India reacts to GST: Confusion, apprehension and handwritten bills on day one
'One Nation One Tax' regime is here and India is yet to get its head around the Goods and Services Tax. While retail supermarket chains were quick to rollout GST-compliant bills, cafes and hotels are making do with handwritten bills. While cinema ticket prices have seen a dip in some cities, few theatres have raised base price to make do for the 'loss'. Here is what citizens have to say about GST.
Small and medium traders continue to be apprehensive about GST. Most affected seen to be the unorganised and informal sector. While traders are confused, consumers are divided. "
The prices of vegetables are the same but monthly grocery bill that includes packaged food are going to be expensive. If it is good for the country then it is fine," said Srikanth who had visited a grocery store on day one of GST regime. The bill, however, had the handwritten computation of GST and the store was yet to rollout GST compliant bill.
Another consumer was of the opinion that the new tax regime will streamline taxes and won't burden the consumers.
"Let us see what the effects of GST are since we don't know how it will pan out. We will wait and watch. Essential items are beyond it and I don't think it affects consumers a lot. Any tax implementation has a time of gestation and we need to give time. I don't think the government hurried into anything. Everybody was given six months and it is not a short time. It is a fair enough time," said Prakash, a trader himself.
Small eateries, roadside snack carts and shops on Khau Gali are unaffected by GST. Prices of movie tickets in Mumbai have come down marginally. It is the hotels that Mumbaikars are worried about. "Most people in Mumbai eat out at places that currently fall under the 12 percent or 18 percent slab. That basically means that I have to pay at least Rs 20 more on my cup of coffee from Starbucks. Imagine spending Rs 100 more on food on a daily basis, especially for someone like me who lives alone and depend on hotels," said Nimisha, a resident of South Mumbai.
Small traders are concerned about making the transition to the online taxation system. Each trader under the current regime is given a GST number that is to be quoted in every bill. While some have found the transition cumbersome, others believe that it is the only way forward.
"Our country has to move forward and it is a step to put everything online. It will reduce the burden on salaried personnel in the long run but at least for the first few months, it will be difficult. As traders, we have to clear out inventory. We have to move on to the online system," said Krishna Kumar, a retailer from Mumbai.
Ritu, a homemaker believes that the tension around GST is a manufactured one and that honest tax payers have nothing to worry about. "There is nothing to worry. It (GST) is good and we are happy. I think the hullabaloo is unnecessary. Give it a chance."
For a state that politically opposed the GST, West Bengal is being forced to implement it. Traders have gone on strikes in protest. While the common man wants to wait and watch, traders are a worried lot. Bengali sweets that were tax-free now come under all slabs of the GST. "Something as simple as Sandesh will be taxed at 5 percent, canned sweets all cost more since it will fall under 18 percent slab and chocolate sweets will come under 28 percent slab. Sweets under the GST regime as surely going to be bitter," said Vivek who owns a sweet and savoury shop in Kolkata. Traders are worried that increased prices will affect business adversely.
Most unorganised sectors including small eateries are confused about the tax regime. Their finance consultants are yet to get clarity as well. All that they want is for the GST council to consider every genuine concern.
Theatre owners are a worried lot in Chennai. Tamil Nadu is the only state to impose a state tax apart from GST on movie tickets. While prices of tickets are capped, theatre owners claim that dual taxation will make business tough. The association has called for an indefinite strike starting Monday. While prices of movie tickets are expected to go down for customers, owners fear that they may have to pay up from their own pockets.
Retail shops, especially grocery stores have decided not to revise rates until their stocks with marked MRP are sold out. For the next one month or two consumers will continue to pay MRP on all pre-stocked products. "Primary concern is essential commodities and that is unaffected. Everything else will fall into place," said Gayatri who went shopping out of curiosity on day one of GST.
Wholesale traders at APMC yard are a worried lot. All transactions here are paperless, not digital but no receipt or billing either. "We have welcomed GST but preparedness is as good as how it was during demonetisation. Each genuine concern has to be addressed by the council on a war footing. It takes time for small enterprises to come online. Who buys loose atta? Everything these days is packed. By levying higher taxes on packed goods the government is hoodwinking us. People of India are going to pay more for food items but gold is cheaper. It will have a cascading effect. Inflation is going to up and regular food is going to go up," said Ramesh, a trader at the APMC yard.
Supermarket chains have already started rollout of GST compliant bills. Dozens visited supermarkets on Friday night to stock up. "I bought wheat, biscuits and some more household items. The bill shows GST too. It is much better than confusing bills that displayed different taxes. But now there is just one GST and it is a clean bill. State GST 6 percent and Central GST 6 percent is what the bill says. I came here to see how GST works and what the tax structure is like," said Kishore, a resident of Bengaluru.
All in all apprehensions, confusions prevail over GST. While some are planning protests against it others are willing to give it time and chance.