As the monsoon session of Parliament was winding up, leaders of regional parties got together at Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi. The meeting was keenly watched by the BJP, which hoped to see a conglomeration of forces in favour of the goods and services tax (GST) bill.
The government’s expectation of passing the bill by dint of the support it is getting from regional players was evident when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that states like West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, as consumer states, were votaries of the GST.
The government’s self-imposed deadline to roll out the GST is April 2016.
With the monsoon session not prorogued, the government has left a window open for a brief session only to pass the GST bill. Efforts are on to cobble up numbers in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, with 63 members, is in the minority. The BJP is counting on the support of regional parties like the NCP, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party. According to a Union minister, the AIADMK, which was opposed to the bill, saying Tamil Nadu will incur huge losses if GST comes into force, has been won over after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chief Minister Jayalalithaa over lunch.
A senior minister said the Janata Dal (United), despite its rivalry with the BJP, was likely to come on board, as Bihar stood to gain from GST. “The JD(U) is not opposed to the GST,” said K.C. Tyagi, the party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha. “We are a consuming state and it will help us. But the grievances of manufacturing states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra should be addressed.”
The government’s plan is to schedule a Parliament session for mid-September. “It will be a three-day session,” said a Union minister. The government hopes to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha after incorporating amendments, if any, and then get it passed in the Lok Sabha. Sources said the government had to be sure about the numbers before calling the session. Also, the bill cannot be passed in a joint session of Parliament on account of its being a Constitutional amendment bill.
“We are trying our best, and hopefully, soon we will be able to pass the bill,” said Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “The numbers are on our side. Majority of the political parties and state governments are in favour of it.”
It seems the Congress and the Left are isolated on the issue. The Congress, on the last day of the monsoon session, had spelt out its three ‘non-negotiables’ for coming on board on GST: capping the tax at 18 per cent, removing 1 per cent additional tax and setting up a grievance redress mechanism. Jaitley rejected the demands.
The Left’s objections have to do with its assessment that the proposed law will have an impact on the federal structure of India, with the Centre having a veto power in the GST council, which will decide taxes for various goods and services across the country. “We are not totally opposed to the bill, but the federal structure should not be messed with,” said K.N. Balagopal, deputy leader of the CPI(M) in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the government would not be able to get the GST passed without his party’s support. Said Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha: “The ball is in the prime minister’s court. If he wants to resolve issues, he has to come down from the high horse. If he wants to address the present deadlock, he has to discard his confrontationist mindset and reach out to the opposition for a meaningful engagement.”