Whether it was uniformity of taxation and consequent free interior trade or possession of ‘the jewel in the crown’ at the root of the prosperity of Britain is debatable, nonetheless the words of father of modern economics on the benefits of uniformity of system of taxation cannot be taken too lightly. Before implementation of Goods and Service Tax (GST), Indian taxation system was a farrago of central, state and local area levies. By subsuming more than a score of taxes under GST, road to a harmonized system of indirect tax has been paved making India an economic union.
2. CONSTITUTIONAL SCHEME OF INDIRECT TAXATION IN INDIA BEFORE GST :
2.1 Article 265 of the Constitution of India provides that no tax shall be levied or collected except by authority of law. As per Article 246 of the Constitution, Parliament has exclusive powers to make laws in respect of matters given in Union List (List I of the Seventh Schedule) and State Government has the exclusive jurisdiction to legislate on the matters containing in State List (List II of the Seventh Schedule). In respect of the matters contained in Concurrent List (List III of the Seventh Schedule), both the Central Government and State Governments have concurrent powers to legislate.
2.2 Before advent of GST, the most important sources of indirect tax revenue for the Union were customs duty (entry 83 of Union List), central excise duty (entry 84 of Union List), and service tax (entry 97 of Union List). Although entry 92C was inserted in the Union List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution by the Constitution (Eighty-eighth Amendment) Act, 2003 for levy of taxes on services, it was not notified. So tax on services were continued to be levied under the residual entry, i.e. entry 97, of the Union List till GST came into force. The Union also levied tax called Central Sales Tax (CST) on inter-State sale and purchase of goods and on inter-State consignments of goods by virtue of entry 92A and 92B respectively. CST however is assigned to the State of origin, as per Central Sales Tax Act, 1956 made under Article 269 of the Constitution.
2.3 On the State side, the most important sources of tax revenue were tax on sale and purchase (entry 54 of the State List), excise duty on alcoholic liquors, opium and narcotics (entry 51 of the State List), Taxes on luxuries, entertainments, amusements, betting and gambling (entry 62 of the State List), octroi or entry tax (entry 52 of the State List) and electricity tax ((entry 53 of the
State List). CST was also an important source of revenue though the same was levied by the Union.
3. HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF INDIRECT TAXATION IN POSTINDEPENDENCE INDIA TILL GST:
3.1 In post-Independence period, central excise duty was levied on a few commodities which were in the nature of raw materials and intermediate inputs, and consumer goods were outside the net by and large. The first set of reform was suggested by the Taxation Enquiry Commission (1953-54) under the chairmanship of Dr. John Matthai. The Commission recommended that sales tax should be used specifically by the States as a source of revenue with Union governments' intervention allowed generally only in case of inter-State sales. It also recommended levy of a tax on inter-State sales subject to a ceiling of 1%, which the States would administer and also retain the revenue.
3.2 The power to levy tax on sale and purchase of goods in the course of inter- State trade and commerce was assigned to the Union by the Constitution (Sixth Amendment) Act, 1956. By mid-1970s, central excise duty was extended to most manufactured goods. Central excise duty was levied on unit, called specific duty, and on value, called ad valorem duty. The number of rates was too many with no offsetting of taxes paid on inputs leading to significant cascading and classification disputes.
3.3 The Indirect Taxation Enquiry Committee constituted in 1976 under Shri L K Jha recommended, inter alia, converting specific rates into ad valorem rates, rate consolidation and input tax credit mechanism of value added tax at manufacturing level (MANVAT). In 1986, the recommendation of the Jha Committee on moving on to value added tax in manufacturing was partially implemented. This was called modified value added tax (MODVAT). In principle, duty was payable on value addition but in the beginning it was limited to select inputs and manufactured goods only with one-to-one correlation between input and manufactured goods for eligibility to take input tax credit. The comprehensive coverage of MODVAT was achieved by 1996-97.
3.4 The next wave of reform in indirect tax sphere came with the New Economic Policy of 1991. The Tax Reforms Committee under the chairmanship of Prof. Raja J Chelliah was appointed in 1991. This Committee recommended broadening of the tax base by taxing services and pruning exemptions, consolidation and lowering of rates, extension of MODVAT on all inputs including capital goods. It suggested that reform of tax structure must have to be accompanied by a reform of tax administration, if complete benefits were to be derived from the tax reforms. Many of the recommendations of the Chelliah Committee were implemented. In 1999-2000, tax rates were merged in three rates, with additional rates on a few luxury goods. In 2000-01, three rates were merged into one rate called Central Value Added Tax (CENVAT). A few commodities were subjected to special excise duty.
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