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Taxation of Services - An Education Guide

Posted on 21 June 2012,    
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1. Introduction


1.1 Background

The journey of taxation of services began by selective taxation of just three services on July 1, 1994. The first year collections now appear a very modest at Rs 407 crore.


After appearing largely as just-another-tax for the first 8 years, with collections touching Rs3,302 crore in 2001 -02, service tax took some giant leaps in the next 7 years, both on the back of wider coverage as well as increase in tax rate, reaching Rs 60,941 crore in 2008-09. Next two years saw the growth somewhat moderating with collections reaching Rs 70,896 crore in 2010-11.


The buoyancy began once again on the back of some policy initiatives and Service Tax contributed Rs 97, 444 crore during 2011-12, an increase of nearly 37% over the previous year.


While the revenue expectations were often exceeded in all these years the administrative challenge began to assume unmanageable proportions. The newer additions to the list of services often raised issues of overlaps with the previously existing services, confounding both sides as to whether some activities were taxed for the first time or were already covered under an earlier, even if a little less specific head.


There was also a near unanimity across a wide section of thinkers that potential of service tax remained huge and largely untapped. Part of the problem identified was the lack of comprehensive taxation of services, not so much in the lack of coverage but more on account of lack of clarity and significant gaps in existing definitions, exposing the tax collection process to avoidable leakages and litigation.


Budget 2012 has ushered a new system of taxation of services; popularly known as Negative List. The new changes are a paradigm shift from the existing system where only services of specified descriptions are subjected to tax. In the new system all services, except those specified in the negative list, will be subject to taxation. For those who like to use modern-day terminology one could call it taxation of service version 2.0.


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