What is GST(Goods and Services Tax) in India? Complete Guide

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India is an all-encompassing, multi-level, destination-oriented tax implemented on the supply chain's incremental value of goods and services. This tax system, which came into effect on July 1, 2017, following the 101st Amendment of the Indian Constitution, aimed to streamline the myriad of indirect taxes previously imposed by both central and state governments into a singular tax framework. The GST Council, led by the Union Finance Minister and including representatives from all states and union territories, oversees the GST regime, ensuring a cohesive tax structure across India.

Here are the topics we will cover


GST structure and Types

1. Central GST (CGST), which the Central Government levies on intra-state transactions.

2. State GST (SGST) or Union Territory GST (UTGST), imposed by state governments or union territories on intra-state transactions.

3. Integrated GST (IGST), charged by the Central Government for inter-state transactions and imports.


The Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India is structured around several tax brackets, specifically 0%, 5%, 12%, 18%, and 28%. Additionally, there's a nominal rate of 0.25% set for uncut or rough precious and semi-precious stones, while gold is taxed at a 3% rate. Beyond these standard rates, luxury and sin goods such as high-end automobiles, carbonated beverages, and tobacco products are subject to an extra cess. This cess, which can be as high as 22% or vary according to the item, is levied on top of the highest GST rate of 28%.

Some items remain outside the GST framework, adhering to the erstwhile tax regime. These include alcoholic beverages, petroleum products, and electricity, which state and central governments continue to tax under specific, pre-GST legislations. This tiered structure and exceptions aim to balance the tax burden across different sectors and consumer groups, reflecting considerations for both revenue generation and social policy objectives.

Features of Goods and Services Tax(GST)

The introduction of GST has significantly reformed the Indian economy by establishing a single national market, mitigating the tax-on-tax effect, and enhancing the transparency of tax administration.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) introduced in India embodies several pivotal attributes to refine the indirect taxation framework. These characteristics streamline processes, enhance tax compliance, and foster a unified economic environment. The principal features of GST include comprehensive and progressive tax, which is levied at every point in the supply chain, affecting each incremental enhancement in value. This method guarantees that tax assessment covers the entire journey of a product or service from creation to its eventual purchase by the consumer.

Destination-oriented Taxation: Differing from the earlier system that taxed goods and services at their origin, the tax is now imposed based on where they are consumed. It ensures that tax proceeds are collected by the state where the goods or services are finally used, correlating tax collection with the consumption location. Credit for Input Taxes: A cornerstone of GST is the provision for credit on input taxes, allowing businesses to deduct the tax paid on purchases from their liability on sales. This mechanism effectively removes the tax-on-tax structure that existed before GST.

Consolidation of Markets Across the Nation: GST replaces numerous indirect taxes at both state and federal levels with a singular tax system, facilitating a consolidated national marketplace. This shift reduces business costs and dismantles fiscal barriers between states.

Technology-driven Administration: The governance of GST is markedly digital, anchored by the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN), an online portal that manages registrations, filings, payments, and input tax credits, thereby enhancing transparency and efficiency.

Dual-GST Structure: Reflecting India's federal constitution, GST encompasses Central GST (CGST) and State GST (SGST) or Union Territory GST (UTGST) for intra-state transactions and Integrated GST (IGST) for inter-state transactions and imports, each collected by their respective governments.

Varied Tax Rates for Different Categories: Goods and services under GST are sorted into multiple tax slabs (0%, 5%, 12%, 18%, and 28%), designed to tax items differently based on necessity and luxury status, thereby ensuring affordability for essential items and appropriating higher taxes on luxury and harmful goods.

Provisions for SMEs: GST introduces a simplified tax regime for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through the composition scheme, which offers the option to pay tax at a nominal rate of their turnover, easing compliance burdens.

Exemptions on Specific Goods and Services: Certain commodities and services, including alcoholic beverages, petroleum products, and electricity, remain outside the GST scope, adhering to the pre-GST tax directives.

This innovative taxation framework aims to diminish the tax burden on the consumer while concurrently broadening the tax base, thus promoting economic efficiency and growth.

The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India heralded significant advantages, marking a transformative shift in the country's approach to indirect taxation. The key benefits arising from the adoption of GST include:

Mitigation of Tax-on-Tax: GST's design eliminates the cascading effect, where taxes were previously imposed on an already taxed amount. This input tax credit mechanism ensures taxes are levied only on the value addition, reducing the overall tax incidence on goods and services.

Streamlined Tax Regime: GST unified multiple indirect taxes into a singular tax framework, simplifying the tax structure for businesses and enhancing transparency. This consolidation has eased the compliance burden, making it simpler for businesses to navigate tax obligations.

Logistics and Supply Chain Efficiency: The unification of state-level taxes has facilitated smoother interstate commerce, removing bottlenecks at state borders and decreasing transit times and logistics costs, thereby optimising supply chain operations.

Support for Domestic Manufacturing: By levelling the taxation field, GST has decreased the production costs for domestic manufacturers, aligning with the " Make in India" campaign to boost domestic manufacturing and enhance global competitiveness.

Improved Tax Compliance and Revenue: The digital-first approach of GST, encompassing online registrations, tax payments, and return filings, has increased efficiency, reduced errors, and enhanced transparency, leading to better compliance and an uptick in tax collections.

Expansion of Tax Base: GST has broadened the tax base by incorporating a larger spectrum of businesses into the tax system, including many small and medium enterprises that were previously outside the tax bracket, thereby increasing government revenues.

Incentives for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs): The composition scheme under GST offers a simplified tax structure for SMEs, allowing them to pay taxes at a reduced rate based on turnover, which alleviates their tax burden and simplifies compliance processes.

Uniform Market Conditions: By implementing a consistent tax rate across the country, GST has minimised economic discrepancies, fostering a more competitive business environment and promoting equitable tax distribution across industries and regions.

Consumer Transparency: GST has ushered in a higher level of transparency for consumers, clearly delineating the tax component in the cost of goods and services, thereby empowering consumers with better information about their purchases.

Through these advantages, GST has been instrumental in promoting economic efficiency, transparency, and a unified market, contributing positively to India's economic landscape and its positioning as a vibrant and competitive economy.

Example of the GST mechanism

Let's illustrate the mechanism of GST levy, collection, and the division of revenue between the state and central government with an updated example:

A merchant in Gujarat sells products valued at Rs. 2 lakhs to a customer within the same state. The applicable tax rate on these products is 18%, divided equally between CGST and SGST at 9% each. Therefore, the total GST levied is Rs. 36,000, which is equally split between the central and state governments, with each receiving Rs. 18,000 since the transaction is intra-state.

Now, the same merchant sells goods worth Rs. 80,000 from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu. The tax rate for these goods stands at 18%. Consequently, the merchant charges an IGST of Rs. 14,400 from the purchaser, attributed to the inter-state nature of the sale. This collected tax is then remitted to the central government.

After the tax is collected, the revenue distribution between the central and state governments is determined based on where the supplied goods are consumed. The government has implemented a fully digitalised system to simplify and make the process of GST payments more efficient. It enables all transactions related to GST payments to be conducted online, enhancing ease of access and efficiency for businesses and individuals alike.

Certainly, here's an explanation of how the Goods and Services Tax (GST) functions in India, without direct reference to "GST":

In India, a unified indirect tax system applies to the production, sale, and consumption of goods and services across the nation, streamlining multiple taxes into one coherent structure. This system operates on several fundamental principles:

Multi-Tiered Taxation: The tax is imposed at every step of the product lifecycle, from procurement of raw materials to the point of sale to the end consumer, covering all intermediate processes like manufacturing and distribution.

Incremental Value Taxation: The system taxes the added value at each stage of the supply chain, ensuring that businesses only pay tax on the value they add, not on the entire product value. It is facilitated through a credit mechanism, allowing businesses to deduct the tax they've paid on inputs from their liability on outputs, effectively preventing a " tax on tax" scenario.

Consumption-Based: Unlike previous systems that tax goods and services at their origin, this system levies taxes based on where they are consumed. Therefore, revenue is generated for the region where the goods are actually used, aligning tax collection with consumption patterns.

Tax Components: The structure is bifurcated into three distinct components, tailored to different types of transactions: - A federal component for transactions within the same state or union territory. - A state or union territory component for intra-state transactions. - An integrated component for transactions between different states or territories and international imports.

Digital Compliance: An online portal supports the entire process, from registration and tax filing to payment, ensuring transparency, efficiency, and ease of compliance for businesses.

Market Unification: By merging various central and state levies into a single framework, the system fosters a unified national market, easing interstate commerce and potentially reducing costs associated with doing business across state lines.

Varied Tax Rates: Goods and services are categorised under four main tax slabs, with certain essential items placed in a zero-rate category to minimise the financial burden on consumers. Luxury and certain other goods may incur additional charges over the standard rate to address societal concerns.

Special Considerations: The system includes specific provisions for small and medium-sized enterprises to ease their tax burden, including threshold exemptions and a simplified tax scheme for smaller taxpayers.

This indirect tax framework is designed to enhance the competitiveness of the Indian market, stimulate economic growth, and increase the efficiency of tax administration nationwide.

Who should be registered under the GST

In India, adherence to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) guidelines necessitates registration for various entities and individuals engaging in economic activities based on specific conditions. Registering under GST authorises an entity to legally accumulate GST from purchasers and claim a credit for taxes paid on inputs. The following groups are obligated to register under GST:

Entities Exceeding Prescribed Turnover Limits: Entities whose total revenue in a fiscal year surpasses Rs 20 lakhs (Rs 10 lakhs for entities in North-Eastern states and hilly regions) must seek GST registration. It applies to both goods and services.

Entities Engaged in Interstate Operations: Any entity involved in the interstate supply of goods or services must register for GST, regardless of their annual revenue.

Temporary Business Participants: Individuals or businesses participating temporarily in trade fairs or exhibitions without a fixed business location need temporary GST registration.

Non-Resident Business Operators: Non-resident individuals or companies that provide goods or services in India but lack a permanent business establishment in the country are required to obtain GST registration.

Representatives and Intermediaries: Representatives or intermediaries managing the supply of goods and services on behalf of other registered businesses are required to be registered under GST.

E-commerce Platform Operators: Operators of e-commerce platforms that facilitate the sale of goods and services must obtain GST registration. This requirement also extends to sellers operating through these platforms.

Recipients Subject to Reverse Charge: In specific scenarios where the buyer is liable to pay GST instead of the seller, such buyers need to register under GST.

Distributors of Input Services: Businesses that receive service invoices and are responsible for distributing GST credits to branches or units within the same organisation must register as an Input Service Distributor (ISD).

Agents Acting on Behalf of Registered Taxpayers: This category includes agents and brokers who handle the supply of goods and services for other registered entities.

Entities Obligated to Deduct or Collect Tax at Source: Organisations required to deduct or collect tax at source under GST laws are also necessitated to register.

Understanding these registration mandates is crucial for businesses and individuals to ensure they comply with GST regulations, enabling them to legally collect taxes and benefit from input tax credits, which can significantly reduce their tax liabilities.

Who are not liable to be registered under the GST

Certain individuals and entities are exempt from registering under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India, even if they fulfil the general criteria based on turnover. This exemption aims to reduce the compliance burden on small businesses and specific categories of suppliers. Those exempt from GST registration include:

Businesses Below the Threshold Limit: Small businesses with an annual turnover of less than Rs 20 lakhs (Rs 10 lakhs for special category states) are exempt from GST registration. This threshold applies to the aggregate turnover, which is the total value of all taxable supplies, exempt supplies, exports of goods or services, and inter-state supplies of a person having the same PAN, to be computed on an all-India basis.

Suppliers of Only Exempt Goods or Services: Suppliers who deal exclusively in goods or services that are wholly exempt from GST are not required to register.

Agriculturists: To the extent of supply of produce out of cultivation of land, agriculturists are not required to register under GST. This exemption recognises the primary sector's unique economic position and the practical difficulties in bringing small agriculturists within the tax net.

Persons Making Only Taxable Supplies Covered Under Reverse Charge: Individuals or entities that only make supplies on which the recipient is required to pay tax under reverse charge are exempt from GST registration.

Additionally, specific exemptions might be provided based on GST council decisions, including updates or changes in response to industry needs or economic conditions. It's important for individuals and businesses to stay updated with the latest GST notifications and circulars to ensure compliance with the current laws and regulations.

Goods Exempted under the GST Several items are strategically exempt from taxation to ensure the affordability of essentials, bolster small-scale industries, and sustain specific sectors crucial for societal development. The GST Council regularly reviews these exemptions. Here's a general overview of goods typically exempt under GST, reflecting the policy's intent to support economic and social welfare:

Basic Foodstuffs and Agriculture: unbranded fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and grains are not taxed under GST. This measure helps keep essential nourishment accessible and affordable.

Medicinal Supplies: Specific medicines, including life-saving drugs like insulin, are exempt from GST. This category extends to certain healthcare services and aids, emphasising public health.

Educational Resources: Printed educational materials like textbooks and maps are exempt, alongside educational services, facilitating wider access to learning opportunities.

Artisanal Crafts: Handmade items crafted without mechanised processes benefit from GST exemption, a nod to the preservation and encouragement of traditional craftsmanship.

Cultural and Religious Articles: Objects of religious significance, including traditional adornments and ritual items, are free from GST, respecting cultural and religious practices.

Public Health Products: Products essential for public health, such as contraceptives, are exempt from GST, aligning with national health objectives. Philanthropic Services: Services offered by non-profit entities for charitable purposes are not subject to GST, recognising their vital role in societal welfare. Eco-Friendly Goods: Equipment and parts for generating renewable energy, like solar panels and wind turbines, enjoy a GST exemption, promoting environmental sustainability.

This summarisation underscores the GST policy's role in mitigating the cost impact on essential goods and services, promoting sustainable practices, and supporting sectors with significant social impact. For a detailed and updated list of exemptions, stakeholders are encouraged to consult the official GST portal, reflecting the most current adjustments made by the GST Council.