Rajya Sabha witnesses rare all-party camaraderie over GST
NEW DELHI: As the Goods and Services Tax Bill got the parliamentary nod to end a stalemate that lasted almost 10 years, the Rajya Sabha saw a rare camaraderie and unanimity when all members present voted in favour of the statute.
After the AIADMK walkout, the only party which opposed the bill, voting for The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Second Amendment) Bill, 2014, and the amendments introduced by the government saw not a single vote against the proposed law.
Interestingly, the number of votes in the affirmative kept changing as Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien put the different clauses, and finally the bill, to vote, with some opposition members even raising concern as to how the numbers changed after lobbies were cleared.
The votes in affirmative ranged from 197 to 205, and not one in opposition, except for one clause when nine members from the ruling benches voted in negative, much to the amusement of opposition members.
The members, however, soon after asked for chits to correct their mistake.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Minister of State for Commerce (Independent Charge) Nirmala Sitharaman and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi rushed to instruct them on how to vote correctly.
When it was time for voting on the next clause, a voice from the opposition benches emerged saying "press the green button".
Clearing the lobby is a routine act before a division, or when voting on the bill is sought. After this, the gates of the house are shut, and all members are in their seats from where the voting buttons are used.
While Kurien clarified that the votes were subject to correction, he also joked: "There is a magician in the house."
An official from the Rajya Sabha later told IANS that some votes may not get recorded as some particular members may have stopped pressing the button before the voting time was over.
As per procedures, every member has to press a red button at their seat along with the yes/no/abstain button for 10 seconds. Vote is recorded only from the button which is pressed at the end of the 10 seconds.
A consensus had long been eluding the bill, which was first announced by the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his budget speech for 2006-07.
Chidambaram, recently elected to the Rajya Sabha, started the debate on the bill on Wednesday, as members from the ruling and opposition parties noted that he was speaking from the opposition benches in the upper house for the first time.
The former minister also joked that it was his maiden speech, to which Kurien remarked he would still get only 15 minutes. Chidambaram's speech, however, lasted around half an hour.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury even remarked that Chidambaram, his "old friend", sounded "much better from the other side".
The Congress leader, meanwhile, out of habit, even called the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as "leader of opposition", and was corrected by one of his colleagues.
Anticipating delay in the proceedings, the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry had arranged a dinner for the MPs, journalists and Parliament staff on the occasion.
However, as the debate reached its fag end around 7.30 p.m., members preferred to stay in the house. When the voting was finally over after 9.40 p.m., a remark was heard from members on how "hungry" they were.
After the bill's passage, Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar were seen walking to the opposition side, and shaking hands with Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
As the upper house was adjourned, ruling and opposition party members could be seen walking out together, smiling for the media's cameras after the "historic moment" that leads to one of the biggest tax reforms in the country.