GST is intended to simplify indirect tax regime of India but it has made the life of sweet makers complicated. Would it bother you if halwa were designated ‘jelly’, and dhokla ‘cake’? It is worrying mithai makers, though, as the goods and services tax (GST) has made taxation of sweets and savouries a minefield.
For example, plain barfi, which is a ‘sweet’, is taxed at the lowest rate of 5%, but chocolate barfi with a chocolate-flavoured layer on top risks being bundled with chocolates and taxed at 28%. Even plain barfi garnished with cardamom and dry fruit could be taxed along with nuts at 12%.
More complex dishes like falooda — a combination of ice cream, fruit, jelly, vermicelli pudding, jam, chocolate shavings, etc — and fruit jelly custard trifle are easy targets for the highest tax rate of 28%. Even the diabetic-friendly versions of sweets, gums, etc that contain synthetic sweetening agents like sorbitol come under 18% GST.
Amid confusion over GST rates, mithai makers are playing safe by cutting back on variety. Sweet makers are making only plain sandesh, plain badusha, plain barfi and plain peda. Some sweet makers reportedly stopped making mango and chocolate sandesh due to confusion over the rates of tax. They are trying to figure out if they need to pay 28% tax on it as many of our chocolate variations have more than 5% cocoa content. Badam milk, basundi and rasmalai are also a concern as we aren’t sure if they are sweets (5% tax) or beverages (12% tax). GST is going to hamper our creativity.
A sweet like chikki made from equal parts groundnut and jaggery certainly leaves a lot of room for interpretation. If you look at Chapter 2008, it says nuts such as groundnut and cashew, whether roasted, sweetened, salted or otherwise, are taxable at 18%. For some players, this sounds like an opportunity. If it is plain roasted cashew, we would have to tax it at 18%. Instead, we would add some more ingredients like aloo bhujia, namkeen, mixture, etc, to make it a snack that can be taxed at 12%. Even better, make it a sweet for taxation at 5%.
Sellers are getting creative for lower tax rates. As fruit jellies, mousse, pastries and pies come under the 18% GST slab, some are considering renaming and re-packaging them as sweets to pay 5% tax. Shopkeepers said western desserts like macaroons, custards, tarts, cakes and pastries could even be Indianised to avoid the high tax rate of 18%.
Until the government provides more clarification on the classification of sweets and applicable rates, chaos will prevail in this sector of the economy.