue-neutral situations justifiable

The Concept of Revenue Neutrality

Revenue neutrality is a cornerstone principle in tax reform, aiming to realign tax structures without significantly altering the total tax revenue. In the context of IDT and GST, it ensures that changes do not adversely affect the government's finances while simplifying tax compliance for businesses. But when it comes to penalties for non-compliance, does the principle of revenue neutrality hold?

Penalties in IDT and GST: A Balancing Act

The GST regime, hailed for its 'One Nation, One Tax' philosophy, simplified many aspects of indirect taxation. However, penalties for non-compliance, including late filing, incorrect filings, or evasion, remain a contentious issue. In revenue-neutral scenarios, where errors in filing do not lead to tax evasion or loss of revenue, the imposition of penalties sparks debate. Are these penalties fair, or do they burden businesses, especially MSMEs, disproportionately?


Judicial Pronouncements

Delve into notable case studies and judicial pronouncements that have shaped the interpretation and application of penalties in revenue-neutral circumstances.

Nirlon Limited vs CCE

(2015) 14 SCC 798 : AIR 2015 SC Supp. 1844 : (2015) 320 ELT 22 (SC)

The question is about the intention namely, whether it was done with bona fide belief or there was some mala fide intentions in doing so. Agreeing with the contention for appellant, in the circumstances explained, the appellant could not have achieved any purpose to evade duty. (Para 7). In Revenue neutral demands, the extended period and penalty are not justified.

Umed Bhawan Palace vs Commissioner of CGST,  Excise & Customs, Udaipur

2022 (65) G.S.T.L. 470 (Tri. - Del.)

Penalty under Section 78 of Finance Act, 1994 was not imposable where there was no deliberate non-compliance and situation was wholly revenue neutral.

Piramal Healthcare Ltd. vs Commissioner of Central Excise and Service Tax, Indore

(2015) 38 STR 1162 (Tri. Del.)

When Tax under Reverse Charge Mechanism is not paid and if paid, that was available as CENVAT Credit, the situation is revenue neutral, and penalty U/s 77 of Finance Act, 1994 set aside.

Esdee Paints Ltd. vs Commissioner of Central Excise and Service Tax, Ahmedabad

(2009) 233 ELT 139 (Tri. Ahmd.)

Debit of 10% of duty amount instead of 10% of value of inputs sent to job worker. There is no justification for imposition of penalty since demand is unsustainable and the entire exercise being revenue neutral.

Felis Leo Engg. Pvt. Ltd. vs Commissioner of Central Excise, Pune

(2017) 348 ELT 681 (Tri. Mum)

Export of goods under rebate: Duty payable by the assessee eligible to be refunded as a rebate. Since the entire situation is revenue neutral, any demand and penalty are not sustainable.

India Cements Ltd vs Commissioner of Central Tax, Tirupati GST

(2023) 7 Centax 94

Where appellants were availing and utilizing such amount of Cenvat credit as was distributed by their ISD, question of suppression or evasion did not arise at all as appellants were mere receivers of distributed Cenvat credit and were otherwise regularly mentioning availment/utilized amount in their ER returns.

Demand of Cenvat, interest and penalties were not sustainable when wrongful availment of credit was a procedural lapse and situation was revenue neutral.

Varaha Infra Limited Vs Commissioner of CGST, Jodhpur

2023-VIL-102-CESTAT-DEL-ST : TRT-2024-835

Demand of tax on payment of rent have been raised by invoking extended period of limitation on reverse charge basis vide SCN. Admittedly, Appellant on payment of service tax on rent was entitled to Cenvat Credit of same, thus, situation is wholly revenue neutral, hence demand is set aside and quantum of penalty is reduced.

Air Asia India Limited vs Commissioner of Central Tax, Bangalore North

2021 (51) G.S.T.L. 310 (Tri.-Bang)

Service Tax being paid under reverse charge mechanism, qualifies as input service for availing Cenvat credit. Hence, entire issue revenue neutral. Demand and consequent interest and penalty set aside.



This article has explored the underpinnings of revenue neutrality, the balancing act of penalties in the GST regime, and the nuanced interpretations offered by judicial pronouncements. These cases reveal a consistent theme: the courts often find that in scenarios where non-compliance does not lead to tax evasion or result in a loss of revenue, penalties may not be justifiable.

The judgments highlighted, ranging from Nirlon Limited vs CCE to Air Asia India Limited vs Commissioner of Central Tax, Bangalore North, underscore a critical principle: the intent and impact of actions must guide the imposition of penalties. In instances where errors or non-compliance are genuine oversights without any intention of evasion, and the situation remains revenue-neutral—meaning it does not affect the overall tax revenue - the heavy hand of penalties seems disproportionate and counterproductive.

This nuanced approach suggests that penalties, while essential for enforcing compliance, should be applied judiciously, taking into account the intent behind non-compliance and the principle of revenue neutrality. It calls for a reformative shift in how penalties are perceived and implemented under GST laws. Rather than a punitive measure, penalties should aim to educate and encourage compliance, ensuring they are proportionate to the nature of the infraction.

As India continues to refine its GST framework, it remains imperative to foster an environment where compliance is encouraged through understanding and cooperation, rather than coercion. This evolution will not only enhance the ease of doing business but also fortify the trust between taxpayers and the government, paving the way for a more robust and resilient economy.

The author is a practicing Chartered Accountant from Delhi and is a speaker and author on taxation.

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Published by

Abhishek Raja
(Practising CA)
Category GST   Report



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