Sewa Bhoj Yojna: Par panel questions GST waive off

A Parliamentary panel has questioned the Government`s motive to waive off the GST under its six-month-old `Sewa Bhoj Yojna` for the big religious institutions serving free meal to more than 5,000 people per month while depriving the smaller ones from similar financial benefits even though "they are more likely in need of it."

The Committee headed by Rajya Sabha MP, Derek O`Brien, has recommended that the eligibility criteria of serving free food to above 5,000 people should be reconsidered by the Union Culture Ministry.

The Modi Government had launched the Sewa Bhoj Yojana on June 1, 2018, exempting charitable organisations that provide free food from paying Central Goods and Services Tax (CGST)/ Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) on the raw materials used. The scheme followed demand from the BJP ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), in Punjab which had sought exemption of langar from GST.

While appreciating the scheme which reimburses the CGST/IGST for only those religious institutions that serve food to at least 5,000 people in a calendar month, the panel, which has submitted its report in Parliament recently said it fails to understand the reason for this eligibility criterion since smaller religious institutions are more likely to be in need of this Scheme.

Moreover, ascertaining the number of people to whom food is served by a religious institution in a month is difficult and could lead to religious institutions in actual need of the support being left out.

The Committee also felt that instead of carrying out inspection every year at least in 5% of the cases as decided under the scheme, the Government should scrutinise at least 10% of the cases.

The Committee feels that the proper utilization of funds is very important in the implementation of all schemes and this scheme could be maliciously exploited for getting reimbursement of taxes by commercial food outlets. Considering this fact, the Committee feels that the minimum inspection limit of 5% of the cases seems very low and might not have a deterring effect on the organisations.

Introduced by the Culture Ministry, the scheme has a total outlay of Rs 325 Crore for Financial Years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The scheme envisages to reimburse the CGST and IGST on purchase of raw items such as ghee, edible oil, atta/maida/rava/flour, rice pulses, sugar, burra/jiggery etc which go into preparation of food/Prasad/langar/bhandara offered free of cost by religious institutions. The objective of the scheme is to lessen the financial burden of such charitable religious Institutions who provide food/prasad/langar (Community Kitchen)/bhandara free of cost without any discrimination to public/devotees.

The charitable religious Institutions such as temples, gurudwara, mosque, church, dharmik ashram, dargah, matth, monasteries etc. which have been in existence for at least five years before applying for financial assistance/grant and who serve free food to at least 5,000 people in a month are covered.