GST fresh stab in the time of market jitters

The Centre plans to reconvene the monsoon session of Parliament to try and pass the goods and services tax (GST) bill.

The clearest indication of intent came from M. Venkaiah Naidu, the parliamentary affairs minister, who told a news conference this morning that a decision could be expected within the next two or three days and that the government was “moving in that direction”.

“Each day has 24 hours and we have 72 hours or so to take a call. That’s a long time to make an assessment of the scenarios. A session can be expected,” said Naidu.

The session is expected to take place in early September and last three to four days during which the bill would move back and forth from each House. The Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha will have to be convened separately because a bill entailing a constitutional tweak cannot be passed in a joint session.

But the Congress, which stonewalled the bill in the Rajya Sabha, indicated it would support the bill only if the Centre accepted its demands for changes.

Senior leaders said the Modi regime was being “arrogant and unreasonable” in not accepting suggestions from Opposition parties, industry representatives and experts to address “obvious problems” in the bill.

They asserted that the Congress wanted the GST to become a reality soon but it would be difficult to support a deeply flawed legislation.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress’s Lok Sabha leader, said: “We cannot comment on a special session unless we see the amended clauses and the final bill. The party will first read the fine print. We have to see which provisions have been accepted or deleted.”

The move to revive the monsoon session came a day after the sensex plunged to its biggest crash since 2009, sending Prime Minister Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley scurrying for assurances to calm the market before it reopened on Tuesday. The index jumped 290 points today.

Although neither Naidu or other government ministers would link the “bloodbath” on Dalal Street with the government’s renewed resolve to pass the GST bill, official sources stressed the connect was “more than apparent”.

The bill was pitched as the BJP’s answer to lift the economy out of its morass and usher in the next phase of reforms.

Naidu extolled its “virtues” and said today: “A delay in passing the GST bill will hamper the aspirations of people and hurt the job prospects of youths. It will add one or two per cent to the GDP. Moody’s had warned two days ago that India’s growth story was being jeopardised by the slow progress on the GST. The passage of the GST, land acquisition and real estate bills are very important when put against the backdrop of the current financial situation.”

The BJP pointed to its victory in the Bangalore municipal polls today as a “message and a lesson” to those who pursued “negative” politics, alluding perhaps to the Congress that lost the elections despite being in power in Karnataka.

Naidu met Kharge this morning but refused to divulge details. “We discussed but I cannot comment outside because the House has not been prorogued,” said the minister.

Asked if the government’s parliamentary managers planned to approach Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, who exercise the veto in the Congress, Naidu replied: “I am speaking to the Congress and not to individuals.”