Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Swachh Bharat Cess- The way forward

- Naba Raj Chetri.

The February budget session of the Parliament made an announcement regarding collection of Swachh Bharat Cess @2% (later 0.5%)  to fund the ambitious cleanup project “Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan" launched by the Government of India (GOI) on 2nd Oct 2014, to clean roads, streets and infrastructure of the country. The government as part of the notification dated 6th November announced 15th November 2015 as the date from which provision of section 119 would come into effect ( Chapter VI, Section119 of the Finance Act 2015 contains provision for levy of Swachh Bharat Cess) the tax was fixed @0.5% as opposed to earlier announcement of 2%.

Before moving to the pros and cons of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the understanding of Swachh Bharat Cess is necessary here. Cess is a form of tax earmarked for a particular purpose, e.g.  Education cess. The Swachh Bharat Cess is a tax on tax, i.e. it is a tax of 0.5% on already taxed items, earmarked for bringing toilets and cleanliness to every household of the nation, as the statement from the finance ministry read “This is not another tax but a step towards involving each and every citizen in making contribution to SwachhBharat ”.The Swachh BharatCess is not leviable on substances which are exempted from service tax.

The taxation has garnered mixed reaction with a Hindustan Times poll (data as on 14th November) showing 52.29% people in favour and 40% against the cess, the rest being neutral.

The Cess was welcome across India uniformly.Indians across the country stood for cleanliness and hygiene; the government seemed to be keen to cut health care cost too by providing proper sanitation. Many Indians who returned from abroad were among the frontrunner supporter of this lobby. A clean, green India was the need of the hour for many, so a small contribution towards the cleanliness of a country was seen as a welcome, as they felt themselves very much involved in the project. The Cess will be properly earmarked for the ministry of Urban Development and ministry of water resources.

On the other hand the critics specially lead by India Inc. wanted deferment of the Swachh Bharat Cess as it would affect ease of doing business, and also it wasagainst the spirit of GST, which the government has been lobbying for. Critics also complain of the decrease in the budget of rural sanitation and compensating it with cess, thus bringing the overall picture of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” at the same level as earlier year.

The Swachh Bharat Cess at 0.5% is an additional burden to the common man and its implementation needs to be carefully monitored, as it is often said that “It’s not the lack of money but the lack in intention that deters a task”. It is sincerely hoped that instead of working on advertising big banners, ground work to keep India Clean is more effectively implemented.

      Let the slogan “Atithi Devo Bhavba” greets people coming to India with cleaner roads and greenery all around. Let the people coming to India feel a greater sense of welcome to the country.