A case to exempt GST in Central Police Canteens
By, M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), Central Reserve Police Force
# Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced in early May that only indigenous products will be sold in all Central Police Canteens run by the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).
# This is a welcome step in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive to promote indigenously manufactured products, or swadeshi products, in India. As almost all products sold in CAPF canteens are indigenous, detailed instructions on this are awaited from the Home Ministry.
The CAPF comprises the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Sashastra Seema Bal, the Assam Rifles and the National Security Guard.
# Repeated efforts over the years to get the facilities of the Canteen Stores Department for CAPF personnel proved futile though the items were sold to civilians as part of the Army’s civic action programme in the Northeast.
# When Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as Prime Minister, concurred with the Home Ministry’s proposal to include the CAPF in the list of beneficiaries of the Canteen Stores Department, the Defence Ministry opposed it and later shelved it.
# A proposal was subsequently cleared in 2006 by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to open Central Police Canteens for the police forces of the country on the lines of the Canteen Stores Department.
# The first CEO of the Central Police Canteen, R.K. Singh, visited the Canteen Stores Department headquarters in Mumbai to obtain first-hand knowledge for the gargantuan task of opening Central Police Canteens.
# Headed by an Additional Director General, the Central Police Canteen purchase Committee registered nearly 200 firms and the project took off in 2007.
# Run by the CAPFs, the Central Police Canteens are open to serving and retired CAPF and State police personnel and their families all over the country.
# With over 119 master canteens functioning as depots and 1,700 canteens running across the country catering to over 50 lakh family members of 10 lakh serving personnel, the Central Police Canteen boasts of sales of over ?2,800 crore worth of products annually. # Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali has already made inroads into these canteens with various products and is expected to expand. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is also channelising the sale of its products like textiles and uniform accoutrements through these canteens.
# Non-exemption of GST on all products sold through canteens has been a sore point among the CAPF personnel. The rates at which the products are sold at present in the canteens are marginally less than the market rates.
# Exemption of GST will reduce the costs further making the products more easily affordable and lucrative. The government has to pay serious attention to this aspect.
# Before the GST came into effect, certain States had exempted the levy of VAT while many others, including Delhi, were reluctant to extend this benefit.
# While VAT was exempted for all Canteen Stores Department items, the Central Police Canteens in most States had to continue paying VAT.
# The authorities cannot ignore the fact that the the CAPF is working in difficult conditions across the country at grave risk to their lives. Not only are these personnel combating terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, tackling insurgency in the Northeast and fighting the Maoists in left wing extremism-affected areas but are also in the forefront quelling riots, as they did in Delhi and Aligarh recently.
# While sale of indigenous products in CAPF canteens is a step in the right direction, the issue of exemption of GST needs to be addressed on priority lest the CAPF personnel feel that they are being given step-motherly treatment despite the arduous duties they carry out in inhospitable terrains and the innumerable sacrifices they make for the nation.
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