Information is power in the 21st century and it can not be free. GST could be the world’s first public tax to subsume ‘Information’ too. Reportedly, in a one of its kind step, the Madhya Pradesh Housing and Infrastructure Development Board in a revert to a right to information petition charged 9% GST for the same.
Ajay Dubey who is an activist and vocal about corruption in public administration had sought an RTI on the total expenditure incurred by the Madhya Pradesh Housing and Infrastructure Development Board for the renovation of its RERA office in the state. However, he was surprised and confused when he had to pay Rs 43 for the same.
However, this was not against the information charged but on the hard copy of information shared by the board. Mr. Dubey had to pay for the photocopy of the 18-page RTI answer by the board. The Xerox rate was Rs 2 per page amounting to Rs 36 in total. While the remaining Rs 7 was charged as GST (Rs 3.5 as CGST and Rs 3.5 as SGST).
Mr.Dubey was left both surprised and fuming at the same time. He believes that GST cannot be levied on the supply of information. He says it’s unfair practice and plans to appeal to the appropriate higher authorities against the same.
Although technically the board has charged GST on Xerox copies and not information, the action does seem to be in sync with the words of the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Reportedly, Earlier this year Mr. Jaitley had recommended exemption of the same under GST. Not just the Finance Minister, the Central Information Commission (CIC) to have made it apparent that information sharing cannot be tagged as goods or services. It is not for sale. In fact, RTI is integral for maintaining transparency and good governance. One of the statements by CIC Commissioner says, “Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) can only collect the cost of copying charges so that the government exchequer is not affected. Giving Information does not count as service under GST. ”