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The Decline of the GDP – Taxes at Guilt?



A GDP decline of 23.9% in the First Quarter! Fiscal Deficit at INR 8.21 tr. – 103% of the entire 2020-21 budget estimate! GST collection 12% lower compared to last year (for the same month)…these are scary numbers and huge words!

The Tom & Jerry Bond

While people are finding fault with the Indian tax system, the taxpayer base might be just alright. Cannot believe it? Out of 130cr. Indians, only 1.5cr. pay income taxes. And the millions of other Indians simply evade it. This is one of the most common or cliche notions about Indian taxation. And now with the colossal GDP decline, the taxpayer base might just decrease further. Agreed?

People are convicted of having large amounts of income stashed away in their tijori. And the Income Tax Department is inevitably hot on their trail. And this leads to one of the biggest economic conclusions in Indian history – demonetization. Was this a blunder? Or did it help the nation?

Please note that India’s tax structure is designed in a certain way. This allows millions to escape taxes.

  • Firstly, the income tax threshold.

Only people earning above a certain threshold are liable to pay income tax. Currently, the minimum threshold is INR 5 lakh per year. Any guesses what is India’s per capita income? It’s approximately INR 1.4 lakh which is less than one-third of the lowest threshold! That clears out a lot of doubt. With the contraction of the economy in these testing times (COVID-19), the per capita income is going to decrease further.

Nations around the world have their income tax threshold below their per capita income. And India’s a total exception. Americans pay an average of 22% income tax, the Chinese pay 10%, Mexicans pay 15%, Germans pay 14%, and so on.

income distribution of people filing income tax returns

  • Secondly, India’s high-income inequality.

A very small fraction of Indians earn more than the per capita income. An even smaller fraction will earn thrice the amount to reach the minimum tax threshold. Only 3% of the working population (aged 25 to 65 and summing up to 2.5 cr.) earn thrice more than the per capita income.

This is comparable to nations around the world. Only 5% of Americans and 4% British earn more than three times their per capita income.

India has raised it’s tax threshold thirteen times in the last three decades. China has done it only thrice for the same era. This resulted in China’s taxpayers’ base increasing from 3% to 25% since 1986.

A conclusion can be drawn here – the higher the income tax threshold compared to the per capita income of a nation, the higher the number of people that fall outside the bracket. India’s tax threshold is just exorbitantly high for its levels of prosperity. 

Coming to the crux of the matter, is it possible that India’s per capita income is artificially low because millions hide their income? Not really. Even if people hide their incomes, it should be accounted for in India’s GDP decline. The per capita income should be effected. The hidden income is being used eventually to buy goods, real estate, gold, and so on. It makes no sense that millions of hoarders are stocking piles and piles of cash in an attic every year without ever using it. Even if that is the case, it will get accounted for in the “currency in circulation” data provided by the Reserve Bank of India.

If one believes India’s GDP, economic, and per-capita income data, then one has to accept the current taxpayer base to be true – only 3% of working Indians qualify to pay income taxes.

Fiscal Deficit

The entire fiscal math is perturbed due to the current GDP decline. The GDP budget estimate for 2020-21 was – 10% increase. The Fiscal Deficit estimate was – 3.5% of GDP. Tax Revenue and Non-Tax Revenue growth were predicted at – 12% increase and 11.4% increase respectively.

Instead, the Fiscal deficit now stands at a massive 17.4% of GDP. Net tax revenue was 12.4% of the FY21 BE compared with 20.5% for the same period last year. Non-tax revenue was 6.4% compared to 14% last year.

(all figures in INR trillion) 2020-21 Budget estimates April-July (Figures in % of BE)
Net Tax Revenue 16.36 2.03 (12.4)
Non Tax Revenue 3.85 0.24 (6.4)
Non-Debt Capital Receipt 2.25 0.05 (2.4)
Total Revenue 22.46 2.33 (10.4)
Revenue Expenditure 26.3 9.42 (35.8)
Capital Expenditure 4.12 1.12 (27.1)
Total Expenditure 30.42 10.54 (34.7)

Fiscal Deficit (Total Revenue – Total Expenditure)

7.96 8.21 (103.1)

All data from: cga.nic.in / HT / ET / TOI

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