New Delhi: The highest GST rate of 28%, plus states levying some amount of local sales tax or value added tax (VAT), on petrol and diesel is likely to be the tax structure when the two auto fuels are covered under the goods and service tax regime, a top government official said. The peak GST rate plus VAT will be equal to the present tax incidence, which is made up of excise duty, levied by the central government, and VAT charged by the states.

But before GST on petrol and diesel, the Centre has to decide if it is willing to let go of the about 20,000 crore of input tax credit it currently pockets by keeping petrol, diesel, natural gas, jet fuel and crude oil out of the GST regime that came into force from 1 July 2017, the official said.

“There is no pure GST on petrol and diesel anywhere in the world and so in India too it will have to be a combination of GST and VAT," said the official, who is closely involved with the GST implementation. The timing of including petrol products in GST will be a political call which centre and states have to take collectively, he said.

The Centre currently levies a total of 19.48 per litre of excise duty on petrol and 15.33 per litre on diesel. On top of this, states levy VAT—the lowest being in Andaman and Nicobar Islands where a 6% sales tax is charged on both the fuel. Mumbai has the highest VAT of 39.12% on petrol while Telangana levies highest VAT of 26% on diesel. Delhi charges a VAT of 27% on petrol and 17.24% on diesel.

The total tax incidence on petrol comes to 45-50% and, on diesel, it is 35-40%.

The official said that under GST the total incidence of taxation on a particular good or a service has been kept at the same level as the sum total of central and state levies existing pre-July 2017. This was done by fitting them into one of the four GST tax slabs of 5, 12, 18 and 28%.

For petrol and diesel, the total incidence of present taxation is already beyond the peak rate and if the tax rate was to be kept at just 28% it would result in a big loss of revenue to both centre and states, he said.

“The Centre doesn’t have the money to compensate states for loss of revenue and so the solution is to have a peak rate of tax plus allowing states to levy some amount of VAT keeping in mind that the overall incidence should not exceed the present levels," he said.

GST has been spoken of as a panacea for high fuel prices but the structure in works would ensure rates remain almost at same levels unless centre and states decide to levy pure GST of 28% and not go for an additional VAT or a cess.

After hitting all-time high of 78.43 a litre for petrol and 69.31 for diesel on 29 May, rates have marginally fallen during the subsequent days on softening in international oil prices and rupee strengthening against the US dollar.

Petrol costs 76.27 a litre and diesel 67.78 in Delhi today.

More importantly, GST being an ad valorem levy—charged as a percentage on ex-factory price—would have a cascading impact on retail prices whenever refinery gate prices are increased because of a rise benchmark international oil prices. The inverse would also be true.

Union minister Arun Jaitley had in a blog post on Monday alluded to states earning more through ad valorem VAT when oil prices rise. The central excise is a fixed levy and does not change with changes in prices. “The states charge ad valorem taxes on oil. If oil prices go up, States earn more," he had written.

The Central government had raised excise duty on petrol by 11.77 a litre and that on diesel by 13.47 a litre in nine instalments between November 2014 and January 2016 to shore up finances as global oil prices fell, but then cut the tax just once in October last year by 2 a litre. This led to its excise collections from petro goods more than doubling in last four years—from 99,184 crore in 2014-15 to 229,019 crore in 2017-18.

States saw their VAT revenue from petroleum goods rise from 137,157 crore in 2014-15 to 184,091 crore in 2017-18. GST subsumed more than a dozen central and state levies like excise duty, service tax and VAT when it was implemented from 1 July 2017. However, its implementation on five petro products— petrol, diesel, natural gas, crude oil and ATF—was deferred. This resulted in the industry losing on revenue as they were not able to offset GST tax they paid on input from those paid on the sale of products like petrol, diesel and ATF.

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