Chandigarh, June 1 : The central government on Friday announced financial assistance to offset additional burden under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime on purchases meant for the community kitchens that serve free meals to devotees and the needy.
The central government will provide special financial assistance for 'Sewa Bhoj Yojana', a Rs 350 crore scheme launched for two years, to all religious bodies that serve free meals.
The move will impact 'langar' served at gurdwaras, including the largest community kitchen in the world at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Under the GST regime enforced since July last year, purchases made for community kitchen were not exempted, eliciting protests from religious organisations like the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which runs community kitchens at gurdwaras under its control.
Though the central government has not given full-fledged waiver on GST for purchases made for the 'langar', it has allowed provision of special assistance to cover the burden of the additional tax under the GST.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the decision to provide special assistance to the SGPC as a case of "better late than never".
"Though the move fell short of a GST waiver on 'langar', it will relieve the SGPC of the GST burden.
The move to levy GST on 'langar' was ill-conceived at the outset. It is not fair to impose tax on religious institutions which have no independent source of income and are run and managed through donations," Amarinder Singh said in a statement here.
Punjab had announced in March that it will waive State GST on the 'langar' purchases.
"It was criminal that the Golden Temple authorities have paid over Rs 2 crore in GST on 'langar' items till date.
I wrote to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in July last year to seek a waiver but it took the Centre nearly a year to take the decision," the Chief Minister said.
SGPC President Gobind Singh Longowal said this move will reduce the tax burden on the 'langar sewa'.
The SGPC had said that the GST will put an additional tax burden of nearly Rs 10 crore for running the free meals service.
The 'One Nation One Tax' GST regime did not give any exemption to religious bodies for purchases like ghee, sugar and pulses, which were put under the 12, 18 and five per cent tax slabs respectively.
Even cooking gas was taxed under the GST.