Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday admitted before a group of businessmen and taxation experts that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) framework may still have some flaws two years since its introduction, but sharply advised them against "damning" a law that has been passed by Parliament with widespread approval.
Ms Sitharaman's comment came during an interaction with a group of businessmen, entrepreneurs and chartered accountants in Pune, after a cost accountant attending the event offered suggestions to rectify "certain problems" in the GST structure. "If these concerns are addressed, much of the burden can be eased without even changing the structure of the tax regime," the man was heard saying in the video. "Everybody will be happy, and it will turn into a Goods and 'Simple' Tax. As of today, everybody from industry leaders to consultants and auditors are cursing the government..."
It was at this point that Ms Sitharaman asked the taxation expert to stand down. "I am sorry, but I object," she said. "After a long time, this country - with so many parties in Parliament and all the state governments working together - has come up with something. Now, we can't suddenly say: What a goddamned structure this is. It is giving us this pain..."
The Finance Minister went on to remind the entrepreneur that it has only been two years since the GST was introduced. "I wish it could meet your satisfaction from day one, and I'm sorry it couldn't do so. As you -- together with all of us -- are party to (creating the GST), let's own up to it," she said.
#WATCH Finance Min during interaction with businessmen,entrepreneurs,CAs&others in Pune:We just can't damn GST now. It has been passed in Parliament&in state assemblies. It might have flaws,it might probably give you difficulties but I'm sorry,it's the 'kanoon' of the country now pic.twitter.com/tAPcQmHh5H— ANI (@ANI) October 11, 2019
The entrepreneur's defence that he was only suggesting ways to improve the system failed to impress Ms Sitharaman. "We can't just damn GST! It's been passed in Parliament and in every state assembly. It might have its flaws, it may probably give you difficulties, but it's the kanoon (law) of this country. I appeal to you to bring about a better framework if it's giving problems, but don't damn it like that," she said.
Even as the video evoked criticism from social media users, the Finance Minister's Office tweeted out a clarification. "A few important things to note here: 1) Smt @nsitharaman asks the man to meet her with his delegation and put forward his suggestions on improving the GST framework. She also promises to do all she can to hear everyone's views," it pointed out.
The GST system, introduced by the BJP-led central government in 2017, has been the cause of some concern over the last few months. While businessmen and industry leaders still complain about certain teething troubles that are yet to be ironed out, tax collections declined to a 19-month low of Rs 91,916 crore in September.
However, opposition parties haven't succeeded in leveraging the discontent over GST to its advantage so far. The Congress turned the GST into one of its main electoral issues in the general elections, even dubbing it as a "Gabbar Singh Tax", but managed to walk away with just 52 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats on counting day. The ruling BJP, on the other hand, won 303.
(With inputs from ANI)