Congress softens stand on GST

Congress softens stand on GST

By NAVTAN KUMAR | NEW DELHI | 26 June, 2016

The Congress appears to have softened its stand on GST (Goods and Services Tax) Bill, with the Left parties making up their mind to support the Bill. “We have never been against the GST Bill. In fact, we were the ones who brought it. In fact they (BJP) were opposing it for nine years. We just want the interest of the consumers to be protected,” Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar told this newspaper.

When asked if the Congress was softening its stand on the issue, Babbar said, “This is not a question of being hard or soft. We do not have any ego. I don’t know what Left parties have to say on this. But as far as the Congress is concerned, we have no problem with the GST Bill as such. The only thing is that we want that people’s interests are not affected.”

Buoyed by the Left’s support, the government is planning to push the Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament next month. While speaking to this newspaper, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said it has become clear that most parties are in favour of clearing the GST Bill. “A general opinion has been formed that the passage of the Bill will give the required boost to the Indian economy. The country will gain,” he said.

“Time has come for the idea of GST to see the light of day,” he said, adding “the BJP is confident that it will be cleared in the Monsoon Session of Parliament”.

The Congress has been refusing to back the Bill unless the government agreed to cap the tax rate at 18%. It is also insisting to create an independent mechanism to resolve disputes on revenue sharing between the states. However, the CPM, which opposes reforms, recently clarified that it was not insisting on a cap on the tax rate in the Bill. This change of stance has isolated the Congress, which is under tremendous pressure to support the Bill.

Following Rajya Sabha’s recently concluded biennial elections, the number of BJP members has increased in the Upper House. In a House of 245, the Treasury Bench requires the support of 164 members (two thirds) for a Bill to be passed. The government hopes that the AIADMK, CPI, CPM, SP, BSP and Trinamool Congress will agree to support the Bill.

As per the new composition, the strength of the non-Congress opposition parties will be 76. The NDA, on its own, has 81 members, including those who were nominated by the government recently. Thus, the number of pro-GST MPs could be 157. Thus, the support of seven more MPs would be required to ensure the passage of the Bill. BJP leaders are hopeful that managing two-third votes in the Rajya Sabha will “not be too difficult”. However, the party fears that the Congress may disrupt the House proceedings to stall the Bill as and when it is introduced.

The Bill has already been approved by the Lok Sabha, but the government does not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said in an interview that the government had no intention to isolate the Congress on the GST. He also said that the GST Bill was not a BJP Bill and that it was first proposed by the Congress.

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