Government reaches out to Congress to break GST deadlock

PTI3_27_2016_000075B (File) GST Bill will be an important initiative in the all-party meeting called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar on Sunday

Keen on passing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill in the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament, the Modi government on Friday held discussions with the Congress party in an effort to smoothen out differences on the crucial financial legislation that has been hanging fire, especially due to the objections raised by the principal Opposition party.

Literally walking the extra mile, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the new Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar went to meet Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, in Azad’s office in Parliament House.

At the meeting, the Congress is learnt to have stuck to its demand that the government should come up with a viable method to firewall the tax rate and not allow it to go beyond 18 per cent. This signals a softening of stand on part of the opposition party, which in the past had been insisting on incorporating a cap on the tax rate in the Constitutional Amendment Bill. The government, on the other hand, maintained that the tax rate could not be written into the Constitutional amendment.

Jaitley, who has recently expressed confidence about the government having the numbers to pass the bill in the upper house, today said after the meeting that the ruling dispensation would want to pass the legislation with “consensus”. Azad said the meeting was “free and frank”. A decision was taken that the two sides would meet again after the Monsoon session begins to find a meeting ground on GST. The meeting has been fixed for July 19.

The government is keen to pass the bill in the Monsoon session, that begins on July 18 and will have 20 working days. Jaitley, Kumar and former Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu had on Thursday phoned the Opposition leaders in order to break the deadlock over GST. The government will be holding an all-party meeting on July 17, and GST is likely to come up for discussion in it.

The GST Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha. But it could not clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle primarily because of the opposition of the Congress to certain clauses in the Bill, with the party succeeding to block the Bill due to its numerical superiority to the BJP in the upper house.

While regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress have expressed willingness to support the Bill, the government needs the consent of the Congress so that it is ensured that the House is in order when it brings the bill. The softening of the Congress’ stand is attributed to concerns that it now runs the risk of being isolated on the issue on account of most of the regional parties having come around to support GST.

Besides, its demand on capping the tax rate under GST at 18 per cent, the Congress wants the proposed one per cent additional tax on inter-state transport of goods to be scrapped and the power of the dispute redressal council to be enlarged.

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