GST Bill: BJP and Congress wriggle for consensus

RSTV Bureau
New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks during the  'India Summit 2015' organised by UK-based Economist magazine, in New Delhi on September 9, 2015. Photo - PTI

Photo – PTI

As both government and opposition arm itself with the strategy for the upcoming Winter Session, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offered to discuss with the Congress party changes in the GST Bill. At the same time he sought the principal opposition party to reconsider its suggestions saying some of them can “damage” the system much more than it can benefit. But responding, Congress party dismissed government’s suggestion to reconsider some of its view on GST claiming that ‘give and take’ is necessary doctrine of the parliamentary democracy.

Modi government needs the Parliament approval for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill in the winter session to rollout the new indirect tax regime from planned April 1, 2016. Once it is cleared by the Parliament, the constitution amendment bill needs the assent of more than half of the state assemblies.

“We are reaching out to them, we are willing to discuss with them because some of these suggestions may not necessarily be in the larger interest of the GST structure,” Arun Jaitley said at an Assocham event in the capital on Tuesday. He also added that it will be “extremely unfair” to the country “if we try to impose in the name of political compromise, a GST with a defective architecture”.

While reaching out to the Congress party, which has numbers crucial for the passage of legislation in the Upper House, the Union Finance minister had a word or two for the latter.

“The wisdom which dawned on my friends in the Congress party had not dawned on them when Pranab Mukherjee (as Finance Minister) introduced the GST (in 2011)…. It did not dawn on them when (the then Finance Minister) P Chidambaram accepted the Standing Committee recommendations but to come out with the preposterous suggestion that tariff must be mentioned in the Constitution document so that in a given exigency if tariff has to be altered you need a two-third majority in both houses of Parliament and has to go to each of the states,” he said.

“Two suggestions have emerged. The first is make the Centre one-fourth (in the dispute resolution body) and if Centre becomes one-fourth, states become three-fourth (and they) can decide on India’s taxation policy. So, India as a union of state ceases to exist,” Arun Jaitley added further.

On its part, the Congress party has been sending the signals on the issue of crucial GST Bill that it wanted the bill to be passed if the concerns of the party are met.

Congress party is seeking a cap on the GST rate at 18 percent, deletion of the provision of one percent tax by additional levy, and an independent mechanism to resolve disputes and disagreements between the state and the Centre and within the states. It is also opposed to states being given powers to levy additional 1 per cent tax on supply of goods over and above GST rate. It also wanted tobacco and petroleum products included within the GST ambit.

Dismissing the suggestions raised by Mr. Jaitley, the Congress party sought to dismiss it contending that the concerns raised by the party are “not partisan grandstanding” like that of BJP.

“Concerns raised by the Congress, unlike the BJP, are not partisan grandstanding but are principled and bona fide…. I would like to advice government, Prime Minister and Finance Minister to engage with the Opposition with respect and humility and shed its mindset of arrogance and confrontation,” party’s deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma said on Tuesday.

Claiming that the GST Bill is being used by the government to “hide its pathetic performance on all fronts and its bad management of economy despite favourable international conditions,” the senior Congress leader added “Parliament is not supposed to rubber stamp the flawed constitutional amendments”.

Adding to Mr. Sharma, his party colleague and leader in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge emphasised that only a spirit of give and take on the part of government can ensure the passage of key economic reform bill in the Parliament.

“Give and take is the essence of parliamentary democracy. It is not a one way traffic in which the Opposition supports all the measures irrespective of their deficiencies and government fails to amend them,” Mallikarjun Kharge said.

“We are ready to cooperate but if they want our cooperation, they will also have to reach out,” he added.

(With inputs from the PTI)