NEW DELHI: Even as the Congress maintained that without its backing, the enabling Constitutional amendment for the Goods and Service Tax(GST) wouldn’t become a reality, it seemed to be sending out signals of conditional support.
Against the backdrop of indications that a special session of Parliament could be convened in a few weeks’ time, the signal from the Congress assumes significance.
Though the government has been saying that it has enough support among regional parties to ensure the passage of the GST Bill, a senior minister admitted that the dates of the special session could be firmed up only after the government “is sure of the numbers” to enact the legislation in both Houses of Parliament.
After the Monsoon session washout, the Centre can ill-afford another derailed session. The Congress, therefore, sees a chance to strike a hard bargain on the GST Bill and Land Bill to ensure that the credit for the long-pending taxation reform and land reform does not go to the ruling BJP alone.
The enactment of the GST Bill and the passage of a “clarificatory” amendment on the 2013 Land Bill would be dependent on the NDA’s ability to rise above political concerns and meet the Opposition halfway.
The heated rhetoric on both sides, however, is yet to show any signs of cooling. Given that the high-stake Bihar elections are just round the corner, the bitter slugfest may only increase.
Nonetheless, there seemed to be a shift in the background. Though Congress leader Jairam Ramesh kept the pot boiling, he didn’t repeat his old party line on the Land Acquisition Bill: “No compromise on the UPA 2013 land Act” or “We won’t support a half-baked non-inclusive GST”.
Instead, Ramesh sounded accommodative even as he reiterated the three amendments to the draft Bill the Congress wants: i) The GST rate should be capped at 18 per cent so that the poor among consumers are not overburdened, ii) The 1 per cent additional tax (which he termed as a bribe to manufacturing states to come on board) should be done away with and iii) an independent dispute settlement mechanism should be set up.
Ramesh added a fourth demand: compensation to Municipalities and Panchayats. “In politics, there is thought and an afterthought. The Prime Minister also had them. That’s why he has come around to support the GST now in the national interest. And we’re also proposing some of the amendments keeping the national interest in mind,”
Ramesh said, countering Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s charge that the Congress’ objections to the GST Bill in its present form were afterthoughts.
Ramesh further said that BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who was Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in the last Lok Sabha, was responsible for the the delay in implementing the GST as “he had sat on the Panel’s report for two years”.