For everyone that cheered the GST rate cut on restaurants and coffee shops announced last week, happiness has turned into outrage in just a matter of days.
Anger has been erupting on social media, as several examples have emerged of restaurants hiking their base prices to charge customers the same amounts as before the rate cut. In effect, though tax rates on food have fallen, customers are still paying the high rates they were paying before.
The issue has bubbled over offline too, as Tamil Nadu BJP President Tamilisai Soundarajan announced that the party will conduct a survey of restaurants across the state.
â€śIn some restaurants they are still charging the old GST rates. In others, even though the GST rate has been reduced, theyâ€™ve increased the MRP to make up for it,â€ť she said.
â€śWe, particularly the members of our youth wing, will visit restaurants across Tamil Nadu to see if GST is being properly applied. If it is properly applied, the hotel owners and managers will be appreciated. If it is not done correctly, they will be requested to apply GST correctly. And if they still do not accept, complaints will be filed,â€ť she added.
Complaints against the high GST rate (18% for AC restaurants and 12% for non-AC restaurants) had been repeatedly raised, before the GST council cut the rates to 5% last week. However, many consumers found that their bills were not reducing proportionately, as restaurants had quietly increased the cost of food items to match.
One of the biggest targets of this public anger has been fast food giant McDonaldâ€™s, with bills showing its hiked prices being tweeted widely.
After the furore over McDonaldâ€™s, complaints have been raised against many other fast-food and beverage outlets.
@GST_Council @FinMinIndia @NDTVProfit... Another proof where consumers not benefiting of GST rate cut. Restaurants are increasing the rates after GST rate cut, so no change in what consumer payspic.twitter.com/tDDHJvdUrPâ€” Maria Andrews (@andrews_maria) November 19, 2017
Many have also claimed that restaurants continue to charge old GST rates even after the tax rate had been cut.
@CafeCoffeeDay is #cheating us! 2day I was billed 505/- for items worth 360/- w/o tax.â€” Ashfaque (@ashfaque_h) November 20, 2017
Asked to remove cheese they added by mistake. Total: 440/-
Shockingly, GST 18% instead of 5%. I objected, they
fixed bill to 387/-
"Donate a cookie" 15/- w/o my notice.@jagograhakjago @consaff pic.twitter.com/9gKAlqRUkD
And itâ€™s not only multinational fast food chains. Sangeetha Restaurant in Chennai had also faced flak after BJP activist SG Suryah had tweeted a bill showing the restaurantâ€™s hiked prices.
Hotel Sangeethaâ€™s Mini Lunch from â‚ą105 became â‚ą124 after GST Reduction making Total Bill â‚ą125 & 130 respectively. Same hotels protested for *people* when GST was 18% now as it is brought down to 5% their #LootMode is switched on?? pic.twitter.com/vhQh2Ihki2â€” SG Suryah (@SuryahSG) November 17, 2017
However, the restaurant reduced its prices to reflect the rate cut within a day.
McDonaldâ€™s has claimed that it was forced to increase its prices as the rate cut was accompanied by a removal of the Input Tax Credit, the reduction in taxes paid on raw materials. The fast food chain claimed that this had increased its operation costs by around 10% and hence had led to the hike in prices.
However, a Financial Express article by Pragya Srivasatava, argued that the Input Tax Credit was already meant to be passed on to customers, which restaurants had failed to do. But they were now using this as a pretext to continue to collect the same rates from customers, though the GST rate had fallen, the article argued.
While some fast food chains have hiked or are looking to hike their prices, though, restaurant association representatives have denied any wider moves to do so, saying that this would be counterproductive when restaurants are already suffering losses due to higher prices. â€śHow can we do that when we all are having 35% to 40% losses because of increased GST. People were not coming to restaurants when the GST was increased to 18 %," M Ravi, President of the Tamil Nadu Hotel Association.
Though the government has announced that a body to check profiteering is being set up, reports say that restaurants hiking prices cannot be pulled up. "There was a case against them when they did not pass on the benefits to consumers after the launch of Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July, but we did not act against them. Since we do not control prices, it (the hike) is a call that restaurants have to take after factoring in how competition behaves," TOI quoted a tax official as saying.