Early passage of GST Bill unlikely

Congress in no mood to do business with the government before its demands are conceded.

The space Prime Minister Narendra Modi had created for political consensus over the Goods and Services Tax (GST), following his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seemed to be shrinking as the National Herald controversy gained traction in Parliament on Tuesday.

High-level sources in the government told reporters that given the political situation, the Modi regime no longer expects the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, meant to introduce the GST, to clear Parliament in the current session. “The Congress is stalling the GST Bill,” said a top source.

Speaking to The Hindu, Congress leader Anand Sharma said that the party plans to counter the ruling BJP not only over the National Herald controversy, but also challenge it over what he called a prolonged misuse of state organs and selective targeting of its leaders.

The GST debate, according to Mr.Sharma, could have to wait for the set of issues that the Congress plans to raise first in Parliament over the coming days. “We will wait to give our final response until the bill is tabled in Parliament.” For the Congress, the compelling issues it wants to raise range from its demand for the sacking of Minister of State V.K. Singh over his alleged “dog” remarks, to what Mr. Sharma described as financial misappropriations allegedly done by BJP leaders and their kin. “It [GST] was never going to be easy… If you look at the last statement of Ms.Sonia Gandhi, she has said that the government must agree to our key demands”.

Separately, pitching for early passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that efforts to create hurdles for the pending reform would amount to damaging the country. “India desperately needs the GST…anybody tries to create hurdles in the passing of GST will be doing great damage to the country… It’s extremely important and all parties must come together,” Mr.Jaitley told a TV channel, expressing disappointment over the absence of a response from the Congress to the recommendation of a government-appointed panel on keeping the revenue neutral rate for GST at 15 per cent.

Mr.Jaitley said he conceded that the GST was an initiative started by the Congress party and said that the party, in supporting its passage, would act fair to its own programme as well as to the country.

Earlier, in a bid to ensure that the Bill clears Parliament in the current session so as to meet the April 1, 2016, target for roll out of the GST, Mr.Modi held talks with Ms.Gandhi and Mr.Singh. This was after the Congress, over a set of three broad demands, had not allowed the Bill to be taken up for passage during the monsoon session in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is dependent on that party’s support for the two-thirds majority required to pass it.