New Delhi: An RTI application filed by The Wire has revealed that an amount of nearly Rs 2,100 crore was collected under the Swachh Bharat cess even after its abolishment.
As part of the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax, the finance ministry gradually eliminated various other taxes and cesses. The Swachh Bharat cess was abolished as of July 1, 2017. However, in response to the RTI application, the finance ministry has revealed that the cess was collected even after that – to the tune of Rs 2,067.18 crore.
The Directorate General revealed that Rs 4,242.07 crore in Swachh Bharat Cess was collected in the period between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. Between April 1 and July 1 in 2017, Rs 2,357.14 crore in Swachh Bharat Cess was collected. By this logic, after its abolishment on July 1, an amount of Rs 1,884.93 crore in Swachh Bharat Cess was collected (up until March 31, 2018).
Similarly, in 2018-19, from April 1-December 26, 2018, Rs 182.25 crore of cess was collected. In total, then, Rs 2,067.18 crore as cess was collected after its abolishment.
The cess was first implemented in 2015. It took the form of a 0.5% surcharge on all services. According to information received in response to the RTI, Rs 20,632.91 crore was collected in Swachh Bharat Cess between 2015 and 2018.
In the financial year 2015-16, Rs 3,901.83 crore was collected, Rs 12,306.76 crore in 2016-17, Rs 4,242.07 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 182.25 crore crore in 2018-19.
The government claims that the funds collected under the cess are used for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Rural) – for the construction of toilets, community cleanliness complexes, solid and liquid waste management plants and also for education, communication and administrative expenditure.
In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha, however, Shiv Pratap Shukla, a minister of state in the finance ministry, said the Swachh Bharat cess and the agriculture welfare cess were both abolished as of July 1, 2017. A press release of the finance ministry, dated June 7, 2017 also said that the Swachh Bharat cess, with various others, would be abolished as of July 1, 2017, for a “smooth roll-out of GST”.
The government did not reveal where the money was spent
As part of its response to the RTI application filed by The Wire, the government did not reveal where and how the money collected as Swachh Bharat cess was spent.
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in response to the query about where the amount was spent, only provided information on how much of the amount was released to and spent by the ministry.
The ministry said that Rs 2,400 crore was released in 2015-16, and the full amount was spent. Rs 10,500 crore was spent in 2016-17 and Rs 3,400 crore in 2017-18.
The ministry, however, did not reveal the programmes or initiatives the money was spent on.
According to law, the money collected under the Swachh Bharat cess should first be deposited into the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI). From the CFI, the money is supposed to be deposited into the Swachh Bharat Kosh, from where it is funnelled to the various programmes and initiatives of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
The information provided by the sanitation ministry reveals that a fourth of the amount collected under the cess has not yet been released to the ministry. The total amount collected is Rs 20,600 crore, and of that, only Rs 16,300 crore has been released – leaving Rs 4,300 crore to be released.
This implies that this amount has not been spent yet. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of 2017 also confirmed that one-fourth of the amount collected as cess was not released.
The CAG report said that, as of the publication of the report, Rs 16,401 crore had been collected, of which only Rs 12,400 crore (which is 75%) was deposited into the National Security Fund and thus used.
The remaining Rs 4,000 crore has not yet reached this fund. A list of questions relating to this has been sent by The Wire to the finance ministry. As of the publication of this article, no response from the ministry had been received. As soon as the ministry’s response is available, it will be added to this report.
Note: This article was originally published on December 18, 2018 and has been updated with breakup of cess collection received in response to an RTI.