Explained: The row over 18% GST on Navratri garba events in Gujarat

The Indian Express | 3 days ago | 06-08-2022 | 02:50 pm

Explained: The row over 18% GST on Navratri garba events in Gujarat

Navratri garba – the nine nights of dance as an obeisance to Goddess Ambe – is one of the most-awaited and revered festivals in Gujarat, with revellers and devotees booking passes to the biggest garba venues months in advance.With many organisers opening bookings for the upcoming Navratri festival, to be held from September 26 to October 5, a controversy has broken out over the imposition of 18 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on garba passes this year. Exemption from the GST only applies to organisers charging less than Rs 500 per pass.Demanding a rollback, the Congress party protested by doing garba outside the collector’s office in Vadodara. On Thursday (August 4), Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh called it the ‘Garba Samaapt Tax’ (Garba-ending tax).‘Navratri’ is a Gujarati word meaning the festival of nine nights. While celebrated nationwide, the festivities stand out in Gujarat due to the rich garba dances, done to pay respect to and worship Goddess Amba. The festival involves worshipping a lamp placed in perforated earthen pots, which is symbolic of the power of the Mother Goddess and denotes her ‘garbha’ or womb that brings new life.Traditionally, the garbas began with women celebrating feminity, divinity and fertility of the Goddess, dancing in circles that involved foot tapping and claps. Slowly, it turned into a festival of merriment for anyone who joined in the dance. In the age when social media and mobile internet were still unheard of, garba grounds also turned into the first literal dating sites where many couples met.Garba festivities in Gujarat have attracted tourists from the world over, prompting the government to promote it. Since 2003, the Gujarat government under then chief minister Narendra Modi has hosted ‘Vibrant Navratri’, the state’s official Garba event in Ahmedabad. As the Garba starts in the evenings and goes well past midnight, it has also become an event to showcase women’s safety in Gujarat. Modi as the CM promoted the event as “the World’s Longest Dance Festival”.It is for the first time since the implementation of the GST system in 2017 that Garba venues are charging direct GST on entry tickets. In Vadodara, the United Way of Baroda (UWB), the biggest garba organiser in the state, opened its registrations last week. Patrons saw a sharp rise in the registration fee, and a note said it was “inclusive of 18 per cent GST”. Men participating will have to pay Rs 4,838 this year, while it is Rs 1,298 for women.GST officials claim the garba organisers “failed” to comply with the central government notifications of 2017 and 2018 by not charging GST on entry tickets. This was pointed out during inspections of organisers in Vadodara, the city known as the hub for garbas, in 2019. Because of the pandemic, the state did not see large-scale festivities in 2020 and 2021.While Opposition parties are lashing out at the BJP for levying a “hefty tax” on a religious event, leaders within the party are also fielding requests from organisers and participants to have the garba excluded from the tax purview.Minesh Patel, Treasurer and Trustee of the UWB, said that during the inspections in 2019, officials “pointed out issuing passes or identity cards for a fee or against an invoice would automatically make it liable for GST.” He added, “Although we did not receive any direct notice, they have clearly stated that passes issued against any payment will attract GST. So, to comply with the taxation laws in place in India, we have added the GST this year.”Mayank Patel of the Vadodara Navratri Festival (VNF), the second biggest organiser in Vadodara, said they contribute the collection to the Police Welfare Fund, and will not pass the burden on participants. “The tickets for male participants are priced at Rs 1,000 and above, but we have decided to pay the 18 per cent GST component from the collections instead of adding the cost on the tickets,” he said.What are the GST rules for entertainment/commercial events, which garba has been counted under?According to officials of the GST department in Gujarat, no changes have been made to the GST. A top GST official told The Indian Express, “No new GST has been imposed on the garba. In the pre-GST period, a service tax of 15 per cent was levied on entry if the amount charged for admission to such events exceeded Rs 500 per person. In addition, there were embedded taxes as the credit of VAT paid on goods used for such events was not available for payment of service tax.“Currently, too, GST at the rate of 18 per cent is payable only if the entry ticket for any garba or such event exceeds Rs 500 as per the notification of the Department of Revenue of the Union Ministry of Finance, dated June 28, 2017 [Notification No. 12/2017-CT(R)]. Thus, the tax under the GST regime has remained the same as the pre-GST regime,” the GST official added.The official cited a recommendation made by the 25th GST Council Meeting held on January 18, 2018, for granting relief from GST to events such as circus, dance, theatre, some other performances, and recognised sporting events. “The Council has recommended that the threshold limit on the price of admission tickets for the purpose of GST exemption on circus, dance, and other events may be increased from Rs 250 per person to Rs 500 per person”, the officer said.From January 25, 2018, admission tickets to events priced less than the threshold got the exemption, to promote cultural and sports events.According to the UWB, garba was never considered an “entertainment event” on which GST could be levied. Hemant Shah, Chairman of the Resource Development Committee of the UWB, said, “We do pay GST for food stalls and other services used for garba but until 2019, the actual passes were never seen as meant for a commercial sale… the UWB is an NGO and the money received from passes is meant to be a donation.”He added, “For us, the garba is not a commercial activity but a devotion to the Goddess and 18 per cent is a huge amount. For us, every penny saved is every penny earned in undertaking activities for the poor and vulnerable.”Like the UWB is an NGO, the VNF is also a trust formed under the aegis of the government of Gujarat, primarily to raise contributions for the state police welfare fund.But there is no exemption for ‘donations’. An official said, “The term ‘donation’ does not apply in the case of garba tickets, simply because these organisers are issuing invoices and selling the passes. Wherever there is an invoice, there is a tax. Anything that involves a sale is automatically a commercial activity deemed to be for profit.”“So, organisers cannot take shelter in the name of donation just because it is a part of a religious festival. If that is the case, it should be free,” the official said, adding prices can be kept under Rs 500 for avoiding the tax.For the organisers, issuing fresh tickets for all nine nights to evade the 18 per cent slab is also a logistical issue.Mayank Patel explained the issue of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) cards, a wireless identification system used in the events. “It is mandatory for security purposes to issue RFID identity cards to players, in order to be able to track down the participant for any law and order problem. It is not possible to issue one RFID card for each night because the expense of that would be Rs 200 per card per night.“It would be chaotic to have thousands of players queuing up at venues for passes every day. We have no choice but to issue a package of nine nights, which will obviously fall under the tax purview,” Patel added.Often, commercial garbas are hosted by clubs or organisations like the UWB, which could be a group of industrialists, politicians, and people who work for social causes.Most of the popular garba venues in major cities have entry passes priced at Rs 1,000 and above. According to organisers, garba festivities run into a commercial business of over Rs 7,000 crore annually, including the profit of large-scale commercial garbas, and allied businesses like decorators, caterers or individual food stalls, sound systems, etc.Commercial venues also have prizes at the end of nine nights – bumper prizes include four-wheelers and two-wheelers. While commercial garbas are organised with grand decorations, celebrity visits, and expensive tickets, sheri garbas are the neighbourhood ones, organised by local residents with limited crowd and sponsorship. Many turned to them in the pandemic years.Garba grounds see thousands of people swaying to Gujarati folk music in concentric circles for four to six hours, often continuously. The largest one is held in Vadodara by the UWB, which sees 30,000 participants at any point and 15,000 viewers, who must also purchase tickets to witness the spectacle.

Google Follow Image


Similar News

Explained: The PESA Act, and the reason behind parties trying to woo tribals in Gujarat
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal Sunday (August 7) declared a six-point “guarantee” for tribals in Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur district, including the “strict implementation” of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act.The PESA Act was enacted in 1996 “to provide for the extension of the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas”. Other than Panchayats, Part IX, comprising Articles 243-243ZT of the Constitution, contains provisions relating to municipalities and cooperative societies.Under the Act, Scheduled Areas are those referred to in Article 244(1), which says that the provisions of the Fifth Schedule shall apply to the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. The Fifth Schedule provides for a range of special provisions for these areas.The PESA ActThe PESA Act was enacted to ensure self-governance through Gram Sabhas (village assemblies) for people living in the Scheduled Areas. It recognises the right of tribal communities, who are residents of the Scheduled Areas, to govern themselves through their own systems of self-government.The Act empowers Gram Sabhas to play a key role in approving development plans and controlling all social sectors. This includes the processes and personnel who implement policies, exercising control over minor (non-timber) forest resources, minor water bodies and minor minerals, among other things.Ten states — Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana — have notified Fifth Schedule areas that cover (partially or fully) several districts in each of these states.After the PESA Act was enacted, the Union government circulated model PESA Rules. So far, six states have notified these Rules.PESA in GujaratGujarat notified the State PESA Rules in January 2017, and made them applicable in 4,503 gram sabhas under 2,584 village panchayats in 53 tribal talukas in 14 districts.This was announced in Chhota Udepur by then CM Vijay Rupani ahead of the last Assembly polls.Five years later, current CM, Bhupendra Patel, Tuesday told a rally in Dahod that all tribals had been covered under the Act and empowered under its provisions.Legal experts, however, say the Act has not been enforced in letter and spirit.Implementation gapsIn November 2020, Gujarat notified the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority (SoUADTGA) to administer villages around the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Narmada, a tribal district.This gave SoUADTGA powers to override panchayat decisions.Simultaneously, the district administration issued an order based on a central notification to declare forest area in 121 Narmada villages of as ‘eco-sensitive’. The district revenue department also moved to include ‘state government’ as the ‘second owner’ of land in these villages.After stiff opposition, including from BJP’s Bharuch MP Mansukh Vasava, authorities decided to drop the “second owner” mention.However, the eco-sensitive zone notification remains in force. The SoUADTGA has also taken charge of its command area that includes six tribal villages.In March this year, the Centre was forced to scrap the Par-Tapi Narmada (PTN) river linking project as tribals held protests.Tribal votebankGujarat is among the 10 states that have Schedule Areas, and accounts of 8.1% of the ST population. The tribals are concentrated in the eastern districts, along the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra borders.There are 11 major tribes in Gujarat, the largest being Bhil which is nearly 48% of the state’s total tribal population.The tribals have been a loyal voters of the Congress. In 2017, of the 27 reserved ST seats, the BJP won eight, Congress got 16, and its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) bagged two. One Congress rebel won as an Independent. Since then, Congress’s three tribal MLAs have joined the BJP. The Independent MLA was disqualified, and BJP won the bypolls in 2021. This time AAP is also targeting this constituency and has allied with the BTP.However, the BJP does not see the implementation of the Act as an election challenge as several Congress states are yet to implement it.

Explained: The PESA Act, and the reason behind parties trying to woo tribals in Gujarat
How to talk to India’s unique digital polity of first-time, non-English internet-using voters
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am

The recently released IAMAI Kantar, Internet in India, ICUBE 2021 study has some interesting findings on how the country is fast emerging as one of the world’s largest markets for internet-based apps and services. The report was released around the same time India witnessed significant bidding for the 5G spectrum. At the intersection of both of these lies perhaps the world’s most unique digital polity of first-time, non-English internet users who think, act and transact “mobile first”. Their numbers will soon reach a billion as India focuses efforts on expanding rural 4G access and high-speed internet. With anywhere between two to eight hours of daily usage, the Indian internet user is the ideal test case for any platform or app-based service looking to tap a global audience. Little wonder that we have witnessed over the years intense efforts to sway the Indian internet user through borderless activism in the name of “saving the internet”, “online free speech”, and “data surveillance”.With the Narendra Modi-led NDA government withdrawing the earlier proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, the stakes have become even higher for borderless activism seeking to influence how India regulates the internet-based economy.The reasons for the high stakes in internet regulation in India become apparent when one looks at the demographic shift in the country — the statistics revealed by the IAMAI report also underline this shift. As per the UN’s estimates for births in India, the cohort born between 2002 and 2006 is one of the largest, with yearly births having peaked in the country between 2001 and 2002. This makes the cohort of nearly 150 million first-time voters in the 2024 General Elections a sizable and distinct digital constituency. As India’s largest cohort that has been “Digital First” from the cradle, this generation of first-time voters has experienced all the significant digital shifts in their formative years. Having been born around the same time as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, this generation came of age with the touchscreen revolution. Their teen years witnessed an explosive growth in smartphone usage. This is also the generation that had the highest exposure to online education due to Covid-19 vastly increasing their screen time and use of internet tools and services.While the IAMAI report does not reveal much on the age-wise demographic split of the various kinds of internet users, it was interesting to note that online gaming has nearly five times the number of users relative to those using the internet for online education. Internet-based gaming is the mainstay of this cohort with new-age interactive platforms such as Twitch and Discord emerging as hubs of their peer groups. The divide with earlier generations of voters is quite stark as this cohort barely reads newspapers or watches conventional television. While YouTube and WhatsApp are most likely their primary sources of news to them, Facebook and Twitter are already legacy social media platforms belonging to an earlier era. Indicators of this inter-generational schism are already visible the world over with older users of services like Instagram unhappy with the shift towards tik-tok style short videos and algorithmic feeds.The unique digital characteristics of this demographic of first-time voters will require creative approaches for political engagement ahead of the 2024 elections. The Election Commission of India recently announced further liberalisation of the voter registration process with 17-year-olds being able to register a year ahead of being eligible to vote, apart from opening up the voter registration process once every quarter. Creative engagement of this digital-first generation would perhaps require interactive live streaming on platforms like Twitch apart from volunteer engagement efforts through “servers” on Discord. How India approaches digital regulations would be of utmost importance to this cohort. It will necessitate a sustained dialogue on the government’s approach to techno-nationalism as a counter to the borderless activism that has sought to skew digital policy debates in India.India is not alone in its pursuit of techno-nationalism. We are already witnessing a wave of regulatory moves from Indonesia on not just controlling online gaming apps and services but also actively promoting indigenously developed gaming apps. While China requires licences for online games by a dedicated gaming regulator, Indonesia requires formal registration to be compliant with local laws governing what are called “private electronic systems”. From Kenya to Brazil we are also witnessing preemptive actions to insulate the electoral processes of their respective democracies from the spread of viral fake news and disinformation on WhatsApp.While the 2009 elections saw the advent of blogs in the political debate, the 2014 elections were the first time internet streaming played a significant role in disintermediating broadcast media. The 2019 elections were marked by the extensive role played by social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. With the unique demographic characteristics of first-time voters, perhaps the 2024 elections will see algorithms and gaming apps and services play an influential role.From securing semi-conductor supply chains to regulating data flows, techno-nationalism is on the political agenda of western democracies and eastern nations alike. Over the next two years as the government seeks to put in place a comprehensive digital regulatory framework governing data, privacy, apps and algorithms, engaging the first digital generation of new voters on techno-nationalism will be crucial at every step.The writer is former CEO of Prasar Bharati, India’s Public Broadcaster

How to talk to India’s unique digital polity of first-time, non-English internet-using voters
Nitish dumps BJP, returns to Grand Alliance, stakes claim
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 05:50 am

Five years after he resigned as Chief Minister and walked out of the Mahagathbandhan when RJD leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav refused to step down in the wake of an alleged corruption case, JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar returned to the Mahagathbandhan and Tejashwi.On Tuesday, Nitish ended his alliance with the BJP, resigned as the coalition Chief Minister, only to stake claim again hours later with Tejashwi as his deputy. He is all set to form a new government with the support of the RJD, Congress, CPI, CPI (M-L) and HAM (S) and an Independent — they together make a team of 164 MLAs in a House of 243.Before Nitish submitted his resignation to Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan in the afternoon, the JD(U) and RJD held separate meetings with their MLAs. The RJD reposed faith in Nitish’s leadership and did not put any pre-condition for extending him support to form a government. The Congress and CPI (M-L) had already offered their support to Nitish on Monday.Nitish met the Governor again in the evening along with Tejashwi, carrying signed letters of support from all allies to form the next government. The Governor is yet to decide on a date for the swearing-in ceremony.After emerging from the Raj Bhavan, Nitish said, “I have nothing much to say on how suffocated we felt in the NDA… There was a dominant view in the party about snapping ties with BJP. Now, the Grand Alliance has seven parties.”Taking a swipe at the BJP, he said, “Everyone knew what kind of an atmosphere was being built. We will continue to work for BIhar.”Asked if he aspired to become a PM candidate, he said, “I have a mandate to work for Bihar.”Tejashwi said, “In the entire Hindi heartland, the BJP has no ally now. It is all because the BJP tries to finish its ally… Hamare purkhon ki virasat koi aur lega kya? (Can someone else hijack our legacy?)… I am happy Nitish Kumar decided to come back to us. We thank Lalu ji. He is the one who stopped L K Advani’s rath. We will not allow the BJP to fulfill its agenda.”He called Nitish “the most experienced CM in the country”. Asked if Nitish will be a PM candidate in the 2024 polls, he said: “I leave this question to Nitish Kumar ji… Bihar will continue to move forward under his leadership… We are chacha-bhatija, we fought each other and we are together again.”Earlier, as Nitish’s car moved inside Raj Bhavan, a small group of JD (U) supporters, waving party flags, chanted slogans of “Desh ka Pradhan Mantri kaisa ho, Nitish Kumar jaisa ho.” He returned from Raj Bhavan within 15 minutes and made a brief statement to the media that he had tendered his resignation to the Governor.Sources said Tejashwi will be the lone Deputy CM in the new government. Although the Congress also hopes to get a Deputy CM position, Nitish is unlikely to agree, sources said, adding that there could be too many power centres.Dumped by Nitish a second time, the BJP pointed to his “habit” of political somersaults. BJP leader and Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey said, “Nitish Kumar is a perennial ‘Paltu Ram’ (turncoat). No one can trust him now. People of Bihar are going to see another round of jungle raj.”Neither the BJP’s central leadership nor its state unit tried to dissuade Nitish from ending the alliance. Nitish had snapped ties with the NDA in June 2013 but had returned in July 2017 after being in power with the RJD for 20 months.Several BJP leaders called the break-up with Nitish “good riddance”.PTI adds: At a press conference in Patna, former Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad accused Nitish of inconsistency in beliefs.“You talk about communalism but you aligned with us in the 1990s when the Ayodhya movement was at its peak. You fought with us against Lalu Prasad on the issue of his involvement in fodder scam. In 2013, your personal dislike for Narendra Modi made you leave us and join hands with the RJD president,” Prasad said.“You left the RJD in 2017 after Tejashwi Yadav’s name cropped up in a corruption case. You are now pushing Bihar back into the era of lawlessness and corruption which you claimed credit for bringing the state out of,” alleged the Patna Sahib MP.Speaking at the same press conference, state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal alleged that Kumar was a “habitual betrayer” (‘aadatan dhokhebaaz’) who will be punished by the people of Bihar for betraying the “mandates of 2019 (Lok Sabha polls) and 2020 (Assembly elections)”.

Nitish dumps BJP, returns to Grand Alliance, stakes claim
New industrial policy soon in Gujarat, sops likely
Times of India | 3 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 04:43 am
Times of India
3 hours ago | 10-08-2022 | 04:43 am

GANDHINAGAR: With the state assembly elections just a few months away, the BJP government has planned to make significant changes in key industrial policies. Three new industry-related policies - MSME, mega industries and large industries - are expected to be announced shortly to address pending issues like GST compensation and demand for other financial incentives. Industries have been demanding resumption of financial incentives related to taxes, which had been discontinued after the introduction of goods and service tax (GST) regime. A top source involved in the key decision making process in the state government said, "After wide consultations with various stakeholders and departments, the state government has decided to accept the long-pending demand for GST compensation on the lines of reimbursements applicable during the VAT regime." Sources confided that industries will get GST compensation or reimbursement of up to 50% of their capital investment. The upper limit of availing GST reimbursement on capital investment in different sectors is still being worked out. According to highly placed sources in the government, MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises), large industries and mega industries will cumulatively be offered about Rs 10,000 crore worth of direct and indirect benefits under the proposed scheme."Moreover, the state government has decided to grant up to 7% capital subsidy against interest paid by industries for various business activities," added sources. "Under the proposed new policies, the state government has also decided to reimburse Re 1 for every unit of electricity consumption by industries. This will be one of the key incentives for the industries. This incentive will be available for the first five years since the commencement of projects," sources said. Large projects are those where the proposed investment is over Rs 1,000 crore and mega projects are those where the investment is in excess of Rs 5,000 crore. "MSMEs, large projects and mega projects will get all other incentives which have been assured under the dedicated industrial policy. Mega policies will have the additional option of customised benefits, like the ones given to automobile majors," sources said. The state government plans to add new sectors in the proposed policies. The state government has also planned to consider the government of India's industrial incentives separately, which will add to financial incentives to industries.

New industrial policy soon in Gujarat, sops likely