NEW DELHI: India’s rich feed off subsidies worth over Rs 1 lakh crore a year that are meant for the poor, according to the Economic Survey.  

 “This figure only considers the subsidies on six commodities, two public utilities — the Railways and electricity and one small savings scheme,” the Public Provident Fund, India Today reported.

 “There are a fair amount of government interventions that help the relatively better-off in society. In many cases, this takes the form of explicit subsidisation, which is surprisingly substantial in magnitude,” the Survey said in a provocatively titled chapter ‘Bounties for the Well-off.’

The Survey classified the population on the basis of consumption data collected by National Sample Surveys. “Poor refer to the bottom 30 per cent of the population and the rich the top 70 per cent,” it said in a footnote. This categorises a sizeable portion of the non-poor as ‘rich’.

 “These numbers are striking and have one policy implication: any tax incentives that are given, for example, for savings, benefit not the middle class, not the upper middle class but the super-rich who represent the top 1-2 per cent,” the Survey added.

Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, the Survey’s lead author, argued that most commodities primarily consumed by the rich have a very low tax rate, in effect subsidising them at the cost of the poor. For example, the rich consume 98 per cent of the gold in the country, and yet gold is taxed at only 1-1.6 per cent (the Centre and the States combined).

The rich avail of an 88 per cent subsidy on kerosene, amounting to Rs. 5,501 crore and 86 per cent subsidy on LPG, amounting to Rs. 40,151 crore.

To arrive at the quantum of subsidies availed of by the rich, the Economic Survey assumed the average tax on normal commodities at 19 per cent, the Revenue Neutral Rate for the GST as recommended by the Subramanian panel, and a 50 per cent tax on energy-related commodities that serves as an “appropriate carbon tax.”

 The effective subsidy availed by the rich, as calculated by the Survey, is the difference between this tax rate (19 per cent or 30 per cent) and the actual subsidy, measured as a negative number, or the (positive) tax rate on that commodity or service.

Some commodities are subsidised more for the poor than the rich, such as railway tickets (since there are different categories of tickets), but even here, the rich avail of a subsidy of 34 per cent, according to the Survey. Similarly, the tax structure has resulted in aviation fuel being cheaper per litre than petrol and diesel. “Aviation fuel is taxed at about 20 per cent (average of tax rates for all states), while diesel and petrol are taxed at about 55 per cent and 61 per cent (as in January 2016). The real consumers of ATF are those who travel by air, who essentially are the well-off,” the Survey said.